Mark Blumenthal | October 28, 2006
Topics: Exit Polls
New Pollster.com readers may not know it, but in the months following the 2004 election I devoted 68 posts and tens of thousands of words to the 2004 exit poll controversy. In about a dozen days, most of us will start thinking about exit polls again (although it looks like we may not have leaked exit polls to obsess about on Election Day this year). For tonight, however, I want to pass along one intriguing new finding buried in the latest Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll that sheds a little light on one particular aspect of the 2004 controversy.
Nearly everyone now agrees that the final, just-before-poll-closing exit poll results gathered by the news media consortium known as the National Election Pool (NEP) in 2004 showed a small but statistically significant discrepancy with the official results. The national sample showed Kerry ahead 51% to 48%, but Bush won the national popular vote by a 2.5% margin (50.7% for Bush and 48.3% for Kerry). On average, the statewide exit polls showed a similar overstatement.
A few days after the election, the late Warren Mitofsky, director of the 2004 exit polls, appeared on the Lehrer News Hour and offered a theory: "We suspect that the main reason was that the Kerry voters were more anxious to participate in our exit polls than the Bush voters." Three months later, the report issued by Mitofsky and his partner Joe Lenski again argued that the discrepancy occurred because "Kerry voters were more likely to participate in the exit polls than Bush voters." They also offered "hypothetical completion rates of 56% among Kerry voters and 50% among Bush voters" that would have accounted for the entire discrepancy.
Mitofsky's assertion was dismissed by conspiracy theorists that mocked it as "hollow" and "preposterous" and scathingly labeled it the "reluctant Bush responder" hypothesis. They insisted (despite plausible arguments to the contrary) that no evidence existed to support the idea of Democrats responding more readily to exit pollsters than Republicans.
Well, this week, the Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll asked a question that demonstrates Democrats' greater enthusiasm for exit polls:
Every election, the television networks conduct exit polls of people as they leave their polling places on Election Day. If you were asked to participate, how likely is it you would be willing to spend 10 minutes filling out a questionnaire? Scale: Very likely, somewhat likely, not very likely, not likely at all.
More Democrats (72%) than Republicans (66%) said they were likely to fill out an exit poll questionnaire. The gap was far bigger -- and highly statistically significant -- among those who felt strongly (typically a better predictor of actual behavior): 44% of Democrats said they would be "very likely" to participate in an exit poll compared to only 35% of Republicans.
The next question asked respondents whether they think "Democrats or Republicans would be more likely to share how they voted with someone they don't know who is taking a poll." While most voters (59% overall) were either unsure or saw no difference, those with an opinion were more likely to identify Democrats (28%) as more likely to participate than Republicans (13%). Moreover, both Democratic and Republican voters identified Democrats as the group more willing to participate in exit polls.
We'll come back to exit polls in about a week. Meanwhile, those who want to consider these issues in more detail may want to review a series of posts I did earlier this year (Part I, Part II and especially Part III) in response to a Rolling Stone article by Robert Kennedy, Jr., as well as my exit poll FAQ.