POLITICS
11/04/2014 10:54 am ET Updated Nov 07, 2016

Early Exit Polls Won't Tell You Who's Winning

Anyone watching Tuesday's midterms should be ready to settle in for a long election night -- a plethora of close races, slow ballot-counting in states like Alaska and the potential for runoffs means some races could remain unsettled for months.

While it may be tempting to rely on the early exit poll results that inevitably leak around dinnertime -- don't. The numbers won't tell you much at all.

The network exit polls, conducted every two years by Edison Research for the National Election Pool partnership of ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox, NBC and The Associated Press, are an incredibly useful resource for figuring out who voted and why they chose to support the candidates they did. As a means of making predictions before the polls close, though, they're not so great -- nor are they intended to be used that way.

A brief explanation of why, from 2012:

First, an exit poll is just a survey. Like other polls, it is subject to random sampling error, so differences of a few percentage points between the candidates in any given state sample are not terribly meaningful … Second, the networks almost never "call" truly competitive races on exit poll results alone. The decision desk analysts require very high statistical confidence … They usually only achieve that confidence for relatively close races after the exit pollsters obtain the actual vote results from the randomly selected precincts at which interviews were completed (and from other larger random samples of precincts) and combine all of the data into some very sophisticated statistical models.

Even then, if the models project that the leading candidates are separated by just a few percentage points, as pre-election polls suggest they will be in all of the key battleground states, the networks will usually wait until nearly all votes are counted to project a winner.

Third, the initial results of the exit poll interviews have had frequent problems with non-response bias … Those of us seeing leaked data, however, see neither the running calculations of the precinct errors nor the levels of statistical confidence associated with the vote numbers. We see only precise-looking percentages and are oblivious to the potential for error ... [Exit pollsters now] hold back the data from their news media clients in a sealed quarantine room on Election Day until 5 p.m. Eastern time. The quarantine means that any numbers purporting to be "exit polls" before 5 p.m. are almost certainly bogus.

Before 2012, early exit polls consistently showed a non-response bias favoring Democrats, but that problem may be a thing of the past. Michael Barone, who watched the exit polls closely as a Fox News election night analyst, noted that the early exit poll numbers were "pretty close to on target" in 2012 after a "more educated massage" before release. It's yet to be seen how that plays out in 2014.

Regardless, the growth in early voting has complicated the way exit polls are conducted. Nearly a third of the electorate voted early or absentee in 2012 and were thus unavailable to be interviewed at their polling place in traditional exit polls. This year, Colorado joins Oregon and Washington as states voting entirely by mail, and half a dozen states cast more than half their votes early or by absentee ballot in 2012. For the past dozen or so years, in an attempt to account for these individuals, exit pollsters have used telephone polls conducted over the final weekend to interview early voters.

If you want to know who voted and why, seek out the exit poll results later Tuesday night. But if you want to know who’s going to win, you'll just have to wait for the votes to be counted.

HuffPost

BEFORE YOU GO

11/05/2014 8:27 AM EST

Christie: GOP Wins Show Focus On Leadership

The AP reported Wednesday:

WASHINGTON (AP) -- New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie says Republican victories in governor's races across the country show voters want leaders who will "get things done," rather that fighting over ideology.

Christie, chairman of the Republican Governors Association and a possible 2016 candidate for president, said he was gratified by GOP wins in Democratic-leaning states such as Maryland, Massachusetts and Illinois, as well as victories in key swing states like Florida, Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio.

Christie said voters "elect and re-elect governors to get things done."

Christie, who campaigned for GOP candidates across the country, said the winners deserve the credit, not him. He said elections are "always about the candidate."

Christie spoke Wednesday on NBC's "Today" show, ABC's "Good Morning America" and Fox News Channel.

11/05/2014 7:46 AM EST

President Obama To Address Midterm Results In Afternoon Press Conference

President Barack Obama will speak to the press Wednesday afternoon to address his party's resounding loss in the 2014 midterm elections, according to White House press secretary Josh Earnest. He is expected to strike a tone of compromise and accountability following a Republican takeover of the U.S. Senate and many of the nation's gubernatorial offices.

