Heading for the Exits

Here’s some potentially big news for the really serious political animals out there, from AP’s David Pace:

When voters go to the polls in Kentucky and Mississippi on Nov. 3, The Associated Press will be launching experiments aimed at finding more accurate and less expensive ways to survey them. With funding from the Knight Foundation, the AP has hired GfK Custom Research to identify and survey voters online, instead of conducting a traditional exit poll where precinct-based interviewers ask voters to fill out questionnaires.

As Pace goes on to explain, traditional precinct-based exit poll methodologies have run into two problems: one is the prevalence of early or mail balloting, which requires supplemental phone surveys that have their own issues (mostly to do with increased cellphone-only households); the second is the apparent reluctance, made famous (and infamous, because it led to really bad projections) in 2004, of older, more conservative voters to speak with the tattooed whippersnappers survey companies tend to hire for exit interviews.

Online exit polling is not without its own problems:

A major downside to online surveys is they cannot guarantee that actual voters are being interviewed. Online participants are screened into the survey’s voter pool based on their answers to a series of questions. Exit poll participants, on the other hand, are asked to fill out questionnaires as they leave their precincts after voting. Of course, telephone polls of absentee voters can’t guarantee that participants are actual voters either, and they make up more than a third of the national exit poll sample.

Here’s a somewhat creepy “solution:”

To address this issue, AP has asked the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago to explore the possibility of using GPS tracking on cellphones of online panel participants — with their permission — to verify that they have voted before asking them to participate in election surveys.

I’m not sure whether AP is now in the lead in exit polling technology going into the presidential cycle, though Pace does indicate the wire service plans to extend the online survey experiment into the presidential primaries. It bears watching, particularly if signs develop that “the exits” have again gotten hinky.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.