Overflowing with early, and sometimes wildly misleading, exit poll numbers, Web logs became the Internet's own battleground state on Tuesday, as the bloggers fought even among themselves in reporting the kind of preliminary data television avoids before polls close.
Some blogs were stuck between an ideological rock and a news-gathering hard place. Partisan blogs like the conservative National Review Online (www. nationalreview.com)found themselves caught in a spirited debate about whether the early numbers they posted were hurting their preferred candidate, President Bush. The readers of liberal blogs such as Daily Kos (www.dailykos.com) staged an online pep rally celebrating early numbers showing Sen. John F. Kerry ahead in many swing states.
As they have in the past, television networks and newspaper websites refrained from reporting early exit poll results, but the Internet adheres to little such restraint. Hours after the first polls opened on the East Coast, the Internet bustled with preliminary voter surveys, sparking an angry online debate among the wi-fi wonks over their posting and their significance.
The attribution for (and authenticity of) these numbers was murky. National Review postings credited data to "Bushies," "Republican pollster types" and "a friend working for the campaign in Ohio." Numbers put up on Wonkette (www.wonkette.com) were attributed to "a little birdie" who, it was noted, is "not exactly trustworthy in all cases." Some people argued the numbers were based on the earliest waves of exit polling failing to reflect new numbers that surfaced through the day. No matter how shaky, many blogs didn't hesitate posting the figures.
"There was no decision to make," said Markos Moulitsas, who runs the Daily Kos, among the first blogs to post early polls showing Kerry ahead in many battleground states. "My audience wants them. That's all that matters to me," Moulitsas said in an interview.
Traffic on political websites was staggering, particularly during the middle of the day, and popular blogs including the liberal sites Talking Points Memo (www.talkingpoints.memo.com), and Wonkette briefly crashed under all the traffic. Others expressed regret for grindingly slow graphics and text.
The Daily Kos site may have had as many as 5 million visitors on Tuesday, said Tom Schaller, executive editor of the liberal blog Gadflyer (www.gadflyer.co), who also writes on Daily Kos.
"If the [television] networks are increasingly hesitant to report [early polls and predictions] out of fear of having to reverse them later, people will turn to the Web," Schaller said in an interview.
A few bloggers wrestled with how the numbers would affect the presidential race, and those deliberations were particularly feisty on the Corner (www.nationalreview.com/thecorner), the online forum for the National Review.
At 10:33 a.m., the Corner's Kathryn Lopez reported, "Bush leads Ohio 49 to 41." Only 17 minutes later, however, she posted a note reporting a sudden 12-point swing, saying that according to "multiple sources" Kerry was ahead by four points in the state. A few minutes later, Lopez was warning the blog's readers not to take the results too seriously.
Several readers criticized the Corner for spreading discouraging news and conceding defeat while the polls remained open. One person e-mailed Lopez: "You are singlehandedly responsible for ruining this election for everyone."
Jonah Goldberg, another writer on the Corner, tried to bring calm, saying the numbers the Corner were disseminating were "wildly implausible" as he urged readers to "kiss my Michael Moore" and stop "the idiotic and nasty nonsense (a tiny minority of) you folks are hurling at me and/or us."
Unlike the presidential campaigns themselves, "an election is honestly a pretty miserable thing to try to blog," said N.Z. Bear, who runs the blog the Truth Laid Bear (www.truthlaidbear.com).
And once the polls are closed, he said, "television is really good at broadcasting an election result to the nation."