Exit the exit polls

Exit the exit polls

: I talked to a few reporters this afternoon who were asking about blogs and exit polls and all that.

I told them that there was nothing wrong with bloggers revealing exit polls. Oh, I was raised on the ethics of old, big media and I used to believe that was wrong … because everybody did. But blogging and this culture of transparency changed me. Now I believe there’s no reason to keep information from people.

Last night, blogs (other than this one) got bombarded with traffic (shutting down this host) for a simple reason: Bloggers were telling the public what they knew. Big media was not.

How absurd is that? When did journalists get into the business of not telling their public what they know?

To say that we should not share this information is essentially insulting and condescending to that public — as if they can’t handle it, as if knowing how Floridians allegedly voted would affect how an Oregonian will act. If you think you have to protect voters from information because they’re too fragile or stupid, then you don’t believe in democracy or the need for journalism. So tell the people what you know and let them decide what it means.

Besides… now that exit polls are utterly, laughably discredited, it won’t matter one bit when they’re revealed the next time. They are less informative than Vegas odds.

  • http://www.stevesilver.net Stephen Silver

    Maybe the networks should go by Vegas odds. ARE there Vegas odds?

  • Cog

    Sharing the exit polls was not the problem. It was using those exit polls to claim a overwhelming Kerry victory was inevitable that was the problem.
    It reminded me of the intense spin after the first debate. The consensus evolved from a slight Kerry win on style only, to a Kerry win on style and substance, to an overwhelming Kerry domination of every facet of the debate in a matter of hours.
    The bloggers in question tried to spin the exit polls in the most partisan fashion possible. They should be called out on it. You know who you are wonkette, kos, and atrios.
    Drudge probably did it for the reason near to most journalists heart, trying to break a story first. He got it wrong. At least it was not his career on the line like Zogby.

  • froz

    The exit polls are only discredited if you believe the results. Since even a monkey can hack an e-voting machine, I am currently holding my opinion on the exit polls.
    The conventional wisdom has the youth vote staying home. Maybe not.

  • Goldwater

    It’s funny how exit polls are “utterly, laughably discredited” only when George W runs. And there was no problem with the exit polling in the midterm elections either…hmmm…but I guess you would have to be a real journalist to put 2 and 2 together and we don’t have many of those.
    Hey, Jeff, why no “Boy, those Floridians sure don’t know how to vote, do they” joke to go along with your lame analysis?
    In what world is your name not a punchline?

  • http://pherrett.blogspot.com/ Lynxx Pherrett

    Even funnier in the “exit polls are utterly, laughably discredited” series is how quick Jeff is to latch onto the “moral values” stuff:
    “The NBC exit poll includes some fascinating and surprising data. Among the issues that mattered most to voters, the top issue was not terrorism or Iraq.
    “The top issue (21%) was ‘moral values'; 78% of those who cared about that went for Bush, 19% for Kerry. That’s a huge difference. Read this one as you will (MSNBC commentators see it as code for Vietnam and the Swifties).”
    It’s only a “huge difference” if you actually believe the “utterly, laughably discredited” exit polls it came from.

  • http://www.crossprocess.com/ george

    the oddsmakers didn’t do that bad a job. not sure about the line in vegas, but check out the Iowa Electronic Markets (University of Iowa) and TradeSports (Dublin based exchange).
    http://www.slate.com/id/2109137/

  • HA

    Jeff,
    How absurd is that? When did journalists get into the business of not telling their public what they know?
    There you go again.
    How can you reconcile this statement with the fact that you lashed out at Glenn Reynolds for linking to the Kerry less-than-honorable discharge story? Furthermore, don’t you think it is possible or perhaps even likely that there were MSM journalists who knew about the Kerry discharge story and decided not to tell the public what they knew about it?

  • Harry

    What I found absurd was the big digital clock on the screen on CNN counting down the time until a poll in a state closed, and then as soon as it hit 00:00, they would call one or more states for a candidate. Reminded me of Nickleson shouting “You can’t handle the truth” in A Few Good Men

  • Michael

    You have a tacit assumption that all information is accurate. What you ignore is the ability for blogs to spread inaccurate information must more rapidly than big media.
    If you believe “there’s no reason to keep infomormation from the people” you cannot criticize blogs for linking to unsubstantiated stories. Part of your thesis has been that blogs will fact-check each other. Well, the problem now becomes how quickly and how far will bad information spread via blogs until it is finally determined to be false. And then, how far and wide will that determination be communicated?
    Your push for transparency and “information must be free” is a tad too simplistic & optimistic.

