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Things That Make Polls Go D'Oh

It should be obvious by now that I will never get a job offer from Gallup, Rasmussen, or Survey USA. I've been pretty hard on them regarding the way they've weighted their party affiliation demographics, and I have repeatedly pointed out that ALL of the major polls are failing to comply with NCPP standards for disclosure and transparent practices. Frankly, I once held polling groups in much higher respect than I can do right now. And besides reporting what the invalid polls mean for this election, I also feel compelled to warn readers that opinion polling in general has lost its ethical core. I hope it will return to its commitment to accuracy and honest reporting, but for now polling seems to have gone the way of responsible mainstream journalism.

Liberal critics of my articles, and those who still trust the polling groups because of past work which was accurate and appeared trustworthy, have asked a very legitimate question: What if I am wrong? Isn't it possible that I just cannot accept that Obama is going to win this election, and I am grasping at straws for moral support? I would consider answering that they could be right and I could be wrong, but even then I'd have to start by asking for clarification on exactly what they mean to ask.

Do they mean the Associated Press/Gfk poll which says Obama will win by one, or the Pew Research poll which says Obama will win by fourteen?

Do they mean the Battleground poll which says Obama will win by three, or the CBS/NYT poll which says Obama will win by thirteen?

You get the idea. The polls simply do not agree with each other. And yes, those margins are significant evidence of invalidity. I read a professor's blog earlier this week, who is assuming that since all the polls say Obama is going to win, then they really do agree with each other and the margins do not matter. He contends that the polls which show a close race are really just the low end of the range, the wide lead polls are the upper end, and the average is really how things are going now. These assumptions, however, are invalid because the confidence level tests show the polls do not agree closely enough to avoid evidence of collinearity, and if collinearity exists then the results of the poll cannot be accepted, regardless of whether they appear believable or not.

Also, each poll has its own margin of error, usually around three percent, which is to say that Obama and McCain could each be as much as three points lower or greater in support than the poll shows. As a result, any poll which shows less than a six point lead for Obama is, statistically, saying that McCain could possibly be winning. Whether or not McCain is shown to be in the lead is not statistically relevant, except that we can say the polls do not indicate a McCain lead outside the MOE. However, even then we have to be careful to note that because of the invalid range of poll results, no valid conclusions can be made at all. None.

We also need to observe what's been going on with the poll trends. In the last ten days, for example, Rasmussen has shown swings of up to 5 points, or a half-point per day. He's saying that more than a half-million people on average are changing their minds every day. Does this sound reasonable to you?

The latest Fox poll shows McCain closing six points in just a week. That's 7.8 million voters changing their minds in that time. Has McCain's campaign done anything different that would explain that shift to you? And if not, why is the poll changing so drastically now that the race is coming to an end?

Gallup is still admitting they are clueless, as they continue to publish three separate models of voter opinion. You really should ask yourself, if Gallup was on top of things this year, why did they trash the original model in favor of one using unprecedented demographic assumptions, then use that same data to backtrack and try to reflect a "traditional" model? What did they see that made it clear they were wrong? And having been wrong not once but twice in fundamental operations this year, why should you assume they got lucky on the third guess, which in any case is built on the same methodological decisions they have tacitly admitted were wrong before?

- continued -

The first rule the NCPP says any journalist should ask about a poll, is who is paying for it. With that in mind, shouldn't you be skeptical that the polls reporting the largest leads for Obama are sponsored by agencies known to be pro-Obama and anti-McCain, specifically CBS News, the New York Times, ABC News, the Washington Post, and Newsweek? And shouldn't you wonder if the community of pollsters just might be letting itself be influenced by Obama's big-dollar media machine? Half a billion dollars of media publicity is bound to have an effect, and why wouldn't it affect people who run the polling groups? People like Zogby, who called the 2004 election for Kerry months before the actual voting? People like Scott Rasmussen, who is getting serious coin to sell the story of this election by subscription? One area where I can tell you I am clearly more worthy of your trust, is that no one is paying me anything for what I do on the blogs. Not a penny. So, while I'd like to be rich someday, it doesn't look like I'm going to get there by blogging on polls, but that means that you will be getting my honest opinion, based on my reasoning and the evidence, not on what effect it will have on my bank account. Sorry, but a pollster who refuses to show internal data to the public is a mercenary, not a professional, and a pollster who lets any media outfit decide what questions will be asked, what order they will be in, and which respondents are appropriate and how/when they will be contacted, is a media whore and his analysis is inherently dishonest.

