Lies, Damned lies, Statistics and French Presidential Election: Fake news at work…
Following the election of Emmanuel Macron as President of the French Republic after the second round of voting, some far-right websites have already started posting about the fact that the election results are faked and skewed unfairly and illegally in favor of Macron. Doing the maths in the arguments presented online do seem to add up and give weight to this theory, but playing with the official statistics and taking results out of context allow people to play on this. When taking the official results and numbers, it’s fairly clear how the official numbers are misquoted to generate “fake news” using “alternative facts”…
The French far-right conspiracy theory
Translated from French – Also corrected the very bad grammar!
“Here are the real results of the elections:
- Marine: 33%
- Macron: 31%
- White vote: 26%
- Abstention: 8%
Yes, in reality, Marine won. But they added the white and abstention votes to Macron, here is the proof:
The media result gave Macron 66% and Marine 33%, that gives us a total of 100%, but where are the 26 and 8%?
Do the calculations yourself and everyhing is logical; 66 – 26 – 8 = 31% (the real result for Macron). Does this seem suspicious? So why does the difference between Macron and Le Pen represent the number of blank votes and abstentions? The election is a scam.”
Here is the original screencap of the post:
Fake news at work
Unless you absolutely believe that the powers at be behind the vote are really controlling everyhing and faking the results in favor of Macron, the numbers are fairly easy to disprove, especially when you take the official numbers from the French ministry of the interior who organise the elections.
The “scam” here is not so much the numbers, but how they are calculated as there are 2 things here that are totally seperate:
- The overall participation statistics, that are the total number of counted votes across the total number of currently registered voters for the election (valid and invalid votes)
- The total of valid votes per candidate
First of all, lets get some definitions out of the way:
White vote: Every valid vote is printed on a slip of paper of a specific size, with the name of the candidate printed on it in black ink. Only one slip can be added into the voting envelope. In France, you are legally allowed to add your own totally blank slip of white paper with no name at all printed on it, and this will be counted as a “white” vote.
Null vote: Is any other invalid vote contained in the voting envelope, for example, no slip, multiple slips, slips of a non-legal size (even if they may be white or blank), defaced slips, write in’s or a slip marked with the name of a candidate not running in the current election.
Abstention: As the name implies, is someone who is registered, but did not cast a vote.
Note to round this off that only valid voting slips in the name of the legal candidate will be counted in the end for the overall total for the candidates – null, white or absentees will not count for or against the candidates.
So what is the truth here?
Note that with number rounding in my simplified results, some of my numbers can be +/- 1%.
Right off the bat, the numbers for the white vote and abstention presented in the theory above are wrong: it’s not:
- White: 26%, Absent: 8%,
But in fact:
- White: 6.35%, Absent: 25.44%.
So, now, absent voters never voted at all, and they must be taken out of the 100% of registered voters before counting any “white” votes (and the number was wrong anyway). This leaves us with a remaining 74.56% of registered voters who actually dropped a voting envelope into the ballot box.
Out of this 74.56% :
- 6.35% voted white
- 2.21% were null (invalid)
This now leaves us with 66.01% of remaining valid votes cast for one of the running candidates, that according to the current official results:
- 43.63% of the remaining vote went to Emmanuel Macron,
- 22.38% of the remaining vote went to Marine Le Pen.
If we break this down, taking the 66.01% of the remaining pool of valid votes to be 100% of the total of valid votes, we can recalculate:
- For Emmanuel Macron: (100 / 66.01) * 43.16 = 66.096
- For Marine Le Pen: (100 / 66.01) * 22.38 = 33.903
Back to the theory!
- Marine Le Pen was given with 33% of the total vote – True -and tallies with the official Interior Ministry’s numbers.
- Emmanuel Macron was credited with 31% – False – this number comes from his 66% overall result but then taking of abstention and white votes – that have already been accounted for and cannot be calculated together.
- Abstention and white votes were added together – False – White votes can only be calculated from the total of remaining votes after abstention has been accounted for
- The media results provided a result of 66% for Macron and 33% for Le Pen – Correct: These are the totals per candiate calculated from the remaining valid votes, and only from valid votes.
- Where did 26 and 8 come from? – Nowhere. The numbers are wrong to start with, and you cannot compare numbers from the total overall number of cast votes – valid, invalid and abstention, with the final total of only valid votes cast in favor of one of the running candidates.
As Winston Churchill once said, there are Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics. When you play with the numbers, you can make them say a lot, including things they don’t mean at all. Taking information out of context, twisting the real ones into a different meaning, and then quietly adding a totally fake number into the mix, you can make up a nice little story that may ring true if you don’t check the facts.