Be Wary of Exit Polls

Be Wary of Exit Polls

( – America loves polls, but many don’t trust them. In 2000, early exit polls predicted that the Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore had defeated Republican George W. Bush, and the major news outlets ran with the story. They declared Gore the victor. However, it wasn’t long before news outlets began retracting their victory dance. Days later, Bush was declared the winner in Florida and became the 42nd President of the United States.

Since that time, exit polls have been considered highly unreliable, and you would be right to be wary of them as returns start coming in. This year, they become even more suspect as questions abound about the truthfulness of voters.

What Are Exit Polls

Exit polls are a part of the early election night reporting before the actual results are available. Across the country, a pollster is stationed outside of a polling location. News outlets or research firms typically hire them. As voters leave the voting facility, they are randomly selected to answer basic questions about why and how they voted.

The exit poll is conducted in public, where anyone within earshot can hear. The information that’s gathered is sent to a central location where the information is tabulated. It’s then disseminated to its principal source for public consumption.

What Makes an Exit Poll Untrustworthy?

There are a few reasons why exit polls have become untrustworthy. The first has to do with how they were intended to be used. The function of an exit poll was never to predict the outcome of an election in real-time. What they are designed to do is help the public, political scientists, and campaigns understand why a candidate won or lost after an election is over. It also breaks down all kinds of information, including demographics, education, race, and gender.

Second, exit polls are not reliable because poll numbers change over time as the pollsters talk to more voters. Election night watchers should be especially wary of early night exit poll numbers. As the night goes on and hundreds of thousands or millions of exit poll numbers are revealed, they become more reliable.

Third, and most importantly, 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic skewed everything. Early voting broke records as 97 million people out of 240 million registered voters cast a ballot before election day. Regardless of how they voted, pollsters didn’t have an opportunity to talk with this massive audience. Exit polls will only indicate those whom pollsters talked to on election day at polling locations.

Finally, there’s the truth factor. In past elections, people have been known to lie to pollsters. With passions running high and threats of violence in some cities where businesses have boarded up their locations to protect themselves, people may be unwilling to tell the truth if they voted for Donald Trump. Intimidation is a very real factor of consideration in exit polling.

If you want to know who won the election, the best way is to wait for the official results. It could take a few days in some states like Pennsylvania and North Carolina, but the wait will be worth the final outcome.

Don Purdum, Independent Political Analyst

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