OK, that's pretty harsh, and I want to emphasize that many polls are indeed trying to be professional and accurate, as much as the business will let them be. And even in the media whore groups, there are individuals who are honest and honorable (and probably miserable) and trying to put out a solid product. The problem comes from two directions. First, polling has become a business more than a profession, meaning that the guys directing the polls have become too willing to sell a story, even if that story is not exactly true. This becomes apparent when polls report shifts which are not caused by valid events, most easily seen in the phenomenon of convention 'bounces'. It's one thing to expect a party's base to become energized when the nominee is finally known and he comes out formally in a way that shows confidence and capability, but in recent years the pollsters have also decided this somehow affects the opposing party's support levels, a patently absurd notion on its face. I mean, what did Obama do at his convention that is supposed to have won over some Republicans, and just why should we believe that a number of Democrats, even briefly, supported McCain because he chose Sarah Palin for his running mate? That's manipulation of the data, folks, and cannot be explained any other way. It's been going one a while, that roller-coasting of the numbers, since polls in the media need to keep attention, and to do that they need to be exciting, even if it means being dishonest. They get away with it because they have a lot of time to worry about closing in on accuracy in the late weeks. Of course, some years they blow that, too. It needs to be said, repeated and repeated again, that polls blow the call by more than their published margin of error about 40% of the time.

The other problem is the Obama Machine. There are a lot of unprecedented conditions in this election, and I do not think the polling groups ever really sat down and thought about what the new conditions would be. Well, actually they did, but they did not test their conclusions, and as a result bought into some pretty tall tales from the Obama people. This year, the polls assumed the following things would be very different about this year:

1. Barack Obama being the first black to receive a major party nomination for President, black voters would be greatly motivated to register and vote, and this would swing decisively towards Obama. This led some polls to over-sample black voters, in the expectation that their influence would be more significant this year.

It's true and false. Black voters have indeed become more motivated this year, but as a demographic group blacks have always been enthusiastic, and have always overwhelmingly supported the democrat's nominee in presidential elections. As a result, it is mathematically impossible for black voters to significantly change the outcome of the election by supporting Obama. In a tight race, the increased participation could make the difference in some states, but nationally the effect is minimal and polling models should not be changed because of it.

2. Barack Obama would greatly inspire and motivate young voters to register and vote, and this demographic would swing decisively towards Obama. This led some polls to over-sample young voters and to count more newly-registered voters as likely voters.

This one has been difficult to prove, since only the actual election can confirm or disprove the theory. However, John Kerry saw a strong rise in democratic party registrations in 2004, in part due to the primary efforts of Howard Dean. This created an apparently significant advantage for the fall campaign, which was one of the reason that Zogby called the election for Kerry early in the summer. In the actual election, however, under-30 voters' proportion of the vote did not change from the 2000 election, and many of the newly registered voters simply did not vote, which is also consistent with historical behavior. Accordingly, it is not reasonable to alter polling models to behave in a manner inconsistent with historical norms.

3. The combination of excitement over Obama's campaign, coupled with the nation's dissatisfaction with President Bush and the Economy would lead to a great increase in democrats' participation relative to republicans, as more people would see themselves as democrats and republicans would be likely to stay home. This led almost all polls to report results which either left democrat-heavy respondent pools unweighted, or which weighted polls to reflect heavy democrat advantages.

As with rumor 2, this cannot really be confirmed or disproven until the election is finished. However, history indicates the rumor is unfounded. In 1976, the republicans were expected to be dis-spirited, Richard Nixon having resigned in disgrace just two years previously. This was one reason that just after the party conventions, Governor Carter of Georgia led Ford by 33 points, a blow out seemingly undeniable. Yet in the actual election, Carter won by only two percentage points, and some political experts believe that if the election had been held a week to ten days later, Ford would have won. Part of the reason was that republicans in 1976 did show up to vote, less than the democrats but in far greater numbers than pollsters had expected to show. The same thing happened in 1948, when democrats were supposed to have given up, yet the record shows something far different. If a poll's model is based on known history rather than pure speculation, then that model should not deviate from historical norms.

