June 15, 2009

Iran by the Numbers

Want to know what happened in Iran but need to take a break from the violence? FiveThirtyEight is applying their usual beautiful math and savvy to the situation.

Statistical Report Purporting to Show Rigged Iranian Election Is Flawed

Like most Americans, there are few things I would like to see more than Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran's hateful President, to be voted out of office. Elections in thuggish, authoritarian states like Iran need be treated with the utmost skepticism and scrutiny. I can't say I have any real degree of confidence in the official results, which showed Ahmadinejad winning with some 62 percent of the vote.

There is a statistical analysis making the rounds, however, which purports to show overwhelmingly persuasive evidence that the Iranian election was rigged. I do not find this evidence compelling.

Iranian Election Results by Province

Iran Does Have Some Fishy Numbers

Although widespread allegations of fraud, manipulation, intimidation and other all too common elections tactics have been be common, statistically detecting fraud or manipulation is a challenge. For example, while mathematicians have been evaluating vote returns for irregularities in normal situational random number distribution , determining what the "correct" results should be is very difficult.

However, given the absolutely bizarre figures that have been given for several provinces, given qualitative knowledge - for example, that Mahdi Karroubi earned almost negligible vote totals in his native Lorestan and neighboring Khuzestan, which he won in 2005 with 55.5% and 36.7% respectively - there is room for a much closer look.

Polling Predicted Intimidation -- and Not Necessarily Ahmadinejad's Victory

Ballen and Doherty are doing admirable and important work. Regular readers will know how difficult it is to conduct a good poll in the United States. Take that difficulty to the fifth power, and you'll have some sense for how difficult it is to conduct a good poll in Iran.

Unfortunately, while the poll itself may be valid, Ballen and Doherty's characterization of it is misleading. Rather than giving one more confidence in the official results, the poll raises more questions than it resolves.


Will Shetterly said...

I dunno about the numbers. I keep wondering if Ahmadinejad won, but someone wanted the numbers to be even greater than they were.

An interesting take on it all:


I especially thought this seemed convincing:


Jason Thibeault said...

If Nate Silver et al say there are specious numbers but the election wasn't likely stolen, I'd tend to believe them. They have amazing heads for numbers.

It's possible, in fact I'd go so far as to say very probable, the election was won through strongarm tactics. Will's link is pretty compelling though, a bitter realization that maybe some of the same factors that got Bush into office also helped Ahmadinejad out.

I didn't realize before this that Ahmadinejad was right-wing though -- a bit of a surprise considering how much animosity the Bush admin seemed to have against him and vice versa.

Will Shetterly said...

I can't decide if "right" and "left" apply in Iran. As the privatizer who wants to shaft the poor, Mousavi is arguably the rightwinger. A rightwing blogger tried to argue that Ahmadinejad is a Marxist, which is insane if you know anything about Marx's views on women, religion, or democracy. Sometimes it makes my head hurt.

I think Libertarians would say Ahmadinejad was more "statist" and Mousavi was more conservative, but I'd need to know more about the candidates and the libertarian grid to be sure.

Jason Thibeault said...

If we could convince them both to take http://www.politicalcompass.org/test we might have a better idea. But yes, the more I read about him, the further into the libertarian nutbar scale Ahmadinejad seems, and the further onto "neo-conservative" Mousavi seems. As for the libertarian grid, I have no idea. Any links for what exactly distinctions there are within libertarianism, and where the average Ron Paul supporter / Ayn Rand believer might lie?

Will Shetterly said...

I split very evenly with Libertarians 'cause, uh, I'm a left-libertarian. But I love the idea of making all politicians take that test.

I think Paul/Rand supporters fail to realize that corporatist can be every bit as repressive as the worst form of statist.

Will Shetterly said...

Jason, just reread your question and realized I didn't answer it. Wikipedia's pretty good on the general differences:


Contrasting Ron Paul followers with Ayn Rand readers strikes me as messy. My guess is the Ron Paul followers are a subset of Ayn Rand readers, but they may just overlap.