EXPLAINER: How Exit Polls Work

Answers to questions about the polls that help determine winner calls.

ByABC News
October 22, 2008, 7:25 AM

Oct. 22, 2008— -- ABC News will conduct exit polls in all 50 states on Election Day, along with polling partners CBS, CNN, Fox, NBC and The Associated Press. These news organizations comprise the National Election Pool, which contracted with Edison Media Research/Mitofsky International to run the exit polls. The data gathered in these polls provide the best source of information about who voted, for whom they voted and why.

Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about 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 or not. The "who won and why did they win" reporting on election night is gleaned mainly from exit poll results, with the information reaching most Americans by television, and increasingly through the Internet.

Interviewers stand outside polling places in precincts that are randomly selected in each state. They attempt to interview voters leaving the polling places 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.

Here's an example of an exit poll issue question from the 2008 Democratic primary in New Hampshire: