After another perceived, high-profile miss in last year’s presidential election, the Election Day exit poll is on life support.
The Associated Press confirmed Friday it has joined Fox News in abandoning the so-called National Election Pool — the election surveying instrument that the news media, campaign operatives and political junkies have come to love and hate — marking the end of an era when one ubiquitous Election Day survey shaped the understanding of presidential and state election outcomes.
The departures of AP and Fox from the 20-year alliance of news organizations that have commissioned and reported national and state exit polls doesn’t necessarily sound the death knell for exit polling. The four remaining networks in the pool — ABC News, CBS News, CNN and NBC News — are locked into the current exit poll regime through the next presidential election.
But they will be facing unprecedented competition — from the AP and Fox News, among others — and the future beyond 2020 remains uncertain.
“I think there will always be a place for asking voters how they voted,” said Joe Lenski, the co-founder and executive vice-president at Edison Research, which conducts exit polls for the National Election Pool.
But, he also acknowledged, “We just have to pick the best method for asking them.”
That’s becoming increasingly complicated in the days of shrinking media budgets, and with rising percentages of voters who cast their ballot in person weeks before Election Day, or via mail.
The National Election Pool exit poll does attempt to account for in-person early voting, and for mail voting. In states with liberal early-voting laws, the exit-poll samples (which are typically conducted on Election Day outside polling stations) are supplemented with phone surveys in the days leading up to Election Day with people who have already voted. And phone surveys take the place of in-person interviewing in an all-mail battleground state like Colorado.
The AP and Fox News haven’t left the playing field: They plan to conduct their own exit polls and other experiments that they hope will more accurately — and efficiently — replace the existing exit poll.