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Enten Exit Poll UK Final2

Enten Exit Poll UK Final2

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Published by: poughies on Dec 04, 2010
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Introduction:
In the United States and United Kingdom, exit polls play a key role in shapingelection night coverage. For anyone who has tuned into an Election Night televisionbroadcast in the U.S., much of theearly coverage(and indeed much of the late) is spenttelling us "not only who won, but
why
they won". The "why they won" is a reference toexit polls, which ask voters who they voted for and what shaped their vote. Often times,the "why" question can provide valuable insight that would not be clear otherwise. In2000, experts believed (and polls suggested) that Al Gore’shopesof performing stronglyin Florida rested with seniors due to his "lock box" stand on social security, but theexitpollsshowed that older voters split relatively evenly among the candidates. Instead, itwas young voters, happy about the strong state of the economy, who allowed Gore to endup in a virtual dead-heat with George Bush in Florida. Few remember this age fliprevelation, but many recall the fact that the early exit polls indicatedAl Gore would winin Florida.This half-right, half-wrong answer to whether the Florida exit poll did its job begsthe question: what is the fundamental purpose of an exit poll? Unlike in the U.S., U.K.exit polling is used only to forecast results. Since 1997, British exit polls have accuratelyestimated the winner of the British House of Commons election as soon as the pollsclosed (see more below). Is it more important for an exit poll to explain a victory or topredict one? What happens when exit polls disagree with the results of pre-election pollsor the actual results? In this two-part blog series, I intend to veer off my conventionalpath and take a comparative look at past exit polls to try and answer these questions. In1
 
this short blog entry, I will start off by looking at how British and U.S. exit polls differ. Iwill show that British exit-pollsters conduct surveys with the chief goal of quicklyforecastingon election night which party (or no party) won parliament due to the fact thatelection results are reported very slowly in Britain. My next post focuses on thedifferences between American and Mexican exit polls.
Key Differences between British and American Exit Polls
As the introduction suggests, exit polls in the United States serve the dual purposeof early prediction, as well as explanation of the vote. These exit polls have beenconductedfor media organizations for the purpose of informing/entertaining televisionaudiences and providingvaluable materialto academics after the election. According tothe late head of Mitofsky International, Warren Mitofsky, raw horserace numbers, as inGore leads Bush 50-47%, arenever purposelyaired on Election Night (due to a relativelyhigh margin of error as well as the enthusiastic voters problem illustrated below). In theUnited Kingdom, on other hand, exit polls have thesole purposeof predicting electionnight outcomes. Like the United States, the exits polls in Britain are compiled for, andreported by, media organizations. Unlike, in the United States, Britishmediaorganizationslay it out on the line and tell audiences that "the Conservatives are expect toreceive XXX seats in the House of Commons, while Labour is expected to receiveXXX". Also different from the United States, UK's exit polls do not aim atpredictingindividual seats, but rather the aggregate result.The reasons for these contrasts are rather clear. First, the British House of Commons is not decided by one election, but an election of 650 constituencies. Of 2
 
course, polling 650 individual constituencies is essentially impossible, as it would requirewell over 300,000 interviews to have amargin of errorbelow +/- 5%. While is true thatpresidential elections in the United States are of 50 statewide contests (less for senatorialand gubernatorial contests), the significantly higher number of British constituenciespresents a major challenge. Due to thesingle member districtrules of the Britishparliament, astraight national vote to seat uniform swingcannot be utilized
1
. Thus, exit-pollsters face the task of trying to make an aggregate prediction without being able to pollevery district. To get around this problem,exit pollsters(see Figure 1, page 6) interviewat polling stations in districts that are deemed to be "swing-districts" (marginalconstituencies). That is, the first districts one would expect to flip to the opposition basedupon previous vote (gathered using exit polls as individual polling stations do nottypically report vote totals
2
) and demographic data. Using math far too complicated forthis post, the marginal constituency data is turned into a national seat estimate. Still, noneof this answers the question of why exit polls in Britain do not bother to find out "why"voters vote the way they do.
Why The Difference in Exit Polls?
The answer is both simple and complex. The pace of counting in each of the 650different British constituencies differs considerably and often takes a very long timebecause votes are counted byhand(vs. bymachinein the United States). Even when
1
 
According to Mark Pack, a straightuniform swinghad an average error among the threemain parties of 30 seats between 1997 and 2005.
2
SeeCurtice and Firthpage 2 andRallings et al. page 7. Most precinct level data is available for only a limited time and is too resource intensive to gather quickly enough.Some boroughs such as Brent, London keep precinct level data for longer. Otherwise,exit poll and after election surveys such as theBritish Election Studyare the only sourcesfor precinct level data.3

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