Exit polls are held after the voters exit from the polling station on the election day. People conducting it are known as pollsters. Media representatives are also pollsters; they ask the voters about their vote in the ongoing election. Data is collected to estimate the figure regarding the number of votes that a candidate is likely to get in the election.
Thus, before the actual results are declared, pollsters project the winner of an election. A similar poll, known as an entrance poll, is conducted before the voters actually exercise their vote at election time. Likewise, in an opinion poll, random samples on public opinion are collected.
Exit Polls: History Revisited
The first time they were used as a tool to predict the winner in an election was in 1967. This major poll was conducted by Warren Mitofsky for a media network in the Kentucky governor's election. They are also used by candidates to collect demographic data for predicting the election results. It is also practiced as a method for checking election fraud.
The major flaw of exit polling was seen in the 1980 presidential election, in which the NBC (National Broadcasting Company) projected Ronald Reagan as the winner over Jimmy Carter, two hours prior to the closing of the polls in the western states. The early announcement of the winner depressed voters.
In such a situation, there is a possibility of the voters changing their mind. In this case, the consequence was that voters no longer voted after the result of the poll had been declared. Since then, laws have been enacted in many states, limiting it. For example, in Hawaii's statute, exit polling is not allowed within 1,000 feet of the polling stations.
In the 1990s, a consortium called Voter News Service (VNS), was formed by major news networks. The main purpose behind the formation of the VNS was to reduce the redundancy of reports from major media networks.
However, in 2000, the VNS faced major criticism, when they announced Al Gore as the President of the United States at around 8 pm. The following morning at 2 am, VNS made another announcement, declaring George W. Bush as the winner. Following this incident, a new pollster replaced VNS.
In 2002, National Election Pool (NEP) was formed as a consortium. The members of NEP include ABC News, CBS News, CNN, Associated Press, Fox News, and NBC News. In 2006, several measures like changing representatives of NEP, have been undertaken to safeguard the results of the exit poll data. Currently, Edison Media Research conducts exit polls for NEP.
In recent times, specific polling stations in a state are selected, where interviewers question the voters at specific intervals (for example, every 5th or 10th voter). The interviewer hands over a questionnaire to a voter who is willing to participate in the poll.
The questionnaire consists of questions about the choice of candidate and the reason for voting for the candidate. Though it has been observed that 50% of the voters may be unwilling to participate in the process, it is still being used as a tool to predict election results worldwide.