In my opinion, the polling groups allowed themselves to believe unfounded myths in all three of the cases I just mentioned. But they also failed to consider the influence of the half-billion dollars being spent by the Obama campaign, the rock-star behavior of his cadre (and a comparable level of professional knowledge and interest in middle America) in influencing and intimidating the media and public image ('vote for Obama or you're a racist'), and the heavily-urbanized character of his campaign and publicity efforts. The polling groups failed to note the dichotomy between the tone of Obama's early primary victories and the voter response as the campaign wore on, failed to adjust their weighting to reflect actual results from primary elections and track with historical norms in each state and nationally. A massive effort by the Obama campaign to cast this election as unprecedented resulted in every major polling group abandoning historical models to create unproven models based on assumptions. What we are seeing now is the result of these models failing as key assumptions fail.


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Comments (28)

DJ... I wish you were getti... (Below threshold)

DJ... I wish you were getting paid for the thorough analysis you've done. You & Jay Cost have done a real service to the nation the last few elections.

Too bad you and Polipundit couldn't work things out over immigration. I was on his side of the issue but pretty much left the site after you left. I'm glad you found a good home here at Wizbang.

DJ,Like many, I've... (Below threshold)


Like many, I've been following your posts for some time, but this is my first comment. Since I have zero background in math or statistics, I cannot weigh in with any intelligence on the substance of your analysis. But I can thank you for your ability to present fairly technical material in a way that is, at least, understandable to the lay reader.

As a conservative, I certainly hope that your insights are correct, and that the poor quality of current polling might mask a win, however slight in the EC, by McCain/Palin.

One thing I can say is this: If McCain does win, you sir shall be carried on our sholders around the Internet as the golden king that you would be.

Another thing I can say is: vote! The one poll that cannot be fudged will be taken on Tuesday. Vote, you conservatives. For the sake of our nation, vote.

Those of us who support McC... (Below threshold)

Those of us who support McCain/Palin need to Turn out, Turn out, Turn out the vote.

DJ - regardless of what hap... (Below threshold)

DJ - regardless of what happens, the polls have become a major negative on the election process. Just like the exit polls started to do about 15 years or so ago. A free press should be policing itself. It doesn't. It deals in bias and abuses that no one could have imagined. It is held in low esteem by the American public. Newspaper readership is falling, the three networks are losing viewers. The actions on not vetting Obama are a disgrace. They have reaped what they have sown. And we are all the less for it.

Don't forget the ACORN frau... (Below threshold)

Don't forget the ACORN fraud efforts to register as many new Democrat "voters" as possible. They paid people by the numbers of new registrations they produced, established daily quotas, didn't care if they signed up the same folks 40-50 times each, never bothered to do basic checking to see if these new "voters" were real or not ("Not our job," they said). Why? While it's not likely anyone will show up to vote as Daffy Duck (though many opportunities for fraud have, indeed, been left wide open), the raw numbers of new voter registrations they reported were repeated far and wide by the media and were soon picked up on by the polling organizations, which contributed to them shifting their weighting to reflect the remarkable rises in registered Democrats. Classic David "Astroturf" Axelrod psyops! Skew the polls, dispirit the opposition and bask in your victory... or so they still hope.

Then came Rush Limbaugh's "Operation Chaos," where many Republicans shifted their registrations to Democrat to vote in the primaries. Others did so, even without Rush's encouragement, due to the fact that the Republican nominee was decided long before the Democrat nominee. Want your vote to count? Best be a Democrat in the primary. The vast majority of these folks remain registered as Democrats. Another anomaly that is causing the polls to shift the Democrat party weights to historically high levels.

Anyone still want to bet the polls are NOT being wildly skewed by this?