  • http://donatacom.com/blog.shtml Terry Heaton

    The belief by journalists that all people (except themselves) are gullible and believe everything fed to them is the foundation of all the bullshit used by the MSM to prop themselves up above everybody else.
    Knowledge of the exit polls made the whole evening make sense and the winks and frowns understandable. James Carville was beside himself. Why? Bill Kristol looked like somebody had shot his dog. Why?
    Moreover, how would we know the extent to which they were wrong (and the methodology flawed) had we not been given the original numbers. Knowledge that they were fouled up also helped us view all the network analysis with a grain of salt.
    I agree with Jeff. When did journalists decide it was their call to withhold information from the public?

  • http://www.drcookie.blogspot.com dr. cookie

    You tell ‘em, Jeff. The early exit polls were raw and flawed. No one looked closely at the sample and realized it was biased toward women, for one thing. Whoever leaked the polls, I suspect, did so because they liked the results. Or maybe just liked to be the first to tell a story. Truth is, though, the early polls were irrelevant. They said nothing. It is laughable.
    The final exit polls now being released and analyzed are weighted to reflect complete voter turnout, are geographically and socioeconomically balanced. That’s good.
    I’m with you. Don’t underestimate the wisdom and willingness of regular people to get information and made decisions. That’s what media should do–give people information.

  • Michael

    I’m not following some of the argument here. You argue that the media should not decide what information to tell the public, and there was nothing wrong with blogs revealling exit polls. But, if what you say is correct, that “exit polls are utterly, laughably discredited,” then doesn’t the media/blogosphere have a responsiblilty not to spread discredited information? Your final statement that “it won’t matter one bit when they’re revealed the next time” seems to support the widespread dissemination of false data.

  • http://www.beautifulatrocities.com jeff

    I understand that if Kerry got in, the blogosphere would become a controlled substance. Phew

  • Lee

    Bloggers did spin exit polls, yes, but haven’t we had the discussion as to whether or not blogs are journalism or opinion? To critique bloggers for spin is to suggest that blogs should be what the traditional MSM suggests it is: objective.
    Then of course the trouble isn’t whether blogs revealed them: it’s that they spun them.
    But, as others have said, then shame on us if we believed them; and both left and right did. We’ve had the lefto-of-center examples mentioned. Go read “The Corner” at TNR for some (only some) examples of right-wing upset about the exit polls.
    But professional (Schneider, for example) were’nt spinning them, and makes the point any researcher should: exit polls are not intended as election predictors. They are designed to look into *why * the electorate voted as it did.
    And this requires the agggreagte results, not just the early and mid-afternoon results.
    The old canard “at the end of the day” showed exit polls that were as good predictors as many electoral vote predictors– complete with the margin of error.
    And what these showed is also being spun, by left and right.
    Still, they showed some useful things– 1 in 5 Bush voters said they voted on “moral values,” not terrorism or the War in Iraq or jobs and the economy. And as professional politicians know, THAT along with the increased turnout and the Pres. majority (not just plurality) is an obvious sign that election strategy has changed.
    To the extent that strategy energized folks to vote to “protect themselves” against an American minority group (gays), it is a divisive strategy.

  • http://www.syracuse.com/newslogs/newstracker/ Brian

    The best role blogs played on Election Day was what happened among the commenters here: The citizens’ media reports of their experiences in the polling places. No big deal, just slices of life that were more valuable than the star bloggers trying to outdo star pundits in bad habits that even the old media are trying to break themselves of.

