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An election exit poll is a poll of voters taken immediately after they have exited the polling stations. Unlike an opinion poll, which asks whom the voter plans to vote for or some similar formulation, an exit poll asks whom the voter actually voted for. A similar poll conducted before actual voters have voted is called an entrance poll. Pollsters – usually private companies working for newspapers or broadcasters – conduct exit polls to gain an early indication as to how an election has turned out, as in many elections the actual result may take hours or even days to count.
Exit polls are also used to collect demographic data about voters and to find out why they voted as they did. Since actual votes are cast anonymously, polling is the only way of collecting this information.
Exit polls have historically and throughout the world been used as a check against and rough indicator of the degree of election fraud. Some examples of this include the Venezuelan recall referendum, 2004, and the Ukrainian presidential election, 2004.
Like all opinion polls, exit polls by nature do include a margin of error. A famous example of exit poll error occurred in the 1992 UK General Election, when two exit polls predicted a hung parliament. The actual vote revealed that Conservative Party Government under John Major held their position, though with a significantly reduced majority. Investigations into this failure identified a number of causes including differential response rates (the Shy Tory Factor), the use of inadequate demographic data and poor choice of sampling points.
|The examples and perspective in this section may not represent a worldwide view of the subject. Please improve this article or discuss the issue on the talk page. (December 2010)|
In the United States, the National Election Pool (NEP), consisting of ABC, AP, CBS, CNN, FOX News, and NBC, conducts a joint election exit poll. Since 2004 this exit poll has been conducted for the NEP by Edison Media Research.
The release of exit poll data in the US has been met with increased scrutiny in recent years. In the 2012 election protocols to quarantine the release of data were put in place.
Widespread criticism of exit polling has occurred in cases, especially in the United States, where exit-poll results have appeared and/or have provided a basis for projecting winners before all real polls have closed, thereby possibly influencing election results. In the 1980 U.S. presidential election, NBC predicted a victory for Ronald Reagan at 8:15 pm EST, based on exit polls of 20,000 voters. It was 5:15 pm on the West Coast, and the polls were still open. There was speculation that voters stayed away after hearing the results. Thereafter, television networks have voluntarily adopted the policy of not projecting any victor within a state until all polls have closed for that state. In the 2000 U.S. Presidential election it was alleged that media organizations released exit poll results for Florida before the polls closed in the Florida panhandle, as part of the westernmost area of the state is 1 hour behind the main peninsula.
Some countries, such as the United Kingdom or Germany, have made it a criminal offence to release exit poll figures before the polling stations have closed, while others, such as Singapore, have banned them altogether. In some instances, problems with exit polls have encouraged polling groups to pool data in hopes of increased accuracy. This proved successful during the 2005 UK General Election, when the BBC and ITV merged their data to show an exit poll giving Labour a majority of 66 seats, which turned out to be the exact figure. This method was also successful in the 2007 Australian Federal Election, where the collaboration of Sky News, Channel 7 and Auspoll provided an almost exact 53 percent two party-preferred victory to Labor over the ruling Coalition.