Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Beware of exit polls...

The word is on the street that this time the exit polls are going to get it right.

They won't.

After the election of 2000 I was asked by CNN to serve on an a three-person commission investigating the catastrophic Presidential election fiasco of 11/2000.

Here are the nut graphs:

On Election Day 2000, television news organizations staged a collective drag race
on the crowded highway of democracy, recklessly endangering the electoral process, the
political life of the country, and their own credibility, all for reasons that may be
conceptually flawed and commercially questionable.

Their excessive speed, combined with an overconfidence in experts and a reliance
on increasingly dubious polls, produced a powerful collision between the public interest
and the private competitive interests of the television news operations and the
corporations that own them.

Their hyper-competition stemmed from a foolish attempt to beat their rivals to the
finish line in calling state-by-state winners in the presidential election, foolish because
few in the crowd knew then or know now which network got the checkered flag most
often. Foolish because each network funded its competitor's work. Foolish, too, because
their haste led to two mistaken calls in the state that turned out to hold the key to the
outcome of the election. All, in turn, played an important role in creating the ensuing
climate of rancor and bitterness.

Those calls and their retractions constituted a news disaster that damaged
democracy and journalism.


(I didn't write these particular paragraphs, but I wish I had.)

There is more to it than just excessive competition.

Because of the outrageous amount of telemarketing, people are less likely to respond to a survey by a reputable pollster --- in part because there are outrageous scams perpetuated under the flag of survey research.

Because of the increased incidence of violent criminality and legal liability, polling firms won't send pollsters into certain neighborhoods for face-to-face interviewing, nor would they go if asked.

There has been an increased rate of unlisted phones.

Most everyone has an answering machine. Those people won't even answer calls they don't want to answer.

The number of voters casting absentee ballots has soared. Those voters are not voting on the same set of issues as those who go to the polls on Election Day.

Suppose Osama had been captured on Friday, or another 9/11 was visited upon us.

People seem less likely to answer questions from a stranger.

Few exit pollsters have time-lines to compare results from election to election.
The Los Angeles Times is a notable exception.

This is unfortunate.

Good exit polling can tell us why people voted and offer us results sliced and diced by income, age, race and gender.

Today, those results are much less reliable than they once were.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Suppose Osama had been captured on Friday,...

Would it really matter, on the ground? Has killing Zarqawi meant less violence in Iraq? Wasn't October one of the worst months ever for US casualties?

November 07, 2006  

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