  • http://www.tyndallreport.com Andrew Tyndall

    Exit polls again!
    After relying on misleading exit poll data to announce the wrong winner in Campaign 2000 and after failing to produce any data at all in the 2002 mid-term elections, the television news divisions promised a new and improved exit poll system this year.
    They promised not to jump to early conclusions from the exit polls and to use them instead for their proper purpose: to provide insight into voter motivation, decisionmaking and ideology.
    Yet again on Election Day the exit polls failed. The networks are taking a false rap for rushed early bungling. A second, larger error is now only coming to light.
    First, no blame attaches to the network news divisions for the fact that partial data was disseminated and misinterpreted online on Election Day leading to the misleading mood before the polls closed that things would turn out badly for Republican George Bush. On television, that mood was mostly conveyed not by journalists but by cable news guests, political pundits and operatives.
    Examination of TV news itself–for example the broadcast nightly newscasts on Election Night before any results were declared–shows that anchors, in-house analysts and reporters were scrupulous in observing their vow not to use their in-house data, which apparently favored John Kerry, to taint their characterization of the likely outcome.
    Sure enough, all through Election Night broadcast and cable networks conveyed the accurate impression that this was a close race, with almost no changes since 2000, where the results could only be called quickly in non-battleground states, and where the races were close enough in the swing states to remain uncallable for hours. We saw no hasty 2000-style misuse of the exit polls on air–only unauthorized use online, for which no blame attaches to the networks.
    Blame does attach, however for the sloppy wording of the exit poll questionnaire itself. In trying to discover which issues were crucial, the poll cited the major themes of the campaign–the Economy, Iraq, Terrorism–but then mixed apples and oranges by adding a category “Moral Values” which is not an issue at all.
    So our understanding of key issues was left clear as mud in the election aftermath when “Moral Values” turned up as the single one most frequently cited, a category chosen disproportionately by supporters of the President. Pew Center pollster Andrew Kohut protested its inclusion on PBS’ NewsHour on the day after Election Day, explaining that, especially for devout Christians, all of life is seen through the prism of moral values, so faced with that category on any list it would feel unChristian not to choose it.
    What does the category mean? Is it shorthand for a cluster of genuine cultural issues such as abortion, gay rights, church-state relations or stem-cell research? Perhaps not. Perhaps, instead, it refers to the personal attributes of the two candidates and the importance of the President’s born-again faith to a huge proportion of his electoral base.
    Evidence for this latter reading comes from the Citizens Debate Scorecard conducted by MediaChannel.org. The Scorecard was an interactive online monitoring panel of the conduct of the Presidential Debates. It evaluated the appropriateness of the moderator’s choice of questioning both on the issues and on the personal attributes of the candidates. When the panel monitored the third debate on domestic policy in Tempe, Bush supporters and Kerry supporters diverged very little on their assessment of mix of social issues chosen for discussion. However, when monitoring the relevance of the candidates’ personal attributes–such as consistency, honesty, judgment–there was a striking divergence in attitudes towards morality, values and religious faith. A large proportion of Kerry supporters on the panel found too much time spent on values; while Bush supporters found the opposite–either the right amount of time or too little.
    The media monitoring of the debates indicates that Moral Values are seen as a personal attribute of the candidate not as a complex of public policy issues akin to the economy or Iraq or terrorism. When the networks designed their Election Day exit poll questionnaire to decipher voters’ decisionmaking, they had an opportunity to disentangle the Morals question into its distinct components.
    The networks’ big exit poll failure was not in using their data too early but in not asking the proper questions in the first place.

  • http://www.masslive.com/weblogs/blogbeat/ Scott Brodeur

    Watching the results from the election emerge on CNN on Tuesday night, I started to feel duped by the reporting. It wasn’t just CNN, for sure, as I bounced around a lot, but I had CNN on for the most amount of time.
    Throughout the night, as the results for a new state were called, the anchors would go to the reporters covering each campaign for reaction. A lot of the time, the results were no big surprise to the reporters, even when it was to we viewers. For instance, when hotly contested New Jersey was called fairly early for Kerry, the reaction from the field was like: People were saying New Jersey was close, but inside polls really revealed it not to be close for some time.
    The rationale for this kind of time-release journalism was tied to the agreement that networks and other broadcast outlets would not air news about exit polls while polls were still open. That way, went the thinking, the media would influence neither how people voted nor turnout.
    As the night wore on, though, I started to feel angry. How long am I or others really going to sit back as the media we are consuming slowly reveal secrets that they have been holding back or filtering? Once we become aware that we are seeing a largely scripted election-night story, it does not take a big logic jump to start distrusting all stories from that media source.

  • Lee

    Good points, Andrew; but I do think we have a some sense of what moral values meant for the Bush voters in the 11 states in which definition of marriage questions were on the ballot. While the margins for those initiatives were such that both Bush and Kerry voters voted in favor of traditional deficinitions and/or against any legal relationship of any kind for same sex couples. . . it is also the case that in known swing state Ohio, the turnout Bush needed in non-urban areas was aided by the chance to go vote against “a gay agenda” that was not in fact being brought forth by “a gay agenda.”

