What are Exit Polls?

Sherry Holetzky

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.

Exit polls are taken to help make predictions on the outcome of an election.
Exit polls are taken to help make predictions on the outcome of an election.

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.

Informal surveys and polls, after people have voted, are used to help predict the results of voting before all ballots have actually been cast and tabulated.
Informal surveys and polls, after people have voted, are used to help predict the results of voting before all ballots have actually been cast and tabulated.

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.

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Discussion Comments


I'm not one of these voters who treats my vote like it was a classified secret. Most people know my political affiliation and my leanings on other ballot issues, like taxes and school funding. I'm proud to participate in election exit polls and opinion polls. When I step out of the voting booth, I'll often look around to see if anyone wants to talk about my vote.

My candidates don't always win the actual elections, but they tend to do well in my area according to the exit poll results. I don't vote a straight political ticket, either. I don't know if that skews the results of the polls or not, but I like to think I vote with my conscience, not with my preferred political party. I feel good participating in those election day exit polls and then watching the election news later on TV.


There are some years when I don't mind participating in exit polls, and other years when I'd rather keep my vote to myself. My particular political party is definitely the minority party in this state, and sometimes it's not safe to tell poll takers I voted for the "other candidate".

I've only seen a few instances where election exit polls didn't match the official result. I remember the exit polls in 2000 declared Al Gore the winner in my state, but the absentee ballots put George W. Bush ahead at the last minute. But most of the time, the candidates or the issues favored by the exit poll results usually win.

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