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[U.S. Election] Will Exit Polls Get It Right This Time?

Posted November. 05, 2008 08:28,   


Exit polls have said the Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama will win the 2008 election. Republican rival John McCain temporarily took the lead in early September when he introduced Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate.

Obama, however, cannot afford to lower his guard since opinion poll results have invited intense criticism given their inaccuracy in the last two elections.

▽ Misleading survey results in 2000

A day after the 2000 presidential election, a joint survey conducted by CNN, USA Today and Gallup said then Republican candidate George W. Bush held a lead of two percentage points over Democratic opponent Al Gore. An ABC survey showed Bush had a lead of four percentage points.

The election result, however, showed Gore was leading Bush 48.38 percent to 47.87 percent, but Bush earned the presidency by taking 271 electoral votes under the U.S. winner-take-all system when claiming a state.

In 2004, opinion polls conducted a day before the election showed President Bush and Democratic candidate John Kerry tied at 48 percent. At the time, most polling agencies remained highly cautious in predicting the election result to prevent a repeat of the 2000 fiasco. Bush won reelection with 50.73 percent of the popular vote to Kerry’s 48.27 percent.

Before the 2004 election ended, however, John Zogby, CEO of the polling company Zogby International, predicted that Kerry would earn a landslide victory with 311 electoral votes.

Zogby based his forecast on early exit polls showing Kerry got more support in certain key states such as Ohio and Florida.

Opinion polls also faced criticism in this year’s Democratic Party primaries. In the run-up to the New Hampshire primary, Obama was expected to beat Hillary Clinton by eight percentage points, but Clinton won in an upset.

▽ Media fear of another poll fiasco

Misleading opinion polls were a public relations disaster for major newspapers and broadcasters. The most infamous error was back in 1948, when the Chicago Daily Tribune carried the front-page headline “Dewey Defeats Truman.”

After the 2000 election, U.S. media grew more cautious in predicting the results. A day after the election, major outlets including CNN announced Bush as the winner but retracted that report within an hour.

The outcome of the 2000 election was officially released 37 days after the election.

The New York-based daily Newsday said Monday that The Associated Press will be the only media to count the ballots in the 2008 election.