Chatham House rules for election fraud
Someone has put up a $10,000 reward for anyone who can prove that the Iranian election was “stolen”, but I don’t think that Chatham House (CH) is likely to win. A Chatham House report prepared by political scientist Ali Ansari claims to have statistical evidence that the election was rigged. I had not planned to write on non-economic issues here but this one qualifies because it deals with numbers.
I have not had a chance to examine the report closely, but here are a few of its claims that do not inspire confidence. Three key points about the key claims made in the CH report:
- The CH report claims that the fact that the variation in participation across provinces has dropped is evidence of fraud. Anyone familiar with elementary statistics knows that the standard deviation of any variable limited to 100% from above would drop as if its mean increases. (At the limit, when the mean is 100%, the SD would be zero!) So, because the participation rate increased by about 35%, it is hardly surprising that the SD fell by 23%.
- CH authors write: “If Ahmadinejad’s victory was primarily caused by the increase in voter turnout, one would expect the data to show that the provinces where there was the greatest ‘swing’ in support towards Ahmadinejad would also be the provinces with the greatest increase in voter turnout. This is not the case.” This argument falls apart the moment you notice that the “if” part is a suspect assumption. Many observers have noted that liberal voters who did not vote in the last election voted this time. The surge in participation could have favored Mousavi.
- Participation in excess of 100% in two provinces. This is not surprising for Mazandaran, where many Tehranis and other well-to-do middle class voters (who most likely voted for Mousavi) were vacationing. The CH report labels Mazandaran as a conservative province but I had no idea that it was conservative. Yazd’s participation in excess of 100% is more of a problem, though I am again not sure about the label conservative (Moussavi won the city of Yazd, which is Khatami’s territory). Now that data is available by polling station, a more careful detailed is possible.
- The CH report rejects the assumption that the rural vote is conservative. I am not sure who has made such a claim. I happen to think that it is more prone to populist instincts, which is not the same as conservative. It responds to giveaways in the short run.
- Finally, superficial comparisons between the 2005 and 2009 elections ignore the fact that Ahmadinejad of 2005 was an unknown while in 2009 he was portrayed as a “man of the people” who had distributed benefits to the poor and who was brave enough to call influential clergy corrupt on television. The two elections are different because Ahmadinejad’s opponents and supporters are different, as are the candidates, including Ahmadinejad himself.
In conclusion, given the way the results have been released and the events that have transpired since, it is hard to blame anyone for doubting the official results. I am surprised, however, to find many intelligent people absolutely convinced that there was massive fraud. Perhaps they have better evidence than CH has provided. I take it for granted that in any developing country with a brief history of voting, especially one with a self-righteous incumbent, election outcomes should be taken with a grain (sometimes a whole bag) of salt. But while skepticism is healthy, certitude without good evidence is not.