Throw in the "Bradley effect" of voters not wanting to seem racist by telling a pollster they aren't voting for the black candidate, the reports of something like 80% of people being called by the various polling organizations hanging up on them, and an open effort by former Hillary supporters mentioned all over pro-Hillary sites on the web directing them to intentionally lie to pollsters and say they will vote for Obama when they won't in order to give the Obama people false confidence... Hmmmmm...

I just pointed to some very real reasons people may be saying they will vote for Obama, give no response, or claim to be "undecided" when, in each case, they are voting for McCain. Can anyone tell me why anyone in any significant numbers may be doing the opposite???

The early voting numbers are nowhere near where the Obama folks hoped they would be, and polls of people who already voted are looking remarkably positive for McCain given the heavy Democrat skew involved in the early turnout. Just peruse the site HillBuzz and you will hear stories from the ground from Democrats supporting McCain saying things are going McCain's way (far fewer Obama yard signs in heavily Democrat areas than there were Kerry or Gore signs in years past, lifelong Democrat friends secretly confessing to being secretly for McCain, former Hillary staffers actively working McCain GOTV efforts in battleground states calling other Hillary Democrats and getting solid pro-McCain responses, etc.)

Listen to DJ, folks. Something is really cooking here. I think the media and the left are in for the shock of their lives Tuesday. Stay positive, make certain you go vote, and call your pro-McCain friends, neighbors and relatives and make certain they do the same!

Ignore the psyops crap! Victory is the only option!

To the ballot box!!!

I voted by mail, as most fo... (Below threshold)

I voted by mail, as most folks do here in Oregon, a week ago. If someone would nuke the Portland ballots, its likely McCain would win this state. However...

The "Bradley effect" doesn'... (Below threshold)

The "Bradley effect" doesn't really exist. When he ran for mayor of LA the polls stated he was leading by 20 or so points, but he ended up losing. If you ran one of these polls, and you knew you had been using rediculous poll weighting, but you needed to invent a reason why your poll was so wrong(a reason other than the real reason) you'd come up with something like "people lied to the pollsters". It's B.S.

DJ, all well and good. But ... (Below threshold)
Michelle's American White Racist:

DJ, all well and good. But I think there is a bigger travesty here.

Polls are lag indicators, not lead indicators. Yet you have the spokespeople from Rassmussen, Gallup, and others predicting the outcome based on historical findings.

I don't know where that shows up in terms of ethics, but I find it reprehensible.

Couldn't a more representat... (Below threshold)

Couldn't a more representative MOE be deduced from the fact that the polls are wrong 40% of the time?

i.e. can you calibrate out some of the bias?

More corroboration of what ... (Below threshold)

More corroboration of what DJ has been saying about these polls:


You can't forget about an 8... (Below threshold)

You can't forget about an 80% refusal rate. That is huge when dealing with a statistical poll. You are missing out on a good cross sample cross-section with that high of a refusal rate.

McCain's camp internal pollster confirmed this last week.

Watch the canidates where are they?

Obama--Iowa(KCCI-TV poll has him up 10) yet McCain's internal is dead heat. Obama's must be the same

McCain--Ohio...internals must have it a dead heat too. PA--same thing...VA...

Mr. Right makes a good poin... (Below threshold)

Mr. Right makes a good point -- I still think the massive ACORN registration numbers are a part of what led the pollsters down the garden path on Party ID.

Then the fact that all the other pollsters were agreeing with them kept them from adequately questioning their results.

DJ- After McCain wins this, and everyone is asking what went wrong with the polls... that's going to be your moment, if you want it. You should give a bit of thought to what you plan to do with that.

DJ,Do you know how... (Below threshold)
Will Reed:


Do you know how much IBD/TIPP poll is weighing party affiliation with their polling? I am curious, because they were with in .04 of predicting the 2004 Election. Thanks for what you are doing.

God Bless,

I pray McCain/Palin will pull this off.

When I teach stats, I like ... (Below threshold)

When I teach stats, I like to get people to go back to the meaning of what the statistics are saying; it's too easy to be hypnotized by the Very Elegant Theory. In this case, what the polls are saying is, basically "there's 1 chance in 20 or less that Obama will get less that 52 percent of the vote AND there's 1 chance in 20 or less that Obama will get more than 50 percent of the vote."

