Fox News May Have Broken The "Exit Poll" Rule On Election Night

We know Fox News was pretty excited on Election Night, but they may have been a little too exit poll-happy. Just after 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Fox News aired a graphic showing the exit poll results for New Hampshire's closely watched U.S. Senate race between Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D) and state-hopper Scott Brown (R). However, polls in New Hampshire don't close until 8 p.m., which means Fox News was breaking a major election rule. Did the news network own up to it? Not exactly.

According to Vox Media, media outlets in the National Election Pool have a "binding agreement" to not release exit poll results, conducted by Edison Research, before the polls have closed in the state. There's a simple reason for this: showing a candidate is winning or losing can discourage voters from going to the polls and potentially sway the outcome of the race.

Of course, in this day and age, news outlets want to get as much information out to their viewers — and be the first outlet to do so. So, media outlets have to strike the right balance between trickling information and leaking results.

Fox News may have done the latter. With two hours left to vote in New Hampshire, anchor Martha MacCallum gestured at a graphic depicting how registered independents were voting: 50 percent for Brown, 49 percent for Shaheen. MacCallum saw this as an indicator that Brown may have an edge, saying: "And look how tight this [race] is ... This one's been neck-and-neck all along."

Oops, my bad, exactly. According to Talking Points Memo, Fox News is now denying that it broke the media outlet-exit poll agreement. Executive vice president Michael Clemente told TPM in an emailed statement:

According to the National Election Pool (NEP), we are permitted to report exit poll results as long as we don’t characterize the outcome of the race which we did not do earlier this evening.

However, members of the NEP disagree with Clemente. One unnamed media executive in the NEP told Politico via email:

They [Fox News] are not supposed to reveal any exit polls which might reveal who wins or what the race looks like.

Despite showing data that indicated Brown had a slight edge, Shaheen ended up winning the race — so Fox News exit polls be damned. Images: Fox News/screenshot