Thursday, February 03, 2005

"The point is, it's all fuzzy math..."

And knowing the truth, and the truth setting you free (okay, that's an abuse of the scripture): How many people actually voted in Iraq?

For three days now, the press has routinely referred to the figure of 8 million Iraqi voters, following the lead of Farid Ayar, the spokesman for the Independent Electoral Commission for Iraq. In the original press citations, what Ayar actually said (hedging his bets) was "as many as 8 million," which most in the media quickly translated as "about 8 million," and then, inevitably, "8 million."

Curiously, the day before the election, according to press reports, Ayar had predicted that 7 to 8 million would turn out, giving him some incentive to later spot the numbers in that neighborhood.

Also, one dares to ask: If the commission expected close to 8 million, and that's what happened -- and there was less violence on election day than anticipated -- why was the turnout greeted as such a surprise? Especially since U.S. and Iraqi leaders have spent months knocking the press for failing to report that the vast majority of regions in this country are safe and friendly.

The percentage of turnout supplied by Ayar came to 57% (happily rounded off by the press to 60%). This was based on what was described as 14 million potential voters divided by those 8 million who braved the potential bullets and bombs to go to the polls.

On Sunday, while hailing the millions going to the polls, I also raised questions about the 14 million eligible figure: was that registered voters, or all adults over 18, or what? Few on TV or in print seem to be quite sure, to this day.
The Sunni turnout seems to have been about 10%, or 50,000 voters. Voting in the Anbar province is described by a Western diplomat as "quite low."

And on the question of registered voters actually voting: "...80%-90% of our registered voters usually turn out. The problem in our country is that so few people bother to register, bringing our overall turnout numbers way down." Even the much maligned (in some circles) Howard Kurtz didn't buy it: "This was my stab at just trying to tell readers the 60% figure that had been so widely touted was hardly definitive, and it may be lower."

For the record: the CIA estimated the population of Iraq in July 2004 to be 25,374,691. Which, of course, puts the suspect "8 million voters" at nearly 1/3rd of the population. That also means the "60%" registered voter figure, would have to be a very high percentage of the population registered to vote, indeed. Probably more people than would be considered eligible to vote.

And thanks to Holden for putting me on to this article in the first place.

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