Exit poll

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This article is about polling by media. For election fraud prevention, see Election verification exit poll.

An election exit poll is a poll of voters taken immediately after they have exited the polling stations. Unlike an opinion poll, which asks for whom the voter plans to vote, or some similar formulation, an exit poll asks for whom the voter actually voted. A similar poll conducted before actual voters have voted is called an entrance poll. Pollsters – usually private companies working for newspapers or broadcasters – conduct exit polls to gain an early indication as to how an election has turned out, as in many elections the actual result may take hours or even days to count.

Marcel van Dam, Dutch sociologist and former politician, is credited with having invented the exit poll, and being the first to implement an exit poll during the Dutch legislative elections on February 15, 1967.[1]


Exit polls are also used to collect demographic data about voters and to find out why they voted as they did. Since actual votes are cast anonymously, polling is the only way of collecting this information.

Exit polls have historically and throughout the world been used as a check against and rough indicator of the degree of election fraud. Some examples of this include the Venezuelan recall referendum, 2004, and the Ukrainian presidential election, 2004.


Like all opinion polls, exit polls by nature do include a margin of error. A famous example of exit poll error occurred in the 1992 UK General Election, when two exit polls predicted a hung parliament. The actual vote revealed that Conservative Party Government under John Major held their position, though with a significantly reduced majority. Investigations into this failure identified a number of causes including differential response rates (the Shy Tory Factor), the use of inadequate demographic data and poor choice of sampling points.[2][3]

Organizations that conduct election exit polling[edit]

In the United States, the National Election Pool (NEP), consisting of ABC, AP, CBS, CNN, FOX News, and NBC, conducts a joint election exit poll. Since 2004 this exit poll has been conducted for the NEP by Edison Media Research.

The release of exit poll data in the US has been met with increased scrutiny in recent years. In the 2012 election protocols to quarantine the release of data were put in place.[4]

In Egypt, the Egyptian center for public opinion research (baseera) conducted in 2014 two exit polls; the constitution referendum exit poll and the presidency elections exit polls. These exit polls are considered the first exit polls to be conducted not only in Egypt but also in the Middle East (www.baseera.com.eg). [5]

Criticism and controversy[edit]

Widespread criticism of exit polling has occurred in cases, especially in the United States, where exit-poll results have appeared and/or have provided a basis for projecting winners before all real polls have closed, thereby possibly influencing election results.[citation needed] In the 1980 U.S. presidential election, NBC predicted a victory for Ronald Reagan at 8:15 pm EST, based on exit polls of 20,000 voters. It was 5:15 pm on the West Coast, and the polls were still open. There was speculation that voters stayed away after hearing the results.[6] Thereafter, television networks have voluntarily adopted the policy of not projecting any victor within a state until all polls have closed for that state.[citation needed] In the 2000 U.S. Presidential election it was alleged that media organizations released exit poll results for Florida before the polls closed in the Florida panhandle, as part of the westernmost area of the state is 1 hour behind the main peninsula.[citation needed]

Some countries, such as the United Kingdom or Germany, have made it a criminal offence to release exit poll figures before all polling stations have closed, while others, such as Singapore, have banned them altogether.[7] In some instances, problems with exit polls have encouraged polling groups to pool data in hopes of increased accuracy. This proved successful during the 2005 UK General Election, when the BBC and ITV merged their data to show an exit poll giving Labour a majority of 66 seats, which turned out to be the exact figure. This method was also successful in the 2007 Australian Federal Election, where the collaboration of Sky News, Channel 7 and Auspoll provided an almost exact 53 percent two party-preferred victory to Labor over the ruling Coalition.

In Bulgaria, where the announcement of exit polling results is illegal in the election day and despite an explicit ban to this effect,[8] many news agencies regularly publish "rankings" of various seemingly unrelated subjects throughout election days. Examples of such spoof rankings from the 2013 elections include made-up "weather forecasts",[9] fake "tourist information",[10] the popularity of non-existent computer games,[11] humorously-titled "literature"[12][13] and even a list of most popular brothels.[14] In the first example, the temperatures are shown to be highest on Pozitano street and at the NDK (respectively the headquarters of the BSP and GERB parties), while in the second, the most popular tourist destination in the country is reported to be the small town of Bankya (home of GERB leader Boyko Borisov), followed by Buzludzha – the mountain peak seen as the symbolic home of the BSP.

There was a widespread controversy during the Indian general election, 2014 when the Election Commission of India barred media organisations from displaying exit poll results until the votes had been counted. This was followed by a strong protest from the media which caused the Election Commission to withdraw its statement and confirm that the exit polls can be shown at 6:30 PM on 12 May after the last vote is cast.


  1. ^ Van Dam, Marcel P. A. and Jan Beishuizen (1967) Kijk op de kiezer. Amsterdam: Het Parool
  2. ^ Market Research Society (1994). "The Opinion Polls and the 1992 Election: a Report to the Market Research Society". London: Market Research Society. 
  3. ^ Payne, Clive (2001-11-28). "Election Forecasting in the UK" (PDF). Retrieved 2008-10-23. 
  4. ^ [1]
  5. ^ [2]
  6. ^ Facts on File Yearbook 1980 p865
  7. ^ Comparative study of laws and regulations restricting the publication of electoral opinion polls, Article 19 (2003)
  8. ^ The Council for Electronic Media bans Rankings Charts (in Bulgarian), 24 Chasa, 19 Mar 2013. Retrieved 12 May 2013.
  9. ^ Weather: Extremely hot on Pozitano and at NDK (in Bulgarian), BGNES, 12 May 2013. Retrieved 12 May 2013.
  10. ^ Bankya is Bulgarians' favourite destination (in Bulgarian), 24 Chasa, 12 May 2013. Retrieved 12 May 2013.
  11. ^ How Fast Are "Crazy Frogs" v4.2 (in Bulgarian), bTV, 12 May 2013. Retrieved 12 May 2013.
  12. ^ Literary Critics Warn: Book Tastes are Not Measured by Thermometer (in Bulgarian), OffNews, 12 May 2013. Retrieved 12 May 2013.
  13. ^ The Most Sought-After Books in Macedonia (in Bulgarian), Focus News, 12 May 2013. Retrieved 12 May 2013.
  14. ^ Clients Rank Priestesses of Passion (in Bulgarian), Frog News, 12 May 2013. Retrieved 12 May 2013.

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