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Analysts Eye Possible Exit Poll Overstatement Of Obama Support

WASHINGTON, DC: On presidential election day, November 4, all eyes will be on what exit polls say voters did, and analysts fear they could give a rosier view of support for Democrat Barack Obama than reality.

The combination of the exclusion of early voting, and the greater tendency of young voters--more often Obama supporters--to take part in the surveys, could skew the results of the exit polls, which, taken just as voters leave polling booths, are the closely-watched first indicators of how the election is going.

In a National Journal article in March, Mark Blumenthal of pollster.com stressed that overestimation of Obama support was already seen in Democratic primaries earlier in the year.

In 18 of 20 states he reviewed, votes in favour of Obama, who at that time was duelling Hillary Clinton for the party's White House nomination, were overestimated by an average of seven points.

The gap was likely due to the fact that many of Obama's most fervent supporters, often younger, more politically active and in many cases better educated than Clinton's, were more inclined to respond to exit polls.

The same thing could happen on November 4 if Obama voters turn out to be markedly younger than those of his Republican rival John McCain.

According to a recent Gallup poll, 65 percent of voters aged 18-29 plan to vote for Obama, against 31 percent for McCain.

Meanwhile, pollsters themselves tend to be on the younger side.

"One problem (with polls) has been that interviewers tend to be young people, and older voters are less likely to respond to young pollsters--if most of the interviewers this year are again young people, that might lead to some overstatement of the Obama vote," said Herb Weisberg, a professor of political science at Ohio State University.

Weisberg also stressed the unknown factor: ballots cast before November 4--which researchers say could total as much as one-third of the national total.

"Another problem will be that many votes are being cast absentee (early) this year. Exit polls can't pick up these votes," Weisberg said.

"Some pollsters will undoubtedly do phone surveys the weekend before the election to ask people if they've already voted and how they've voted, as a means of trying to capture this effect."

Exit polls have been conducted since 2003 by the National Election Pool (NEP), a consortium of ABC News, Associated Press, CBS News, CNN, Fox News and NBC News, which uses the Edison media research and Mitofsky International to carry out the post-voting voter questioning across the country.

On November 4, the Edison/Mitofsky team plans to carry out more than 100,000 interviews of voters at more than 1,000 US polling stations.

Concerns about the accuracy of this particular type of polling are nothing new.

In the 2004 presidential election, early exit polls gave a slight advantage to Democrat John Kerry, prompting some premature celebrating by Democrats and hand-wringing by Republicans, only to have George W. Bush eventually win the White House.

"People ought to be very skeptical of leaked (exit poll) results they might see between 5:00 pm Eastern Time (2200 GMT) and when the polls close on November 4," Blumenthal said. (AFP)

MySinchew 2008.10.24

 

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