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What Is Up With the Exit Polls?

1:34 PM, Jun 6, 2012 • By JAY COST
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Last night the first draft of the exit polls were wrong. Again. This is actually a pretty common occurrence -- they were off in 2010, 2004, and 2000. Each time leaning toward the Democrats. And don't forget the 2008 New Hampshire Democratic exit poll--those were also off.

The media and liberals (but I repeat myself) are talking up the fact that Obama is ahead of Romney by seven points, according to the exit poll. It looks as though the numbers have been re-weighted so they no longer skew toward the Democrats. So, what should we make of this?

Here is the question the exit pollsters ask:

If the presidential election were held today, for whom would you vote?

A. Barack Obama, 51 percent.
B. Mitt Romney, 44 percent.
C. Would Not Vote, 3 percent.

What is missing from this is the "undecided" category. It's not even an option, which to my mind really undercuts the utility of this question. To what extent are Obama and Romney "supporters" just being pushed there because they have no undecided option? Could be a lot. Who knows?

By the way, the exit pollsters screwed up the health care question in 2010. This is what they asked, and the answers they received:

What Should Congress Do with New Health Care Law?

A. Expand It, 31%
B. Leave It As Is, 16%
C. Repeal It, 48%

The problem with this is the concept of "expanding." What exactly does that mean? Does it imply a liberal direction or a conservative direction? The answer to that is really in the eye of the beholder, which is the critical issue because the mass public really does not understand the bill. This is how the exit pollsters found a more pro-Democratic response (or so it would appear) than we typically see in the RealClearPolitics average: They were asking a different question. 

I'm a fan of exit polls and cite them all the time. It does not bother me at all that their first drafts skew Democratic (what bothers me is that the media cites them without remembering this); this always gets corrected and the final numbers are, in my opinion, valuable. However, it is disappointing that on two critical questions, the exit polls do not provide us with as much information as they could, because of the peculiar way the question is asked.

Jay Cost is a staff writer for THE WEEKLY STANDARD and the author of Spoiled Rotten: How the Politics of Patronage Corrupted the Once Noble Democratic Party and Now Threatens the American Republic, available now wherever books are sold.

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