Obama tried reached out to Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who is widely expected to be the next senate majority leader and who also won re-election Tuesday night, and left a message, CNN reported.

The president's press conference will take place at 2:50 p.m. Eastern time from the East Room of the White House.

Igor Bobic

11/05/2014 6:57 AM EST

Indictment, Dog Killing, Infidelity Overcome By GOP Candidates

How bad was it for Democrats? Rep. Michael Grimm, a Republican facing a 20-count indictment won in New York and another known for outbursts of rage and killing a beagle, Mike Bost, won a seat in President Barack Obama's home state of Illinois that had been Democratic for 70 years.

Down in Tennessee, Rep. Scott DesJarlais' past infidelities and pushing of abortion on a mistress continued to not matter to voters, who handed him a landslide victory.

There were a couple of bright spots for Democrats, or at least the more moderate crowd. Florida Rep. Steve Southerland lost to Democrat Gwen Graham after holding an all-male fundraiser and joking about Graham in lingerie. And in Louisiana, GOP Rep. Vance McAllister, dubbed the "Kissing Congressman" after he was caught on tape smooching a staffer, finished far back in the field in his contest.

-- Michael McAuliff

11/05/2014 5:24 AM EST

Expect A Delay In Results

11/05/2014 5:07 AM EST

Alaska Becomes 4th State To Legalize Recreational Marijuana

In yet another major pushback against the war on drugs, Alaska legalized recreational marijuana on Tuesday, joining Oregon and Washington, D.C. -- both of which legalized cannabis only hours before. Alaska becomes the fourth state in the U.S. to legalize retail marijuana, along with Oregon, Colorado and Washington state.

Voters approved Measure 2, which legalizes the possession, use and sale of recreational marijuana. Adults, age 21 and older, may possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana and grow up to six plants (with no more than three being mature) for personal use. The measure also legalizes the manufacture, sale and possession of marijuana paraphernalia, such as devices used for smoking or storing the plant.

“The folks trying to keep marijuana illegal are relying on the same scare tactics today that they have relied on for decades, but voters just aren’t falling for it anymore," Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project, said in a statement early Wednesday morning. "The results are particularly encouraging since voter turnout during a midterm election is typically smaller, older, and more conservative. Clearly, support for ending marijuana prohibition spans the political and ideological spectrums."

Read more here.

-- Matt Ferner

11/05/2014 4:28 AM EST

Ah, Politics... Chicago-Style

11/05/2014 3:40 AM EST

Sarah Palin To GOP: You Didn't Build This

Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin took to Facebook last night to issue a hearty congratulations -- and warning -- to her GOP brethren:

Thank you, wise voters! Tonight is a big victory for We the People! Credit is due to the victorious candidates. Your message to President Obama is undeniably received, though he'll try to ignore it.

...

The Democrats got mauled today, deservedly so. To prohibit that from happening to the GOP in 2016, it must learn the lesson from the last time Republicans held the Senate majority. This time they must not retreat, and it's our responsibility to hold them accountable. Will they fight for reform that aligns with the limited government planks of the Republican platform, or will they return to the big government cronyism and status quo favored by the permanent political class? Will they drain the swamp or decide the D.C. cesspool is really just a jacuzzi they can't wait to jump on into and shake us off?

If GOP leadership returns to business as usual, then this majority will be short lived, for We the People say, “once bitten, twice shy.”

Click here to read the full statement.

11/05/2014 2:55 AM EST

Alaska Approves Minimum Wage Increase

11/05/2014 2:39 AM EST

Alaska Rep. Don Young Projected To Win 22nd Term

The Associated Press is projecting that Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) will win re-election as Alaska's only member of Congress.

--Sam Levine

11/05/2014 2:36 AM EST

Voter Turnout In The U.S. Is Always Awful.. And This Year Was No Different

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