What you need to know about Election Day exit polls

Exit polls are surveys conducted as voters leave their polling places.

November 8, 2022, 4:57 AM

Anyone who has watched Election Day coverage in the past, or is excited to do so in a hotly contested 2022 election, has probably heard anchors or analysts refer to exit polls.

But what are they and how do they work?

Exit polls are surveys conducted as voters leave their polling places on Election Day. Reaching voters at that moment helps ensure that the people surveyed have actually voted.

Critical questions of who won and why are answered from exit poll results.

PHOTO: Voters wait in line to enter a polling place and cast their ballots on the first day of the state's in-person early voting for the general election in Durham, N.C., Oct. 15, 2020.
Voters wait in line to enter a polling place and cast their ballots on the first day of the state's in-person early voting for the general election in Durham, N.C., Oct. 15, 2020.
Jonathan Drake/Reuters, File

How are exit polls conducted?

Interviewers stand outside polling places at randomly selected precincts across the country and approach voters at specific intervals as they exit, for example every fifth or ninth voter.

Voters who agree to participate fill out a short, confidential questionnaire and place it in a ballot box.

Interviewers phone in the results three times during the day. When a voter refuses to participate, interviewers note the gender and approximate age and race of that voter. This information is used to statistically adjust the exit poll to ensure that all voters are fairly represented in the final results.

PHOTO: A roll of "I Voted" stickers is seen next to a packet of alcohol wipes at a drive-thru early voting site in the City Hall parking lot in Eau Claire, Wis., Oct. 23, 2020.
A roll of "I Voted" stickers is seen next to a packet of alcohol wipes at a drive-thru early voting site in the City Hall parking lot in Eau Claire, Wis., Oct. 23, 2020.
Bing Guan/Reuters

What sort of questions are asked in an exit poll?

The exit poll questionnaire asks who people voted for, their demographics, opinions about the candidates and opinions on important issues. Here's an example of a 2022 exit poll issue question:

Do you think the condition of the nation's economy is:

  • 1. Excellent
  • 2. Good
  • 3. Not so good
  • 4. Poor
  • Are exit polls accurate?

    Exit polls, like any other survey, are subject to sampling and nonsampling error. Before news organizations report exit poll results or make projections, they compare results to pre-election polls and the voting history in that precinct, and have statisticians and political experts carefully review the data.

    After the polls close, exit poll results are weighted using the actual vote to make the data more accurate. Exit polls may be used to project the winners of races where the margin between the candidates is large. But most election projections are made after the polls close based on actual vote data.

PHOTO: Chris Helps, of Earlham, Iowa, fills out his ballot during early voting, Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020, in Adel, Iowa.
Chris Helps, of Earlham, Iowa, fills out his ballot during early voting, Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020, in Adel, Iowa.
Charlie Neibergall/AP

How do exit polls account for the people who vote early or by mail?

In the 2020 election, just over two-thirds voted before Election Day using some form of absentee or early voting. That number will be lower for this November's election, with about half of votes expected to cast early by mail or early in person.

Exit polls miss those who vote before Election Day. However, it is important to include them in the data in order to have accurate information about all voters.

Exit polls include those who vote absentee or early in two ways. The first is by conducting multi-mode polls (i.e., by phone, text, and email) among those who have voted absentee or early. Second, in states with a high proportion of early in-person voters, exit polls are conducted in the weeks leading up to Election Day as these voters leave the polling place. Data from the multi-mode polls and early voter exit polls are combined with the Election Day exit poll to provide a complete picture of all voters, regardless of when they voted.

When will exit poll results be reported?

On Election Day, there is a strict embargo on any data coming from the early waves of exit poll data until 5 p.m. ET. By about 5:45 p.m., some initial demographic information about voters and their views on key issues in the election will be available on ABCNews.com. After the polls close in a state, the complete exit poll crosstabs will be posted on ABCNews.com.

ABC News will not project a winner until the last scheduled poll closing time in each state. If a race is not projected at poll closing time, the projection will incorporate actual vote data and will be made as soon as the data warrant. Information will be constantly updated throughout the evening on ABCNews.com and on all ABC News programs.

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