- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 20, 2005

The companies that conducted Election Day exit polls for major news organizations said yesterday that bad polling procedures caused them to overstate John Kerry’s vote in key states that President Bush won.

In a report to explain how early exit polls could be so far off from the actual results, the two firms blamed their problems on youthful, inexperienced poll takers, more motivated Democrats, early leaks of raw numbers by bloggers and a failure to follow interviewing rules.

But an independent pollster said yesterday that the firms still had not told the full story behind the error-filled polls and questioned whether exit polling should be used to project the final outcome of an election.

“I’m not sure we’re at full disclosure yet. An awful lot still needs to be explained,” said pollster John Zogby, who expressed deep skepticism about the report’s explanations and excuses. “The sum total of what we got today is enough to suggest that there should never be exit polls again.”

Among the explanations offered by Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International, the two polling firms that were hired by a consortium of news organizations: Mr. Kerry’s supporters were more likely than Mr. Bush’s voters to agree to participate in exit poll interviews.

Polling errors were found to be made more frequently by younger interviewers, about half of whom were 34 or younger.

Early preliminary polling data collected during Election Day that was not supposed to be made public was leaked to blogger Web sites and suggested a wider Kerry lead than he actually had. Interviewers in many precincts were kept 50 feet or more away from voting places, potentially skewing the results toward Kerry supporters who were eager to participate in exit polling interviews.

But pollsters like Mr. Zogby said they were not buying the polling firms’ explanations.

“A lot of money and a lot of time is put into this. Ultimately, to blame all this on logistics and on the youth of the interviewers is enough to say, ‘Can we ever believe an exit poll again?’ ” Mr. Zogby said.

“I think we need a healthy debate and discussion about this, and I, for one, do not think an exit poll should ever be used to make a projection because there can be imprecision, there can be leading of the public and we don’t need the exit polls to do that,” he added. “I’m always going to be skeptical when I see an exit poll. There are just some numbers that don’t jive with reality.”

Brian Jones, the Republican National Committee’s communications director, also was skeptical about exit polls and their dependability.

“Clearly, there were methodological flaws with the exit polls, but that was something we were able to detect in our operation. We noticed after a few reports that some of the information did not match up with reality,” he said.

Last year’s early exit polling debacle was the latest in a series of embarrassing problems that have plagued efforts by the major news organizations to call the elections early in pivotal states and races.

The disbanded Voter News Service (VNS), a polling group that had been financed by the major TV networks, incorrectly declared the winner of Florida in the 2000 presidential election. In the 2002 congressional election, VNS suffered a complete breakdown and was unable to provide its clients with any results from exit polling surveys.

“We’ve seen a fair number of elections where exit polls did not match up with the final vote total. They need to be taken with an electoral grain of salt,” Mr. Jones said.

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