The Huge Problem with Polls: My Letter to Frank Newport

October 25th, 2016 by Sam
This letter was sent on Sept. 24 — via an intermediary who knows him well — to Frank Newport of Gallup, the pollster adviser to the bipartisan Commission on Presidential Debates. I’ve received no response. Ironically, Newport is author of Polling Matters: Why Leaders Must Listen to the Wisdom of the People. I think a close reading of the letter shows that Newport has hardly taken his own advice. 
— Sam Husseini

Dear Frank Newport —

I believe I have found a significant blind spot in the exclusion criteria used by the CPD. When some suggested alternative criteria for inclusion in presidential debates, like if a majority wanted another candidate to be in the debates, the heads of the CPD rejected the effort. Then-CPD Director and former Republican Senator Alan Simpson said: “The issue is who do you want to be president. It’s not who do you want to do a dress rehearsal and see who can be the cutest at the debate.” Similarly, Paul Kirk, the then-co-chair of the CPD (now co-chairman emeritus) and former head of the Democratic National Committee, said: “It’s a matter of entertainment vs. the serious question of who would you prefer to be president of the United States.” (Citation in google books, “No Debate” by George Farah.)

But none of the polls the CPD is relying on for its exclusion criteria actually ask the “serious question of who you would prefer to be president of the United State” — nor do they ask “who do you want to be president.”

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A VotePact Dialogue

October 12th, 2016 by Sam

Steve: Why Jason, will you be my votebuddy?

Jason: What ever are you proposing?

Steve: You’ve been a rightwinger for as long as I’ve known you. I dare say you’ve not ever voted Democratic?

Jason: I avoid doing things that would lead me upon reflection to blow my brains out.

Steve: Well, I should admit to you I’ve voted Democratic at times. Why just this election, I voted for Bernie Sanders.

Jason: Yet you seemed so reasonable.

Steve: Too kind. Now, it’s fair to say we’ve agreed and disagreed on things, yes?

Jason: Well, you’re kind of a pinko, aren’t you?

Steve: Ayn Rand cultist! — err — Let’s avoid the name calling, shall we?

Jason: Only in jest.

Steve: Excellent.

Jason: I’m looking at this website here, — I think I see where you’re going —

Steve: Yes, well, succinctly, I say neither of us vote either for Clinton or Trump.

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Lester Holt Told the First Big Lie

September 27th, 2016 by Sam

Before the faceoff between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, many were pleading that Lester Holt, the NBC anchor and moderator Monday night, to be a “fact checker.”

Any delusions in that regard should have been dashed right away as he perpetrated a root falsehood at the very start of the event.

Holt claimed that the event was “sponsored by the Commission on Presidential Debates, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization. The commission drafted tonight’s format, and the rules have been agreed to by the campaigns.”

While the CPD certainly controls much of the event, it’s not a “nonpartisan” organization at all. It’s about as far from nonpartisan as you can get. It’s totally bipartisan. It’s a creation of the Democratic and Republican parties designed to solidify their dominance over the public.

Its origins are in an agreement “Memorandum of Agreement on Presidential Candidate Joint Appearances” from 1985 signed by Frank J. Fahrenkopf Jr., then Chairman of the Republican National Committee, and Paul G. Kirk Jr., then Chairman of the Democratic National Committee. The two would go on to head the CPD.

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Debates: Another Level of Bipartisan Control

September 26th, 2016 by Sam


— “Televised Joint Appearances”: In 1985, the national chairs of the Democratic and Republican parties, Paul Kirk and Frank Fahrenkopf, signed a remarkable agreement that referred to future debates as “nationally televised joint appearances conducted between the presidential and vice-presidential nominees of the two major political parties … It is our conclusion that future joint appearances should be principally and jointly sponsored and conducted by the Republican and Democratic Committees.”

— “Exclude Third-Party Candidates”: In February 1987, Democratic Party chair Kirk and GOP chair Fahrenkopf together issued a press release and held a D.C. news conference to announce the formation of the Commission on Presidential Debates (“Commission on Joint Appearances” apparently didn’t sound right) — with themselves as co-chairs. The press release called the new group “bipartisan.” According to the New York Times, Fahrenkopf indicated at the news conference that the CPD was “not likely to look with favor on including third-party candidates in the debates.” The Times reported: “Mr. Kirk was less equivocal, saying he personally believed the panel should exclude third party candidates from the debates.” The newspaper quoted Kirk: “As a party chairman, it’s my responsibility to strengthen the two-party system.”

Nader Outlines VotePact as Strategy for So-Called “Swing States”

September 19th, 2016 by Sam

Today on the program “Democracy Now,” host Amy Goodman asked former presidential candidate Ralph Nader about “swing state strategy” for the election. It’s an ambiguous question and we were delighted to hear Nader respond by outlining the VotePact strategy, though he didn’t actually mention VotePact:

Let’s say you’re in a swing state, and you think that the least worst candidate is Hillary. What you do is you go with a Trump voter who thinks the Trump vote is the least [worst], and you trade off. You say, “Look, you won’t vote for Trump, and I won’t vote for Hillary. Let’s make a deal, and then we’ll vote for whoever we want to in terms of our conscience, third party or whatever.” There are already computerized systems for this underway you can actually join and network, and that will get rid of that.

As I’ve noted before, it’s a great shame that Nader didn’t see fit to apply the VotePact strategy in a serious way on any of the several occasions when he ran for president. Nor are any of the candidates genuinely applying it this time.

