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Exit Polls

An exit poll is a survey of voters taken immediately as they leave the polling place in which they are asked which candidate they chose.

They are typically conducted by media companies to get an early indication of who actually won an election, as the actual result sometimes may take many hours to determine.

These surveys are also used to gather information about the demographics, attitudes, and voting behaviors of the electorate. They can also be used to see if the shy voter phenomenon exists.

Pollsters will often use a combination of random sampling techniques and stratified sampling, in which voters are selected based on their demographic characteristics, to ensure that the results are representative of the population as a whole.

Of course, like any survey, exit polls today are not always accurate. There have been instances in which the results of exit polls have differed significantly from the final election results.

This can occur for a variety of reasons, including sampling error, bias in the sampling methodology, or a failure to adequately account for changes in voter turnout or voting patterns.

More on “Exit Polls”

The media’s surveys of voters after they cast their ballots—which have been shown to cause trouble when taken as gospel.

“They’re a convenience for reporting, but they don’t really inform the political debate at all,” said Terry Casey, a political scientist at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, Indiana. “It’s more about who’s going to get the first call on a state or district.”

Exit polls came into prominence in the 1970s. They first created controversy in 1980, when NBC News projected Ronald Reagan’s victory, based on such polling, nearly three hours before the polls had closed on the West Coast—fueling speculation about whether premature news would discourage many would-be voters from showing up.

News organizations subsequently agreed not to project any voting results in a state until its poll had closed. But the media mistakes continued. In 1996, three networks—CNN, ABC, and CBS—cited exit polls to project a third-place finish for Republican Bob Dole in Arizona’s GOP primary, which pundits said at the time would be the death knell for Dole.

The Kansas senator actually took second; it later emerged that followers of Dole’s opponent, Pat Buchanan, had tried to influence exit pollsters by actively seeking them out.

Then came the low point for exit polls: in 2000, the polling-statistics group Voter News Service used exit-poll data to project, before Florida’s polls closed, that Democratic vice president Al Gore would win that state—a decision that the Supreme Court eventually overturned.

Exit polling has improved since then, but experts say it still should be taken with a grain of salt.

“The problems begin early on election evening, when the first waves of exit polls are invariably leaked and invariably show a surprising result somewhere,” the New York Times’s Nate Cohn wrote. “You’re best off ignoring these early returns, which are unweighted—meaning the demographic mix of the respondents is not adjusted to match any expectations for the composition of the electorate. The first waves also don’t even include all of the exit poll interviews. The problems continue with the final waves, which analysts pore over in the days after the election and treat as a definitive account of the composition of the electorate.”

From Doubletalk © 2016 Chuck McCutcheon and David Mark.

Use of “Exit Polls” in a sentence

  • The news outlet released its final set of exit polls, showing a tight race between the two leading candidates.
  • The campaign team is using the exit poll data to assess the effectiveness of their voter turnout operations.
  • The political analysts are carefully analyzing the exit poll results to predict the outcome of the election.