EXPLAINER: How Exit Polls Work

Shortly after 5:30 p.m. ET on Election Day, ABCNews.com will start reporting on exit poll results, although no winners will be projected until all the polls are closed in any given state. These early results will mostly show demographic trends in voter turnout.

As polls start to close, actual vote count will begin to supplement insight provided by exit poll results. Some races will be projected at poll closing based on a careful analysis of exit poll results alone. Others will not be projected until there is further analysis of actual vote count.

The data gathered in exit polls provide the best source of information about who voted, for whom they voted, and why. Because they tell such an important part of the story on Election Day, for 40-plus years exit polls have played a key role in how national elections are covered. It is important to understand how these polls are conducted, and why ABC News and other organizations continue to rely on the results.

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ABC News and polling partners CBS, CNN, Fox, NBC and The Associated Press jointly comprise the National Election Pool. The pool has contracted with Edison Research to run exit polls in 26 states this Election Day. The 26 state exit polls cover top statewide races, but not local or district level races.

Although individual House races are not covered, there will be a nationwide exit poll that captures voters' preferences and attitudes. This poll provides the most insight into what is on voters' minds across the country, and it gives an overview of the national House votes.

Here are some of the frequently asked questions about exit polls:

What are exit polls?

Exit polls are surveys conducted as voters leave their polling places on Election Day. Reaching voters at that moment is important because it overcomes the problem pollsters have conducting election polls by telephone: People sometimes misreport whether they voted. The "who won and why did they win" reporting on election night is gleaned mainly from exit poll results.

How are exit polls conducted?

Interviewers stand outside polling places in precincts that are randomly selected. They attempt to interview voters leaving the polling place at specific intervals (every fourth or 10th voter, for example).

Voters who agree to participate in the poll fill out a paper questionnaire and place it in a ballot box. Interviewers phone in results three times during the day.

When a voter refuses to participate, the interviewer notes the gender and approximate age and race of that voter. In this way, the exit poll can be statistically corrected to make sure all voters are fairly represented in the final results.

What sorts of questions are asked in an exit poll?

The typical exit poll questionnaire asks questions of voters that measure the following:

Who they just voted for in key races;

What opinions they hold about the candidates and important issues;

Their demographic characteristics.

Here's an example of an exit poll issue question from this year:

Which ONE of these four issues is the most important facing the country?

The war in Afghanistan
Health care
The economy
Illegal immigration

Are exit polls accurate?

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