The Corner

The Exit Polls Are Meaningless . . .

. . . but I’m obsessed with them too. That’s because we’re in an information vacuum. 

In normal elections, the exit polls have often gotten lots of stuff wrong. This year, with so many millions of Americans voting early, the electorate at the polling stations isn’t even totally representative of the electorate. 

Also remember that Warren Mitofsky, the inventor of the exit poll, acknowledged that Democrats are more willing to talk to exit pollsters. Michael Barone in 2008:

 First, the exit polls in the recent presidential elections have tended to show the Democrats doing better than they actually did, partly because of interviewer error. The late Warren Mitofsky, in his study of the 2004 exit poll, found that the largest errors came in precincts where the interviewers were female graduate students.

Second, the exit polls in almost all the primaries this year showed Mr. Obama doing better than he actually did. The same respondent bias — the greater willingness of Obama voters to be polled — which apparently occurred on primary days could also occur in the exit poll on Election Day, and in the phone polls of early and absentee voters that Edison/Mitofsky will conduct to supplement it.

The exit poll gives us, and future political scientists, a treasure trove of information about the voting behavior of subgroups of the electorate, and also some useful insight into the reasons why people voted as they did. And the current plethora of polls gives us a rich lode of information on what voters are thinking at each stage of the campaign. But political polls are imperfect instruments. Reading them right is less a science than an art. We can trust the polls, with qualifications. We will have a chance to verify as the election returns come in.

Jonah Goldberg — Jonah Goldberg holds the Asness Chair in Applied Liberty at the American Enterprise Institute and is a senior editor of National Review. His new book, The Suicide of The West, is on sale now.

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