Election Day Exit Polls: “It’s Like Hotel California”

By Chris Ariens 

After 20 months of buildup, there is a craving for an answer. With a global audience wanting to know the outcome of the 2008 presidential election, and more outlets than ever covering the vote, we wanted to know how the networks are preparing to make sure they get it right. We’ll be posting a few stories over the few remaining days of the campaign to let you know what to expect on election night.

Exit Polls

The exit poll fiasco of 2000 helped contribute to an unresolved presidential election that lasted 36 days. In 2004, things weren’t much better. The Washington Post called the 2004 exit poll data, “the most inaccurate of any in the past five presidential elections.” One change this year, the average age of those conducting the interviews this year is 42-years-old. In 2004, the average age was 34.

Edison Media Research will once again conduct the exit polls to be used by the six major news organizations — ABC, CBS, CNN, FOX, NBC and the Associated Press. Three representatives from each of the National Election Pool (NEP) members will be quarantined in a room until 5pmET Tuesday.

Joe Lenski, executive vice-president of Edison, tells TVNewser, “No one outside of one single room sees [the data] before 5pm.” “It’s like Hotel California,” Lenski says, referring to the 1976 Eagles hit record. Once the media reps check in, they cannot leave until 5pmET. “They will be escorted to the restroom. Food is brought in. Their cell phone and BlackBerrys and laptops are confiscated.”

All in an effort to make sure data isn’t released too soon, which could impact the vote. “They’ve all voluntarily agreed to the restrictions,” Lenski says.

The exit poll data will come from “well over 100,000 people.” 15,000 nationally, and the rest, state by state. In fact, exit polling has already begun – expanded this year to 18 states where early voting is allowed.

So, the big question: what if a Web site reveals exit poll data before 5pmET? “It’s not going to be our data,” Lenski says defiantly. “If people say they have data, either it’s made up or it’s spin.” But, Lenski adds, “there are a few universities and other organizations doing their own exit polling.”

And despite what pre-election polls show, and what the exit poll data will reveal, one network insider tells TVNewser, “This is not going to be an early night.”