Saturday, February 05, 2005

'Fuzzy math' in Iraq turnout numbers

Editor & Publisher Editor Greg Mitchell wrote about this topic Wednesday, but, like most of the American mainstream media, I'm running a few days behind on it.

After a little bit of research and some basic fact-checking -- I call it "reporting" -- Mitchell discovered that the widely publicized turnout figures for Monday's Iraq election likely were inflated guesstimates. Washington Post reporter Howard Kurtz, speaking to Mitchell, referred to them as "fuzzy math."

The numbers bandied about in the press were 8 million voters and a 57 percent turnout. But the turnout percentage apparently was based on a count of about 14 million registered voters, not the overall adult population, which even the most conservative estimates place around 18 million. If you stick to the 8 million figure, the actual turnout likely was under 45 percent.

But Mitchell also offers good reason to question whether 8 million Iraqis actually voted. That number is based on a statement by an Independent Electoral Commission spokesman, who guessed the number of voters was "as many as 8 million," which, conveniently, corresponded to his pre-election turnout prediction.

Early vote tabulations also appear to belie the idea that 8 million voters participated. The New York Times reported Thursday that with 60 percent of the vote counted in Mosul, the turnout there looks to be only about 10 percent. As a surprisingly candid Kurdish member of the Iraqi election commission said, "Only God Almighty knows the final turnout now."

It'd be nice if more of the American media would make that clear instead of regurgitating the party line without question.

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