  • pissed

    What’s utterly laughable is your post election peace pledge.
    “I promise to… Support the President, even if I didn’t vote for him.”
    No, I promise to seek the truth, to never back down. And here I thought this was America, where my voice counted as well. Now I see that in order for this to be a peaceful nation, I must concede to the President… even if half of us disagree with his views.
    Isn’t HE supposed to be reaching out to ALL the people of this nation, not just a select few? Isn’t it “Justice for all” not just those in the top 2 percent income bracket? Isn’t he the Public Servant? Doesn’t HE work for US? ALL of US?
    Margaret Meade once said “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed people can change the world: indeed it’s the only thing that ever has!”
    I REFUSE to sit down and say this is “OKAY.” I refuse to feel like an outsider in the country in which I was born – and pledged to as a child. To make America better we must ensure that ALL voices count, that they are all heard, that none are hushed by fear.
    THAT is AMERICAN. THAT is PATRIOTIC. I’m sorry to lose you Jeff, but many of us will continue to fight for what we know is right, for what we know is true, and for what we KNOW AMERICA can be. Not to support a President whose views are skewed so they exclude half of the US population.

  • Eileen

    What I found to be astonishing yesterday is how MSM immediately latched onto that ‘moral values’ exit poll number as being unquestionably reliable – the gospel, really. Then, using it as their platform, a host of pundits had a field day and a collective AHA moment.
    NOW (finally!) they could understand how Bush pulled it off. It was the result of the religious extremist voters, those homophobes, the Rove brainwashed, Bush breakfast prayer meeting types….. Not a one questioned the validity of the number itself, or even the basis for their assumptions about what moral values might mean to Bush supporters. Only Scarborough tried to suggest their definition of moral values just MIGHT be a bit skewed (ala Andrew’s comments above).
    MSM simply cannot imagine that anyone other than raving lunatic, religious zealot, idiotic fanatics would vote for Bush. Works for them.

  • Lee

    Eileen,
    It wasn’t only MSM (and you’re putting words in their mouths, too). It was Bill Bennet and Andrew Sullivan, and Glenn Reynolds says today:
    “when Andrew Sullivan and Bill Bennett agree on something gay-related, it’s certainly reason to sit up and take notice.”
    Glenn quotes figures to draw a conclusion different from either Bennett or Sullivan, however.

  • Eileen

    Lee,
    “it is also the case that in known swing state Ohio, the turnout Bush needed in non-urban areas was aided by the chance to go vote against “a gay agenda” that was not in fact being brought forth by “a gay agenda.”
    I don’t agree with this assumption/assertion of yours either. OR with the pundits’ (the ones I heard yesterday) claim Rove was responsible for getting those amendments on the ballots in the first place!
    Please see JJ’s latest thread. I agree with him that the moral values issue is MUCH more complex than as was painted by MSM in knee-jerk fashion yesterday.

  • http://www.getaclue.net Doug Dever

    And the moonbats leave the DU forums and start hitting the comments sections of the blogs. All kinds of fun stuff…
    Not to support a President whose views are skewed so they exclude half of the US population.
    I assume, pissed, you didn’t support President Clinton then, either… as his views apparently excluded OVER half of the united states carrying only 43% of the vote in 92 and 49% of the vote in 96. (Newsflash… with the exception of Reagan and Nixon, we haven’t had many “landslide” Presidental elections in recent history.)
    Your guy lost because he was out of touch and people don’t like him. I called my mother to see how she voted… since I know she’s a life long Democrat who was rabidly anti-Bush in 2000, I expected her to have supported Kerry. She didn’t, telling me she thought he was a bigger lier and scarier than Bush and while she didn’t like it, she voted for Bush. That’s why Kerry lost this election… He went so far over trying to win the base that would have supported a Howard Dean or a Ralph Nader that he forgot about the people in the center.
    Additionally, all of you saying “look at the exit polls,” you’re only talking about the EARLY exit polls. You know, the ones during the day when the little old bitties were bused over from the nursing home, college kids were voting (if they actually bothered), union members with the day off, the unemployed… the traditional Democrat base was voting early in the day. The Republican base was, you know, at work. Making money for the rest of you to steal from their paychecks. They voted after. And how many of them lied about who they supported? I know more than one person who deliberately indicated he voted for Kerry when he did not. I was planning on doing the same thing had I been sampled. The polls are a joke and easily manipulated… as we’ve seen all through the 2004 Australian and US elections.
    Go look at the election results map again… see that giant stretch of land between the two coasts all colored red? Tell me again who’s out of touch with most of America…