Exit Poll Madness

Politics and policy.
Nov. 7 2000 6:33 PM

Exit Poll Madness


AUSTIN, Texas--My phone is ringing nonstop with the latest exit poll numbers. My inbox is spilling over with them. But because Slate has agreed not to publish this data under the threat of a lawsuit from the Voter News Service (VNS), I can't share them with you. You can find them, however, at Inside.com, The Drudge Report, and other Web sites. The Political Insider even sent out the early exit poll numbers to its e-mail subcribers. And I can tell the essence of what I know, which is that the election is incredibly close. Bush is slightly ahead in the popular vote, but Gore is essentially tied in projections of the Electoral College. This is, in fact, the rare situation where the exit polls don't tell you who's going to win. It's going to be a late and an exciting night.


The rationale behind suppressing exit poll information is that releasing it depresses turnout. The support for this notion is sketchy at best. But the contrary pretty clearly is true, namely that if the public knew what we journalists know on a day like today, turnout would increase. If potential non-voters knew how close the election really was, they would flock to the polls, especially in key states where a small number of votes one way or the other could decide the election.

I think it's simply wrong for the press to conceal information that many voters would regard as relevant even if it were likely to depress turnout. But it's unconscionable to withhold information that is likely to encourage people to exercise their democratic rights. All weekend, media pundits were dampening turnout by calling the result of the election a foregone conclusion--even if they didn't agree what the result would be. Now that we know better, the same news organizations are keeping what they know a secret.

So if you haven't voted yet, or know someone who might not vote, be informed that the election is incredibly close. Democrats are in range of picking up enough seats to win back control of the Senate, and presumably the House as well. In the presidential race, a split between the popular vote and the Electoral College is a definite possibility. The next leader of the free world could be determined by a few thousand votes in any of the following states: Florida, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Maine, Arkansas, and New Mexico. According to some reports I've seen, exit polls are even showing Gore slightly ahead in Arizona and Colorado, where Bush was heavily favored to win. And if you live in New Hampshire, Washington, Oregon, Delaware, or especially Pennsylvania, this might be your chance to decide an election single-handedly.

Illustration by Robert Neubecker.



More Than Scottish Pride

Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 

What Charles Barkley Gets Wrong About Corporal Punishment and Black Culture

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

Three Talented Actresses in Three Terrible New Shows

Why Do Some People See the Virgin Mary in Grilled Cheese?

The science that explains the human need to find meaning in coincidences.


Happy Constitution Day!

Too bad it’s almost certainly unconstitutional.

Is It Worth Paying Full Price for the iPhone 6 to Keep Your Unlimited Data Plan? We Crunch the Numbers.

What to Do if You Literally Get a Bug in Your Ear

  News & Politics
Sept. 17 2014 8:15 AM Ted Cruz Will Not Join a Protest of "The Death of Klinghoffer" After All
Sept. 16 2014 4:16 PM The iPhone 6 Marks a Fresh Chance for Wireless Carriers to Kill Your Unlimited Data
The Eye
Sept. 16 2014 12:20 PM These Outdoor Cat Shelters Have More Style Than the Average Home
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus Video
Sept. 16 2014 2:06 PM A Farewell From Emily Bazelon The former senior editor talks about her very first Slate pitch and says goodbye to the magazine.
Brow Beat
Sept. 16 2014 8:43 PM This 17-Minute Tribute to David Fincher Is the Perfect Preparation for Gone Girl
Future Tense
Sept. 16 2014 6:40 PM This iPhone 6 Feature Will Change Weather Forecasting
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 17 2014 7:30 AM Ring Around the Rainbow
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.