Exit polls have been a staple of election nights for the past several decades, in which pollsters and news organizations survey voters as they leave voting stations. But recent elections have produced some exit poll results that were seen as inaccurate or out of step with changes in the American electorate.
For the 2018 mid-term elections, the Associated Press, a longtime authority in calling election results, has moved away from traditional exit polls. Instead, the AP is using its new VoteCast survey, developed in cooperation with NORC, an independent social research organization at the University of Chicago.
VoteCast draws on a mix of telephone and online surveys conducted in the four days before Election Day and up to the times polls close. The service will involve an estimated 85,000 surveys, or more than four times the 19,400 exit polls conducted in the last mid-term elections. That not only allows for a larger survey base, it can also offer insight into the opinions of those who choose not to vote.
AP executive editor Sally Buzbee said the news organization has been concerned about exit polls for some time. During the 2016 election, Buzbee saw that exit-poll results differed from actual results, often showing poll respondents favoring Hillary Clinton in districts where Donald Trump won the vote. “If you don’t trust it enough to use it, it doesn’t have much value,” Buzbee said in an AP story explaining the move to VoteCast.
After 2016, some also questioned the value of exit polls in a severely polarized political climate. Voters queried by exit pollsters may distrust news organizations enough to decline to answer or give inaccurate replies. The AP tested VoteCast in special elections last year, such as the Senate race in Alabama. The survey predicted Democrat Doug Jones would beat Republican Roy Moore 50 to 47 percent. The actual tally was 50 to 48 percent.
A handful of news organizations, such as the Washington Post, will use VoteCast for 2018 mid-term election projections. Many others—including ABC, CBS, CNN and NBC—will continue to use the in-person exit poll administered by Edison Research. In that sense, this election will also be a referendum on the best way to anticipate voter intent on Election Day.