Either there is a huge methodological flaw in the exit polling data, or there has been a transformative change in the nature of the electorate. The former is far more likely. Which means that much of the media’s narrative of the election so far looks to be very much wide of the mark. Imagine that.
Let me explain what I mean. Here are several data points that indicate that something is amiss on the matter of exit polling:
**In 2000, George W. Bush lost the white Catholic vote in Wisconsin. This time, he appears to be winning it by 10 percentage points. Yet I believe the exit polls have the white Catholic vote shrinking from more than one-third of the population to less than one-quarter. There’s no reasonable explanation for it.
***In North Carolina, the exit polls show the voting population to be 63 percent women. That is obviously far too large – and it explains why the exit polls have the President up by only one in North Carolina. That figure won’t stand up when the votes are counted; the President will carry North Carolina by a wide margin.
The exit polls have President Bush up in South Carolina by only seven points. He will win South Carolina by more than seven; you can take that to the bank.
The Latino population makes up a larger percentage of Florida’s population than in 2000. The President is carrying the Latino population in Florida by a greater margin than four years ago. Yet the exit polls have Latinos comprising a far smaller voting percentage of the population than four years ago.
***In Ohio, the exit polls show the vote among men to be 50-50. The final votes will almost surely be higher than that.
***President Bush is winning 43 percent of the Hispanic vote — which, if that remains, means he should win re-election.
***Florida is a state in which you can measure absentee ballots early to get a good idea of where things stand. Right now we are dominating in absentee ballots in Florida. To be precise: we are leading by 154,000 votes – while in 2000, we won by only 98,000. So we are in much better shape this election that the last on this significant matter.
It’s worth recalling that in 2000, the final exit polls were significantly different than the actual vote count in at least seven states. And 2000 may be seen as the high-water mark for exit polling, compared to this year.
Something is clearly amiss. Indeed, this election may be a dagger at the heart of exit polling. The larger point is that we believe the President will not only carry Florida and Ohio; he has a real shot at carrying New Mexico, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Michigan. That doesn’t mean he’ll carry all those states — but it does mean that some of the post-mortems you are seeing on television and elsewhere are wildly irresponsible. I should add that when you talk to some very smart political reporters, they will tell you that they are very suspicious of the exit polling data sets. And they should be. We’ve gone through a similar situation once before, in 2000. You’d think people would learn. But you would be wrong.
The bottom line is that people need to exercise reasonable judgment and patience; watching some political commentators take to the airwaves before 7:00 p.m. to interpret the results of the election is like watching housepainters pretending to be portrait artists.
There is an obvious solution to all this: people — especially reporters and commentators — should wait until the votes are cast and counted. And until that happens, they should withhold making judgments based on information that is at the very least suspect.