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The Carter Center Must Stop Pretending that It Speaks for Most Venezuelans

by Alexandra Beech,

September 5, 2004 - Do Birds of a Feather Flock Together? As the results of Venezuela’s recall referendum surfaced after August 15, the Venezuelan opposition claimed that the government had committed massive fraud. Exit polls by American polling firm Penn, Schoen, and Berland Associates (PSB), the Primero Justicia (PJ) party, and the Proyecto Venezuela party showed the opposition ahead by over 18 points.

In a September 2nd article in The Economist, The Carter Center’s Dr. Jennifer McCoy dismisses the results of the exit polls, writing that in a country “as polarised as Venezuela, exit polls are risky. They require those conducting them to avoid bias in choosing whom to query, to avoid socio-economic bias in their dress and speech, and to work in a wide variety of neighbourhoods.” Dr. McCoy’s assessment of the pollsters is very limited. Using her logic, volunteers for every single poll would have arbitrarily chosen, according to their own prejudices, six out of ten people who said they voted for the Si option. Doesn’t this conjecture belittle the Venezuelan opposition ability to conduct a fair and impartial exit poll? What would the opposition have gained from conducting a biased poll? Anecdotal evidence, which she employs in her article, reveals that volunteers were trained very specifically.

My sister, Juanita Beech, who volunteered for the Primero Justicia party poll was trained to interview voters during five phases. “For the first phase, we interviewed five men and then four women, waiting twenty minutes in between each interview. For the second phase, we interviewed nine people, alternating this time between men and women. We waited a specific time frame in between each interview. Each phase changed, limiting the number of minutes we waited in between each interview, or the number of people we interviewed. I was never allowed to interview more than one person from a group.” In total, Juanita interviewed sixty people, and even though she volunteered in a Chavista stronghold in Zulia state, her personal results also demonstrated over 60% in favor of Si.

With this level of detail, volunteers did not have the inclination to choose “dress and speech” in their subjects. Moreover, volunteers, who were generally professionals, understood poll objectives and aimed to conduct an efficient poll, rather than a biased one, which would have been a fruitless effort. Moreover, McCoy’s assessment of the neighborhoods demonstrates alarming ignorance for an observer, since it is a well-known fact that a variety of the polls were conducted in low income neighborhoods around the country, where according to her argument, Chavez’ supporters would benefit from his social programs.

Regarding the American pollster, Michael Barone wrote for US News and World Report: “Penn Schoen has no motive whatever for cheating. It is a reputable American firm in a competitive business. Over more than 20 years it has worked for successful American politicians like Bill Clinton in 1996, Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2001, Michael Bloomberg in 2001 and many others.”

Rather than a lukewarm and ultimately unacceptable hypothesis about why the exit polls showed nearly a forty point difference from the official results, Doug Schoen of Penn Schoen was succinct in an interview with Barone. "I think it was a massive fraud” Our internal sourcing tells us that there was fraud in the central commission." Milosevich committed the same fraud in Serbia. “As a result, hundreds of thousands of people died.”

Carter Centers Consultant and Stanford Statistician Admits Mistake in his Calculations of Recall Referendum

To substantiate the Carter Center’s assessment that no fraud was committed, Dr. McCoy cites Jonathan Taylor, a Stanford University statistician. “We found that 402 of 8,100 mesas (each with one to three machines) had two or three machines with the same result for the Yes vote; and 311 mesas had the same results for the No vote. So the phenomenon affected both sides. We consulted Jonathan Taylor, a statistician from Stanford University. Using various mathematical models, he predicted that 379 mesas would have ties (of two or three machines) in the Yes votes, and 336 mesas would have ties in the No votes. The error range would be plus or minus 36 mesas. So the actual results fell within the range of probability, and do not provide evidence of fraud.”

However, Dr. Taylor recently admitted that he made an error in his calculations. Describing his “various mathematical models” Dr. Taylor writes: “There was an error in the figures quoted by the Economist in an article written by Dr. McCoy. The figures were based on the above parametric bootstrap model, and the error was based on a mistake on my part.” Revising his conclusions, Dr. Taylor concludes: “it seems then that the probability of observing 402 or more ties for SI is between 1 and 3 in 1000.” Changing his melody if not his song, Dr. Taylor concedes: “While this probability is small, I do not feel that it should be interpreted as overwhelming evidence of fraud.” As analyst Miguel Octavio points, “we have gone from “reasonable” to “small”, but it was the reasonable that led the Carter Center to its conclusion. What would they say now?. The CNE also used this result by Professor Taylor to say that the Si vote coincidences were irrelevant.” Octavio also estimates that if Taylor were to calculate the coincidences at the machine level, he would “find that the probability is even lower, if not impossible!!! That should have been the case that the Carter Center should have had him study to begin with!”

Another mathematical model by Dr. Elio Valladares, a statistician at the University of Virginia cited by Dr. Taylor in his corrections, concluded that the probability of the number of coincidences reported is about 1 in 10,000 when the problem is considered at the machine (cuaderno) level.


Even though no one can deny that Chavez gained considerable support by spending on social programs and nationalizing immigrants, too many questions have surfaced concerning the referendum. The opposition is not going to stop questioning the results, as the New York Times suggested it do only three days after the referendum. (“It is time for President Hugo Chavez's opponents to stop pretending that they speak for most Venezuelans.”)

Far from being a failure for the opposition, the recall referendum was a dismal failure for the Carter Center and the Organization of American States. Had the referendum been conducted on fair terms, few would question the results. However, after three years of lost lives, jobs, and time, Venezuelans cannot be expected to swallow so many inconsistencies, including official results which deviated from exit polls, recurring Si votes, video images of soldiers tampering with paper ballot boxes, paper ballots appearing on a highway and cemetery, audits that never took place, and electoral authorities who never hid their support for Chavez.

The recall referendum did not represent the will of most Venezuelans, because most Venezuelans voted to bring peace back to the country. Now, most wonder whether any election will ever be fair. In a country where the president controls the National Elections Council, the Supreme Court, and the National Assembly, fairness may not arrive for some time, either from abroad or from within.

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