The Corner

PRE-ELECTION EXIT POLLS

Today’s Washington Post poll raises (indirectly) an issue that will likely become more important in the next two weeks and in future elections: the importance of early voting. We’ve had a lot of news reports that early voting is becoming more and more popular. If that is the case, why couldn’t pollsters conduct what are, in effect, pre-election exit polls to determine who is ahead? Wouldn’t that information be very valuable to candidates, consultants, oppo researchers, etc., as they determine last-days strategy? And wouldn’t press reports, not to mention blog items, on the voting totals — of course they will leak — possibly have an effect on what happens on Election Day itself?

That issue came up in the Post survey when the paper’s pollsters asked this question:

I’d like you to rate the chances that you will vote in the Congressional election in November: Are you absolutely certain to vote, will you probably vote, are the chances 50-50, or less than that?

I called the Post’s Jon Cohen this morning, who told me that, in addition to those people who picked one of the categories listed in the question, eleven people (out of a sample of 1,200) said that they had already voted. In other words, the Post wasn’t looking to find who had and had not voted, but it found out anyway — at least from those who volunteered the information. There may have been others, perhaps a significant number of others, who had already voted but did not say so, so it’s not a reliable result. Still, it’s part of the Post’s numbers. For example, shortly after asking the question above, pollsters asked this question of those who said they had already voted:

Did you vote for (the Democratic candidate) or (the Republican candidate) in your congressional district?

With just eleven respondents, clearly the results are not statistically valid, but Cohen said the results of that question are included in the larger totals (54 percent of registered voters said Democrat, versus 41 percent Republican). So with this poll, the issue of early voters is insignificant. But it might become significant in other polls as Election Day draws near.

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