How To Steal A Russian Election

RFE/RL has provided a helpful primer for those who are interested in becoming election stealing consultants.

The Challenge of Exit Polls in Unstable Countries: Kenya

Two excellent examples in the news (more or less) this week about conducting polls in unstable countries. (Tomorrow, the latest poll from Georgia).

The first was a snippet in an interesting Slate article by Alex Halperin called What's Going on In Kenya?

Unfortunately, one bit of data has not surfaced. The International Republican Institute, a democracy-fostering nonprofit funded by the U.S. government—and despite the name, officially nonpartisan—commissioned an Election Day exit poll but has declined to release the results. Two people familiar with the results told me that they showed Odinga with a substantial lead over President Kibaki—one reported eight points, the other nine points. One has only to remember the United States' 2004 elections to know how fallible exit polls are, but a U.S.-sponsored survey would have weight here and could have given the ECK pause before it called the election so disastrously.

Ken Flottman, an official in the IRI's Nairobi office, said the data would serve additional purposes, such as studying voter demographics. The organization issued a statement criticizing the vote counting but does not mention its data. It missed an opportunity to advance its mission of promoting democracy and fair elections.

There's been limited news coverage or reaction in the blogosphere so far to this except from knee-jerk reactions from people who know little about IRI's mission or the purpose of exit polls. Furthermore, drawing conclusions about the fallibility of an exit poll in Kenya based on the 2004 election in the US or any other country, as Halperin does, is specious.

Halperin asks a fair question, though: Where're the data?

Read more: The Challenge of Exit Polls in Unstable Countries: Kenya

Is it Possible to Conduct Solid Pre-Election Research in a Place Like Georgia?

Simple question, complex answer.

The Caucasus Research Resources Center, with whom I met on my recent trip to Georgia, starts to get to the heart of the matter in this very good post on how to evaluate pre-election polls. To boil Hans' argument down, the burden on is on the pollster to publicly disclose as much information about the data collection process as possible. Of course, the media has to also report the results responsibly, which is almost as big a hurdle in these countries as disclosing basic information about sample sizes, margin of error, interviewing techniques and, most importantly, funders.

This sort of disclosure is necessary anywhere, whether it's Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Armenia (Onnik at the Armenia Election Monitor has been posting on this topic quite a bit lately) or even Iowa. That's why has been a strong proponent of The Disclosure Project, which pressures U.S. pollsters to reveal more about their methodology. This is even more important in countries where pre-election opinion polls are relatively new and neither the media nor voters are very sophisticated poll consumers.

Conducting methodologically sound polling in a highly politicized environment like Georgia or Azerbajian is difficult, but not impossible (and I do put Georgia and Azerbaijan in the same category in that regard-- I was shocked at how polarized the pre-election environment is in Tbilisi. The pre-election atmosphere in Georgia has much more in common with Azerbaijan's prior to the 2005 election than it does with Ukraine's 2006 or 2007 pre-election period, which is depressing). Just like in campaign finance, disclosure is the the first and most important step to increasing public confidence in the process.

People need to understand that polling is neither good nor bad. It's simply a tool that can be put to both legitimate and nefarious purposes. Polls are fundamentally democratic because they give ordinary people a voice, but disclosure helps an informed citizenry assess whether their voices are truly being heard or are being manipulated.

A Paler Shade of Orange, At Oxford Business Group

I wrote a piece for Oxford Business Group on the Ukraine Elections that was posted today.

A Paler Shade of Orange

Ukraine, Volume 82

Ukrainian voters went to the polls on Sunday for the third time in three years in an effort to end the political stagnation that has plagued the country since the Orange Revolution in late 2004.

President Viktor Yushchenko called early elections in the hope of breaking the deadlock that has disillusioned many Ukrainians and deepened the divide between the Russian-leaning east (represented by Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych's Party of Regions, or "the Blue side") and the European-oriented west, led by the fractious Orange Team of President Viktor Yushchenko and Yulia Tymoshenko.

Read more: A Paler Shade of Orange, At Oxford Business Group

Trying to Understand Why Ukraine is Such a Mess?

Via Orange Ukraine, read these two articles about that help illuminate the deep division in the country. First, a reporter from the Globe and Mail goes to Donetsk and Dnipropetrovsk, and a CSM reporter heads to Crimea.

The latter, while good, barely scratches the surface of the looming battle between Russia and Ukraine over Crimea.