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Giving Knowledge: What is an Exit Poll?
By Culled from Web Encyclopedia
Aug 16, 2007, 17:55
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An exit poll is a poll of voters taken immediately after they have exited the polling stations. Unlike an opinion poll, which asks who the voter plans to vote for or some similar formulation, an exit poll asks who the voter actually voted for. Pollsters - usually private companies working for newspapers or broadcasters - conduct exit polls to gain an early indication as to how an election has turned out, as in many elections the actual result may take hours or even days to count. Exit polls are also used to collect demographic data about voters and to find out why they voted as they did. Since actual votes are cast anonymously, polling is the only way of collecting this information.

However, like all opinion polls, exit polls by nature do include a margin of error. A famous example of exit poll error occurred in the 1992 UK General Election, when two exit polls predicted a hung parliament. The actual vote revealed that Conservative Party Government under John Major held their position, though with a significantly reduced majority.

A more fundamental statistical problem with exit polls is selection bias. The polls, though typically much larger than regular opinion polls, still sample only a small fraction of voters. In a heterogeneous population, sloppy selection of the sample can tilt results to any direction. This pitfall can be avoided if the polling organization is competent enough. However, there are problems more inherent to the nature of exit polls. Voters may be more or less willing to sabotage the poll by providing a false vote, depending on their political tendency.

Some countries, such as the United Kingdom or Germany, have made it a criminal offence to release exit poll figures before the polling stations have closed, while others, such as New Zealand and Singapore, have banned them altogether. In some instances, problems with exit polls have encouraged polling groups to pool data in hopes of increased accuracy. This proved successful during the 2005 UK General Election, when the BBC and ITV merged their data to show an exit poll giving Labour a majority of 66 seats, which was exact.

 


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