How Does Exit Polling Work? The Surveys Will Come In Handy On Election Day
On Election Day, all eyes actually won't be on the presidential candidates, but rather on the polls. As voters across the country head to their local polling places, many will be asked questions about their vote after it's cast. In simple terms, that's how exit polling works, and the answers that voters give will help to predict the election results long before each vote is actually counted.
Exit polls aren't the same polls that you've been hearing about for the past few months — the ones that journalists and pundits tend to tout and Donald Trump tends to deny. While important, those polls face one serious limitation: They have no good way of reporting who will actually head to the polls on election day. Exit polls, on the other hand, capture data about voter turnout, and they indicate voters' preferences.
Whether you trust the pre-Election Day polls or not, you should plan to pay attention to exit polls on the big day. Thanks to the efficiency and accuracy of such polls, election results will start to trickle in as soon as the first polling places close on the East Coast. In other words, you'll have a pretty good idea of the election results early on in the night — and an excuse to be done with the election chaos as early as possible.
Most exit polls consist of a questionnaire voters fill out upon leaving a polling place, but not every voter gets the 15- to 20-question form. For instance, Joe Lenski, executive vice president of Edison Media Research recently told The Washington Post that his group, which provides exit polls for major media networks like CNN and the Associated Press, polls voters according to a predetermined rate. Depending on the size of the polling place or precinct, pollsters may question every third, fifth, or umpteenth voter.
The responses that pollsters receive throughout the day are tallied in real-time and relayed to the media networks that have commissioned the polls. Then, by the time the polls close, the media already have data in hand.
In some cases, exit polls may be already underway, even though there are still about two weeks until Election Day. Early voting in many states has drawn long lines and crowded polls, making exit polls all the more relevant. In El Paso, Texas, for instance, local high school students surveyed voters leaving early voting sites. According to The El Paso Times, they'll be out more than once during early voting, and on Election Day.
Ultimately, exit poll data isn't perfect. As with all polls and surveys, there is some margin of error. Still, the information that these polls do provide can reveal patterns in voting that often indicate which candidate has the upper hand heading into any vote count. With any luck, the exit polls on Nov. 8 will reveal a clear winner early on in the evening, so that voters can finally go on with their lives after the campaign season that would never end.
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