Which, if you think about it, is pretty absurd.

DJ, just what sort of anal-... (Below threshold)

DJ, just what sort of anal-ysis do you recommend for a Kitty Poll (see WB Pop).

Drudge is reporting McCain ... (Below threshold)

Drudge is reporting McCain ahead 48-47 in the Zogby one day poll. Hard to read to much into it. I have to believe McCain will not let this poll slow him down, nor Obama. McCain could draw from it that he and Palin are saying the right things. And Obama well, he can't believe he is possibly saying the wrong things. They have got to be getting nervous. Doesn't take to much to imagine what the planners for "the" celebration of the past two millennium in Chicago are thinking.

DJSorry, ... (Below threshold)


Sorry, but a pollster who refuses to show internal data to the public is a mercenary, not a professional, and a pollster who lets any media outfit decide what questions will be asked, what order they will be in, and which respondents are appropriate and how/when they will be contacted, is a media whore and his analysis is inherently dishonest.

You said you were being harsh. No, you weren't, if anything,you were being kind.

Based on the facts you have provided, I have been calling the national vote about 1% for Obama for a couple of weeks and the electoral college too close to count.

It still boils down to who can get their voters to go vote. Every.single.vote.counts.more.than.ever.go.vote

This is the only number lik... (Below threshold)

This is the only number like this but....
One day Zogby (Friday) has McCain 48-47 Obama.

Take this with a grain of salt....

Zogby says this doesn't change rolling three day average? Something is fishy here.....but it does provide hope for the right kind of change!

M. Simon, based on DJ's pos... (Below threshold)
Lummox JR:

M. Simon, based on DJ's posts I don't think the bias can be adequately calibrated out. He has actually re-weighted results from several polls to fit historical norms and some of the data comes out absurd, even though other data looks more reasonable.

The problem is that the bias exists at several levels. Wording and order of questions is one, which DJ mentioned in another post. The extremely low response rate is another factor to consider, as is the number of responses from people who aren't registered to vote at all or are unemployed. Several polls have outright made up their own definition of "likely voter" without releasing details on how they came up with that statistic, preventing it from being calibrated out at all.

In fact to do this sort of recalibration in the first place, you would need access to all of the internal data, which most polls haven't released. But some factors just can't be recalibrated, like issues related to poor quality of the poll questions or response pool. It may be possible to gauge that such factors will bias responses in a certain direction, but mathematically you can't really say how much it will bias them. The numbers can be improved only to the extent that you're dealing with quantifiable (and known) data.

<a href="http://www.thenati... (Below threshold)


Just ahead of McCain and shaking hands with Follieri appears to be Rick Davis--McCain's top aide and now co-manager of his campaign, who accompanied him on the trip and advised the government of Montenegro. A few months after McCain's yacht party, Follieri strengthened his ties to McCain's orbit by retaining Rick Davis's well-connected Washington lobbying firm, Davis Manafort, and offering Davis both an investment deal and help in securing the Catholic vote for McCain's presidential bid. Follieri, who posed as Vatican chief financial officer in order to win friends and investments, pleaded guilty Wednesday in a Manhattan district court to conspiracy to commit wire fraud, eight counts of wire fraud and five counts of money laundering. As part of the plea, Follieri admitted to misappropriating at least $2.4 million of investor money and redirecting it to foreign personal bank accounts that were disguised as business accounts.

The photograph substantiates reports that in late August, 2006, McCain celebrated his 70th birthday aboard a yacht, the Celine Ashley, rented by A-list con man Raffaello Follieri and his then-movie star girlfriend Anne Hathaway.

In the photograph, taken in Montenegro at the end of August, McCain is shown boarding the yacht ramp towards the smiling Follieri and Hathaway.

Mr. Right is well......righ... (Below threshold)

Mr. Right is well......right. The weighting of the polls in favor of the Dems because of new registrations is skewing the data because a substantial number of the new registrations are fraudulent and Democrat. In Ohio, for example, 75% or more of new registrations are Democrat and 30-50% are fraudulent (200,000 - 300,000).

