Skip to main content

Controversies in Exit Polling: Implementing a racially stratified homogenous precinct approach

In 2004, Voter News Service (VNS) exit polling was scrapped due to problems in 2000 and Edison-Mitofsky Research was chosen to implement a new, and more accurate National Exit Poll (NEP) in 2004. Exit poll results from Edison-Mitofsky showed John Kerry ahead in Ohio, Florida, and New Mexico - all states which he lost to Bush in 2004. In addition to the overall exit poll results being skewed, comparative vote results for subgroups, such as Latino voters, also appeared to be wrong. The National Exit Poll (NEP) reported on November 2, 2004 that Bush won 45 percent of the Latino vote, a 10-point gain from 2000. In contrast, an exit poll of only Latino voters conducted by the William C. Velasquez Institute reported that Bush won only 32 percent of the Latino vote.

What explains such discrepancies? One possibility is the methodology used to select the precincts where exit poll interviews are conducted is faulty. Ideally, the respondents in the exit poll survey will be accurate representatives of the entire city or state in which the election is being held. However, if the exit poll interviews respondents that are too conservative or too liberal, too young or too old, too poor or too rich, or too White, it could skew the overall results by a wide margin, even after weights are employed. Existing exit polls are often unreliable because the members of the demographic subgroups interviewed for the poll are not necessarily representative of all members of their demographic subgroup.

Specifically, we pose two important methodological questions pertaining to the science behind exit polls: (1) what is the most accurate sampling technique for polling racial and ethnic voters in a diverse setting, and (2) how should exit polls account for early and absentee votes not cast on Election Day? To answer these questions, we implemented an alternative sampling exit poll in the city of Los Angeles during the 2005 mayoral election and compared our results to the exit poll implemented by the Los Angeles Times and then compared both to the actual election results. In short, the different methodologies accounted for different results suggesting new approaches to exit polling are welcome.