Exit polls are informal polls or surveys taken amongst a random sampling of people as they leave the voting booth on election day. These informal surveys ask individuals whom they voted for, how they voted on ballot initiatives, and which issues had the most impact on their votes, as well as asking for some personal information. The ostensible purpose of exit polls is to provide assistance in making predictions regarding the outcome of an election. While exit polls can provide some interesting insight into the mood and make up of voters, exit polls aren’t always an accurate analysis of final election results.
To collect a reasonable sampling for exit polls, a certain number of precincts will be chosen in advance and a certain number of voters from each precinct will be surveyed. Those conducting the polling will count off so many people as they leave the voting place and select one person to interview for every so many that have exited. This pattern helps to keep the sampling random by selecting individuals at different time periods throughout regular voting hours. By spreading the sampling out, amongst morning, afternoon, and evening voters, pollsters can obtain a more diverse set of demographics.
Demographics include many variables when it comes to exit polls, such as race, gender, age, marital status, annual income, religion, and of course political party. There are many other issues, including hot button topics or “wedge issues” such as marriage amendments, pro-life and pro-choice issues, foreign policy, domestic spending, and more. Those conducting exit polls try to gather as much information as possible from each of the voters they interview. Doing so aids them in establishing the overall mood of the voters as well as in determining voter turn out for specific political party bases and special interest groups or voting blocs.
After exit polls are completed, the data is compiled in several different ways. First, an attempt is made to predict the overall election results and then other dynamics are observed. For example, if voter turnout is high and women make up a large percentage of the turn out then the numbers may be again broken down into categories such as single women, married women, mothers, senior women, and so on. If young people have a strong turn out, the numbers may indicate that college students vote in higher numbers than young voters who aren’t furthering their education.
There is much to be learned from exit polls. The more detailed the surveys and the more people interviewed, the more can be learned about the current moods and trends exhibited by voters. Exit polls can help not only in preparing future campaign platforms but also in determining the types of policies candidates should or should not support if they hope to be re-elected.