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Patterns to Look for In States With Early Poll Closings


I think we'll have a pretty good sense of where the night is headed after the early polls close. Of course, as Mark has warned use repeatedly, we want to be careful about reading too much into early exit polls before the weighting is adjusted to account for actual turnout and results. But here are some things to look for in a few states with early poll closings.

Indiana

Indiana is a state where Obama should presumably have benefited from the protracted nomination campaign and the massive organization he has build in that state. Thus, if turnout among young adults is going to increase markedly, it should be obvious here first. According to exit polls, in 2004, 14% of the Indiana electorate was between the ages of 18-29. We have to be careful with early exit poll figures since young voters may be more enthusiastic (and, thus, more likely to show up in early exit poll results), but if that figure goes up significantly in this election, then that is probably the first evidence we will have that young voters are turning out at higher rates in this election.

Virginia

Virginia may tell us more about this election than any other state. Not only does the map look very difficult for McCain if he loses Virginia (particularly if the networks can call it relatively quickly), but the demographics in Virginia can provide us with some useful insight into what may happen in other states. In 2004, exit polls indicated that African Americans made up 21% of the Virginia electorate. Will that figure improve in 2008 and, if so, by how much? What will the party id figures look like? In 2004, 39% of voters said they were Republicans compared to 35% who were Democrats. Democrats would like (and probably expect) to see those numbers flip in Virginia just as they are looking for party id gains in other high growth states like North Carolina, Colorado, and Nevada.

Georgia

Finally, returning to African American turnout, here is a remarkable statistic. In 2004, 834,331 African Americans voted in Georgia's presidential election. Already this year, 705,203 African Americans have voted early in that state. African Americans make up about 30% of registered voters in Georgia but in 2004 they comprised just 25% of the electorate. It appears as if we are well on our way to seeing a huge surge in African American turnout in Georgia, and when the polls close there at 7pm, we should have a pretty good sense of whether African Americans will make up 30% or more of the electorate in the state. If so, there is a reasonable chance that Obama can win Georgia and that a landslide may be in the offing. To do this, he needs to perform slightly better among whites than Kerry did. According to exit polls, Kerry won just 23% of the white vote in 2004; Obama would need 27-30% of the white vote to capitalize on the high turnout among blacks (or he would need Bob Barr to peel away a significant share of McCain's support). This is still a bit of a long shot, but Georgia has one of the first poll closings, so it will give us something to look for during the 7pm-8pm hour.

 

Comments
DTM:

Thanks for the review of some of the legitimate uses of exit polling data. I'd still caution people about leaked preliminary exit polls during the day, however--in my view those aren't useful even for these purposes.

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s.b.:

You are still assuming that in increase in black turnout or youth turnout is not met with a corresponding or in fact higher numerically turnout among whites or older voters.

I believe this is a mistake. Sure more blacks will vote, but as a percentage of the whole, doubtful.

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colorado resident:

Have you heard the Obama reggae song?
This song is truly beautiful! I have been listening to news from around the world and it literally brings tears to my eyes when I think about that one man has the hope of so many people around the world. This is truly a historic moment for the nation as well as the world. You really can't help but to feel a part of something huge, much bigger than yourself when you cast your ONE vote.

Please listen:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lUighoBIx68

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Occams Razor:

The other problem with exit polls in places like Indiana and Colorado is that most people have already voted. To conduct exit polls on election day will dramatically under-represent young voters, minority voters, and Democratic voters all of whom are more likely to vote before election day. Basically, just ignore exit polls.

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David in NM:

Occams Razor:

Good point. There are at least some indications that McCain may do better among voters who go to the polls today as opposed to those who voted early-which at least appears to have favored Obama (although we don't know yet). While we won't know until tonight if that's true, if so, then exit polls won't really tell the whole story.

Matt Drudge posted an article about not relying on exit polls but waiting for actual counts coming in before concluding anything. Although I disagreed with much of what he said, I have to agree with the conclusion. I'm not sure the exit polls will be accurate this year-any more than they were in 2004.

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DTM:

@s.b.

It seems to me Brian was focused on exactly that question, namely whether the relevant groups would actually increase their share of the electorate, not just increase their gross number. Indeed, this whole post is basically about where to look early in the evening for evidence on that issue.

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