November 4, 2004

About those exit polls.

On election day, Kerry-supporters got set up for a painful fall when exit polling leaked out and showed Kerry running way ahead. They sat down to parties that night, ready to have a good time, only to be crushed -- slowly! -- as the real results rolled in. Bush supporters, like me, who read the same exit polls early in the day, prepared ourselves in advance for the coming loss, and sat down that night -- I did, at any rate -- with a feeling of resignation, ready to live through the night and get past it all. Gradually, over the course of the evening, the hope that had been set aside revived, even as we spent much of the night thinking things like: Oh, those must just be the early results, coming in from the rural areas; later, the reports from the cities will come in and put Kerry ahead, where the exit polls had him.

So, we learned that the exit polls were wildly wrong. Something must have been wrong with the methodology. Is it that pollsters concentrated on urban areas, where there are more people around to be polled, and these same areas skew for Kerry? Is it that the pollsters took their samples in the middle of the day, and more women vote in this time window, and women skew for Kerry? Is it that Democrats deliberately swooped in on places where exit polling was being done because they wanted to skew polls that, when leaked, would somehow benefit Kerry? Is it that the kind of people who are willing to take the time to fill out the rather lengthy form that is an exit poll tend also to be the kind of people who vote Democratic?

It would be interesting to know what went wrong with the exit polling, and there are some efforts being made to puzzle this out. But first, don't we all want to know why George Bush won the election? Time to spin out some punditry about that. It was those values voters. You know those people who get very focused on homosexuality and abortion to the exclusion of other matters: "'Moral values' was named most frequently, both nationwide and in Wisconsin, when voters were asked what one issue mattered most in selecting a presidential candidate."

But is this wonderful new punditry about the voter behavior based on the same exit polls that proved so wildly inaccurate in predicting that Kerry would win? It seems to me that there are a lot of pundits who are disappointed with the outcome of the election who are a little too eager to say it happened because the Bush side was padded with the votes of people who really agree with the Democratic agenda overall but swing to the Republican side because gay marriage and stem cell research were used to cloud their ability to see where their real interests lie. Well, maybe it's true, but this punditry seems to me to be based on bad polls and wishful thinking.

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