Sunday, November 2, 2008

Rasmussen:Beware of Exit Polls

Democrats still ache over Election Day 2004 when exit polling showed John Kerry about to become the next president of the United States. The only problem was that the actual vote count put George W. Bush back in the White House for four more years.

And that came just four years after the disastrous exit polling in 2000, when the race on Election Night was called first for Al Gore, then for Bush and then at 4 a.m. was declared “too close to call.”
Many voters wonder why they can’t ever seem to get it right?

Part of the frustration may stem from the fact that the primary value of exit polling is to help us understand why people voted the way they did. This is an entirely different task than trying to predict a winner for Internet junkies who can’t wait a few more hours until actual votes are counted.

Reviewing Fox News/Rasmussen Reports data from key battleground states raises a couple red flags about the use of early exit polling data to predict a winner. Understanding this data from polling conducted last Sunday night may save some a repeat of 2004’s heartache.

The bottom line is that in every state we polled--Colorado, Florida, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio and Virginia-- Democrats are a lot more eager to take exit polls than Republicans.

In five of the six states, a majority of Democrats say they would be Very Likely to participate in the exit polling process. At the same time, in five of the six states, fewer than 40% of Republicans would be willing to do the same.

In every state, Republicans are at least twice as likely as Democrats to say that they are not at all willing to take an exit poll.

Unaffiliated voters tend to align more closely to Republicans in all six states in both willingness and unwillingness to participate in exit polls.

In Colorado, for example, 64% of likely voters say they are at least somewhat likely to take an exit poll. But take a closer look at the numbers: While 52% of Democrats say they are Very Likely to participate in an exit poll, just 36% of Republicans agree.

In addition to that 16-point spread between Democrats and Republicans, 16% of Colorado’s GOP voters say they are not at all likely to take an exit poll versus eight percent (8%) of Democrats.

There’s an identical 16-point split in North Carolina, where 52% of Democrats say they are Very Likely to take an exit poll, but just 36% of Republicans agree. Only six percent (6%) of Democrats say they are not at all likely to take an exit poll, a view shared by 14% of Republican voters.

The closest of the battleground states is Ohio where there’s only an 11-point gap between Republicans and Democrats. Just 43% of Republican voters describe themselves as Very Likely to participate in an exit poll compared to 54% of Democrats.

Again, just seven percent (7%) of Democratic voters say they are not likely to take an exit poll at all. Compare that with 12% of Republicans who say the same.

Then there’s the issue of early voting, which is expected to reach unprecedented levels this year. Nationwide, Rasmussen Reports polling suggests as many as 37% of voters may cast their ballot before Tuesday.

In four of the battleground states, among those who had voted by last Sunday, Obama voters outnumber McCain voters by 20-plus points. In Missouri, early voters are evenly divided between the two candidates, while in Colorado Obama voters best McCain voters by “only” 15 points.

In Florida, which is typical of the others, 62% of those who have already voted cast their ballots for the Democrat, while 38% voted for McCain. In Virginia, 35% of early voters opted for the Republican, but 65% voted for Obama.

In part to compensate for this, exit polling has already begun in the 18 states where early voting is allowed. On the basis of our data from the battleground states, however, the responses appear likely to be weighted heavily in Obama’s favor since his voters far outnumber McCain’s. And, remember, Democrats are more willing to play the exit poll game than Republicans.

Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International which handled exit polling in 2004 will again conduct the polls that will be used by the Associated Press and by ABC, CBS, CNN, FOX and NBC. They’re going to great lengths to keep the data under wraps until 5 pm Eastern on Election Day, so any exit data released prior to that time is not from the “official” news consortium.

It was early poll numbers leaked in 2004 that showed Kerry leading Bush, contrary to the final results. One of those in charge of the polling later concluded that the discrepancy was because “Kerry voters were more anxious to participate in our exit polls than the Bush voters.” Sound familiar?

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