Why this hasn't been brought up anywhere but here is beyond me. Fox and the GOP should be all over this. These weighted polls are flooding the airways and only serve to discourage people who would vote for McCain.

Chicago politics is driving Obama's campaign.

The topic is polls. Trolls... (Below threshold)
DJ Drummond:

The topic is polls. Trolls will be devoweled.

The topic is polls. Trol... (Below threshold)

The topic is polls. Trolls will be devoweled.

Hey, DJ!

Wouldn't it be funnier to say disemvoweled instead?

Great article in a great series, btw! Thanks!!!

DJ,I drove from we... (Below threshold)


I drove from western Montgomery County, MD through Frederick and due north fairly well into Pennsylvania today. I saw an Obama sign twice: my neighbor's when I left, and my neighbor's when I got home. I know I was in bible and gun clutching country, but the absence was pretty striking. Something doesn't smell right.

Your body of work continues to be excellent, and, although it may not be your proximate cause for debunking the polls in the manner you do, it's a relief to have someone cut through the camouflage netting for us.

Good on you. Tuesday's going to be something else.

I see you all have not lost... (Below threshold)

I see you all have not lost your fight :

GOOD! Because we have a lot to do. You! (the American people) are going to have to take back control of your elected government at every level, and set your government back on the right path of service to you, and the greater good of the World.

Barack Obama and the democrats are your best hope of doing that now. Tell your family, friends, and everyone you know to support them as best they can. Because the Bush McCain vote fraud, vote cheating, vote buying, vote manipulation machine is already hard at work to cheat you again. And we all know what a disaster that has been the past 8 years of Bush McCain.

Barack Obama and the democrats will need all the power you can give them at every level of government (Federal, State, County, and local City elected governments). Obama and the democrats will have an enormous mess to fix for the American people, and the rest of the World. A mess caused by the corrupt Bush McCain administration.

You see, starting back in 2000, and before 911, it was mostly the Republican governors, Republican legislatures, and county elected Republican officials that conspired with the corrupt Bush McCain administration to raise college, and university tuitions by the fastest, and highest rate increases in American history. Some state tuitions went up by as much as a WHOPPING! 30% in one year.

The reason the Bush McCain administration did this was to force struggling working class kids into the military to pay for the sudden jump in tuition. Which was forced on them by the corrupt Bush McCain administration, and their corrupt Republican Governors, and republican controlled state legislatures.

See, Bush McCain had plans to get us into all these immoral, foolish, criminal, and unnecessary wars from the start. So they could use these wars to seize power, and later to get reelected. But, for their evil plan to work they needed more volunteer soldiers struggling to pay for an education whose blood they could spill to help them seize more power. Remember Bush McCain's "MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!" theatrics.

The exploitation, and lost lives of these finest Americans is despicable, disgusting, immoral, corrupt and criminal. And it makes me SICK, and ANGRY!

You will have to vote for Obama, and the democrats in overwhelming numbers to overcome the Bush McCain vote fraud machine. Vote early if you can. Then help your fellow Americans cast their votes now, and on through election day. Vote for Obama, and the democrats like your life, and the lives of your loved ones depends on it. Because it does. You will not survive 4 more years of "Let Them Eat Cake" Bush McCain, and their republican allies.

Just look at the mess we have now.

You can fix this mess with your votes for Obama, and the democrats. And REMEMBER, no matter which of us may stumble or fall, the rest of you must continue to surge forward for Barack Obama, and the democrats, and for your-selves most of all. The children, and the World are counting on us.

It's in your hands now. And I know you will get it done.

God bless all of you.


Paging the disemvoweler!</p... (Below threshold)

Paging the disemvoweler!

Astroturf spill on aisle 25

Barack Obama and t... (Below threshold)
Barack Obama and the democrats are your best hope of doing that now.

Barack Obama has nothing to do with the democrats. The very people who promoted him will bring him down.

I really enjoy your site. ... (Below threshold)

I really enjoy your site. Its a great read! I have a site of my own http://autorotatesflyingcircus.blogspot.net and am always on the look out for other, sane, rational thinkers in this growing irrational world.

i know the poll numbers have to be wrong!






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