The Stark Difference Between VotePact and Vote Swapping

September 17th, 2016 by Sam

Arun Gupta—one of the most sophisticated analysts and activists around today—tweeted at me on Friday about a New York Times oped: “Anti-Trump Republicans: Don’t Waste Your Vote. Trade It.” Wrote Arun: “Imitation of @votepact is the sincerest form of flattery. @samhusseini“.

It says a lot about how terribly understood VotePact is that someone as plugged in as Arun would confuse it vote swapping, which is what’s outlined in the Times piece.

As I’ve written at ‘This is not “vote swapping”—in which voters in so-called “swing” states who want to vote for third parties “swap” votes with committed Democrats and Republicans in so-called “safe” states. This was outlined by and, both now defunct. Unlike “swapping,” VotePact is not an attempt to “minimize the damage” of a third party run—it is designed to actually shake up the political spectrum, create a realignment and open the door to actual victory for independents or emerging parties. Also, VotePact does not result in people voting for candidates they don’t want—it frees people to vote for candidates they do want, but are held back by fear because of the limitations of the voting system. While the Electoral College is central to “vote swapping,” it is not at all central to VotePact, though VotePact does work best if the two voters are in the same state.’

And all that still stands.

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Andrew Stewart Makes a VotePact

September 15th, 2016 by Sam

Listen in as Andrew Stewart takes one vote away from each Trump and Clinton:

It’s also at Internet Archive page and Podcast page on Media Coop: Beginning is intro. At 1 minute mark, there’s an interview with Sam Husseini, founder of VotePact. At 10:45, there’s a dialogue and negotiation that forms a VotePact: A traditional Democratic voter and a traditional Republican voter both agree to vote for other candidates instead — in this case, one for Jill Stein and one for Gary Johnson. At around 17:45, Andrew gives a great summary:

“And there you have it, for those of you who are on the progressive end of the spectrum, I have just effectively taken away a vote from Donald Trump. And for those of you who loathe the Clintons more than anything else, she has also just lost a voter. Now the choice is in your hands. Go out and talk to people close to you who are disenchanted with their traditional political party. Engage in these sorts of conversations, and begin to take votes, two at a time, away from the duopoly. It might surprise you to learn that, despite their candidates being extremely problematic, their voters are a lot like you. When you build a votepact, consider publicizing it; mail in letters to the editor to your local newspaper explaining your decisions, tell people on social media in pairs about it, and be sure to use the hashtag #votepact to build awareness in those forums. Thank you for listening today.”


VotePact: Do It Yourself Voting Reform

September 13th, 2016 by Sam

FairVote just interviewed Sam Husseini about VotePact:

Question: You’ve called your project do-it-yourself ranked choice voting (RCV). What do you mean?

Sam Husseini: Both attempt to solve the same problem. Take this election. There are lots of people who would want to vote for Green Party nominee Dr. Jill Stein or Libertarian Party nominee Gov. Gary Johnson or other candidates, but are not currently planning on doing so. They are set to vote for Donald Trump or Sec. Hillary Clinton because they fear or hate the other.

Q: And this election is sort of an extreme in this respect since Clinton and Trump both have very high negatives.

SH: It’s through the roof. Suffolk University/USA Today found Trump at 61 percent untrustworthy and Clinton 59 percent untrustworthy. Much of the media system is built around this, Fox and MSNBC work constantly to keep the fear and hatred going, to keep the voters the reservations.

Q: And RCV addresses this problem of course by allowing people to rank the candidates 1-2-3-4. So someone could vote Stein, Johnson, Clinton, Trump — or whatever they want.

SH: Right. And what VotePact does is get people to pair up. One person who has Clinton as their lesser evil pairs up with someone who has Trump as theirs. So, instead of both cancelling each other out, one self-loathingly voting for Trump and the other for Clinton, they both vote for other candidates — Johnson, Stein or any other candidate that are their actual favorites. So you’re kind of simulating RCV. [See full interview at]

FAIR: Media “Opinion” Polls Replicate Bind Voter Already In

September 13th, 2016 by Sam

Janine Jackson at the media watch group FAIR recently noted:

Just recently, the Commission announced that the threshold for inclusion is based on public opinion—that’s to say, public opinion polls. Candidates must get 15 percent in polls conducted by five national organizations the group names. But there again, as journalist and activist Sam Husseini pointed out, the polls themselves have a way of tamping down interest in independent and third-party candidates.

The question they ask is generally a variant of “if the election were held today, for whom would you vote?”—which is subtly, but importantly,  different from asking people open-endedly who they want to be president. As it is, these polls sort of replicate the bind the voter is already in—especially at a time when record high numbers of people call themselves “independents,” and in a race in which many voters’ main reason for supporting one major party candidate is that they are not the other.

Ideas for VotePact: Town Hall Meetings, Dual Videos and more….

September 3rd, 2016 by Sam

Over at caucus99percent, CantStoptheSignal suggests activists with different takes on Bernie Sanders and “Our Revolution” put aside their differences and focus on helping VotePact for the rest of the election season:

This is a magnificent idea, even if it fails to dislodge Hillary Clinton from the throat of the country, where we’re currently choking on her. It brings the people together. It reaffirms bonds of trust across political lines, and in particular reaffirms the fact that we trust each other–the people we know–a hell of a lot more than we trust any of those bastards who are providing us with our current political “choices.” It creates the basis of a movement against the system that produced these rotten choices in the first place. And who knows where a movement like that could go?

So I propose we spread this idea far and wide. My thoughts so far:

1) Town hall-style meetings between us and Republicans who are sick of their own party’s BS and the corruption of the country, as much as we are. … Read the rest of this entry »