Last Exit Before Poll

The Topline

The 2016 cycle was a tough one for exit polling. The major networks’ exit polls showed results far more favorable to Hillary Clinton than Donald Trump, and struggled to accurately represent the demographics of the electorate on key figures such as education, a key indicator of partisanship. This isn’t the first time exit polls have misled the public; don’t get Democrats started about the early exits that showed John Kerry beating George W. Bush.

Now the Associated Press and Fox News have announced they are breaking with the traditional exit poll, which is paid for and shared by a consortium of media organizations, and going with a new method. The researchers have been tinkering with the new methods and are presenting their findings at this week’s American Association of Public Opinion Research conference, aka AAPOR, aka super-nerd prom.

As the name suggests, a traditional exit poll relies on interviewers talking to voters as they are exiting a carefully selected subset of polling places. That is getting harder as more voters in more states are voting before election day, or even by mail. Here in Massachusetts, in our first election cycle with early voting, some Massachusetts towns saw nearly 40 percent of votes cast before election day.

The new method will rely on a combination of phone and online surveys, more like a conventional pre-election poll might do. Because these methods cost a lot less than in-the-field surveys, the new poll will able to talk to four times as many voters as the traditional method. The new exit poll will also be able to reach voters and non-voters, which could yield a new layer of information.

Early indications have been positive. Testing in recent elections has produced accurate results in contests such as the Alabama Senate election and the 2017 contests in Virginia and New Jersey.

It’s not clear whether this means that Massachusetts, which is often overlooked in national exit polls, will get attention this year. The AP says it will cover every state holding a statewide election, but others have said it will be limited to competitive statewide races. That could leave out Massachusetts once again. In past years we at MPG have filled in the blanks where we could, with post-election polls of voters in the governor’s race in 2010 and 2014.

Whether we get numbers, there’s still a Massachusetts angle, as always, as fellow Beacon Hill pollster Anderson Robbins is the Democratic half of the bipartisan pair that conducts the Fox News poll. There is actually quite the national polling nexus growing here in the Bay State; in addition to Anderson Robbins and Fox, Suffolk University conducts the USA Today poll, and UMass Lowell has been doing more with The Washington Post.

The AP is presenting on its new method at AAPOR on Saturday, so we will know more details then.

Despite its problems, exit poll data has been a valuable source of data on who voted, for whom, and why. Polling as a whole is adapting to new technology; exit polls are doing the same.

MPG ICYMI

Speaking of exit polls, we had Politico’s Steve Shepard on this week’s episode of The Horse Race to talk about the new AP/Fox exit. Steve and Lauren also talk to WGBH’s Adam Reilly about Charlie Baker’s Republican challenger Scott Lively, and the Springfield Republican’s Shannon Young about the Democratic primary in the First Congressional District.

Last week, we looked at the ballot questions that could be included in a potential “Grand Bargain,” and discuss the statewide fallout from former State Senator Stan Rosenberg’s resignation.

THE CROSSTABS

FiveThirtyEight puts the latest presidential approval numbers at 42 percent approve, 52 percent disapprove. Their generic Congressional ballot puts Democrats ahead by 6 points.

Gallup puts congressional job approval at 17 percent for the month of May.

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Meet The Authors

Steve Koczela

President, The MassINC Polling Group

Rich Parr

Research Director, The MassINC Polling Group

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