I have been reading e-mailed complaints from dozens and dozens of you about CNBC.com's decision to take down our online pollgauging results of the CNBC-MSNBC-Wall Street Journal presidential debate.
I agree with the complaints. I do not believe our poll was "hacked." Nor do I agree with my colleagues' decision to take it down, though I know they were acting in good faith.
My reasoning is simple: Political dialogue on the Internet, like democracy itself, ought to be open and participatory. If you sponsor an online poll as we did, you accept the results unless you have very good reason to believe something corrupt has occurred--just as democracies accept results on Election Day at the ballot box without compelling evidence of corruption. I have no reason to believe anything corrupt occurred with respect to our poll.
To the contrary, I believe the results we measured showing an impressive 75% naming Paul reflect the organization and motivation of Paul's adherents. This is precisely what unscientific surveys of this kind are created to measure. Another indication: the impressive $5-million raised by Paul's campaign in the third quarter of the year.
To be clear: I believe that Ron Paul's chances of winning the presidency are no greater than my own, which is to say zero. When he ran as the Libertarian Party candidate for president in 1988, he drew fewer than a half-million votes. In last week's Wall Street Journal-NBC News Poll of Republican primary voters--which IS a scientific poll with a four percentage point margin for error--Paul drew two percent.
He lacks the support needed to win the GOP nomination, and would even if the media covered him as heavily as we cover Rudy Giuliani. Why? Because Paul's views--respectable, well-articulated and sincerely held as they are--are plainly out of step with the mainstream sentiment of the party he is running in.
The difference we are discussing--breadth of views vs intensity of views--is a staple of political discussion and always has been in democracies. Highly motivated minorities can and do exert influence out of proportion to their numbers in legislative debates and even in some elections. They most certainly can dominate unscientific online polls. And when they do, we should neither be surprised nor censor the results.
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