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Don’t Use the Exit Polls to Look at Turnout

- November 6, 2008

Conclusions are already being drawn about whether certain groups were mobilized in this campaign, based on what percent of exit-poll respondents these groups comprised. (For example, in this New York Times piece, Adam Nagourney writes, “Initial signs were that Mr. Obama benefited from a huge turnout of voters, but particularly among blacks. That group of voters made up 13 percent of the electorate on Tuesday, according to surveys of people leaving the polls, compared with 11 percent in 2006. In North Carolina, Republicans said that the huge surge of African-Americans was one of the big factors that lead to Mrs. Dole’s loss”). [Addendum: same thing over at CNN.]

But Michael McDonald notes that, in 2004, the exit polls were “likely not reliable on some demographic measures, such as age and perhaps race.” See also his piece in Public Opinion Quarterly (gated).