NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


January 21, 2005

The exit polls of voters on Election Day so overstated Sen. John Kerry's support that, going back to 1988, they rank as the most inaccurate in a presidential election, the firms that did the work concede.

In a report to the six media companies that paid them to conduct the voter surveys, pollsters Warren Mitofsky and Joseph Lenski, said that "on average, the results from each precinct overstated the Kerry-Bush difference by 6.5 (percentage) points. This is the largest (overstatement) we have observed -- in the last five presidential elections."

Among the findings:

  • Half of the 1,400 interviewers were younger than 35; that may explain in part why Kerry voters were more inclined to participate, since he drew more of the youth vote than did Bush, but Mitofsky and Lenski also found younger interviewers were more likely to make mistakes.
  • Early results were skewed by a "programming error" that led to including too many female voters; Kerry outpolled Bush among women.
  • Some local officials prevented interviewers from getting close to voters.

The exit polls, which are supposed to help the TV networks shape their coverage on election night, were sharply criticized. Leaks of preliminary data showed up on the Internet in the early afternoon of Election Day, fueling talk that Kerry was beating President Bush. After the election, some political scientists, pollsters and journalists questioned their value.

For future exit polls, Lenski and Mitofsky recommend hiring more experienced polltakers and giving them better training, and working with election officials to ensure access to polling places.

Source: Mark Memmott, "Firms report flaws that threw off exit polls; Kerry backers' willingness, pollsters' inexperience cited,"USA Today, January 20, 2005.


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