On Tuesday, The Associated Press announced that they will begin conducting an elaborate voter survey following elections that is set to replace the traditional in-person exit polls that are so widely used. Over the past few years, namely after the 2016 presidential election, the in-person exit polls were highly criticized for their inaccuracy.
Sally Buzbee, the news agency’s executive editor, said that on election night in 2016, when she was then serving as AP’s Washington bureau chief, and she directed that only actual results be used to declare winners after results from exit polls varied widely from actual vote returns. As many can attest to, the exit polls that night in November 2016 were much more favorable to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in many states than they were to the eventual winner – Donald Trump.
“If you don’t trust it enough to use it, it doesn’t have much value,” Buzbee said.
Called the AP VoteCast service, the new platform was developed in tandem with NORC at the University of Chicago, one of the largest independent social research organizations in the United States. It will use a combination of online and telephone surveys that begin being conducted four days before Election Day and end after the polls close.
David Scott, AP’s deputy managing editor for operations, said the agency expects to conduct more than 85,000 interviews with voters for this year’s midterm election survey. The goal is far greater than the approximately 19,400 conducted by exit polls in 2014, which will allow for a deeper and more accurate understanding of the electorate.
The methodology used will encompass results from every state holding a statewide election and details about the opinions of registered voters who decide not to participate in the election. Scott explained that the new approach will deliver more reliable information on what influences the choices of different segments of the electorate than is available from traditional exit polls.
VoteCast will not use clipboards and questioning poll workers as 40 percent of the electorate votes early, absentee, or by mail. Buzbee said traditional exit polls are “no longer appropriate.”
There have also been concerns that when conducting in-person exit polls, a polarized political climate, much like the one we’re currently in, fails to capture the actual opinion of the voter. For example, in the most inaccurate years of exit polls, 2004 and 2016, the surveys showed a stronger vote for the Democratic presidential candidates than actually took place.
A successful test of the new platform was conducted during the special election for U.S. Senator in Alabama last year in which the exit polls predicted Democrat Doug Jones would beat Republican Roy Moore 50 to 47 percent. The actual tally was 50 to 48 percent.
AP has spent “millions” of dollars to develop the new system, according to Gary Pruitt, AP president and CEO, who considers it the new industry standard.
“We certainly consider it a bold move but we do think it will pay off because we think it will prove to be an accurate reflection of voter sentiment and what was driving elections,” Pruitt said.