Watching the exit polls


"I voted" stickers. (Photo by Tom Lynn/For The Washington Post)

As Election Day moves forward, you're going to be hearing a lot about exit polls, just one of the tools The Post is using to call results in battleground states for the presidential election and other key races.

As detailed on our Ask The Post blog, The Post's decision desk will monitor exit polling, in addition to state and county election returns, updates from our correspondents in the field and other data to make election calls this evening.

Wonkblog's Sarah Kliff highlighted the pros and cons of exit polls in a blog post Tuesday: "At their best, exit polls give election junkies an early sense of how the American electorate is leaning... At their worst their data can be incomplete and misleading. Early exit polls don't always capture the full picture of who is voting; supposed 'leaks' are often inaccurate."

And as Chris Cillizza notes on The Fix, more exit polls will emerge after 8 p.m. "The exit poll numbers WILL change," Cillizza wrote. "because the exit poll weights their data to match vote totals when they become available. a double-digit lead for Obama among women could shrink to single digits, or no lead at all, later on in the night."

Jennifer Rubin, who writes the conservative-leaning Right Turn blog also expressed discomfort with exit polls, noting that they "have been unreliable in the past and if this is a close race they will be even less useful as predictors of the final vote. The biggest utility of exit polls is what they tell us in retrospect, after the votes have been counted and the exits poll finding re-weighted."

It's a shared sentiment that explains why The Post will be cautious in its use of exit polls.

When calling states this evening, the Post will defer to the Associated Press. But calling battleground states will ultimately rely on analysis from the decision desk, run by former Post executive editor and election veteran Len Downie. Downie will coordinate with the Post’s polling unit, social media team and a team of journalism students to make final calls for key races.

Related:

The Fix: Everything you need to know about exit polls

Right Turn: Exit poll anxiety

Wonkblog: Don't get fooled: A guide to watching the exit polls

Ask The Post: How we'll call key races

Bethonie Butler is a producer and a reporter on The Post’s engagement team. She oversees online comments and has also contributed to The Style Blog and She The People.
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David Nakamura · November 6, 2012