For political junkies, the run-up to a presidential election is something like the playoffs for sports fanatics. In that respect, you might think of exit polls as something like the halftime report from the championship game — the big contest isn’t over, but we have some numbers with which we may be able to gain some insight on who the winner will be.
Of course, politics isn’t sports — the stakes are much higher. And it’s because of those high stakes that there have been consistent complaints that the improper use of exit polling cheapens the process and may discourage voters from going to the polls or encourage entirely new groups of voters to get out to polling stations when they otherwise may not have. And sometimes the exit polls just seem like fodder for the next news cycle, getting prediction after prediction wrong.
So what is the utility of these things? Well it looks like The Associated Press sees some utility in them — the AP has been awarded a grant to come up with an exit poll for the future. Which brings us back to the main question: who needs exit polls anyway? What are they good for?
Daron Shaw is a professor of government at the University of Texas at Austin. He argues that exit polls are useful; not only can they project the outcomes of different races on election night, but they provide a richer story of both who someone voted for and maybe more important — why.
To listen to the full interview with Dr. Shaw, use the SoundCloud media player above.