Exit poll reductions not likely to lessen Catholic vote impact

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A decision to reduce the number of states included in exit polls after the 2012 presidential election is not expected to detract from the importance attached to the Catholic vote or future efforts by candidates to attract Catholics as a group.

Dr. Mark M. Gray, research associate at Georgetown University's Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, explained that the change means "we won't be able to discern how Catholics voted nationally as quickly as we have in the past."

However, he told CNA on Oct. 17 that he believes the votes of Catholics and other subgroups will still be a significant topic of discussion following the upcoming election.

On Oct. 4, the Washington Post reported that the decision to eliminate the polls in some states had been made by the National Election Pool, which sponsors national exit surveys of voters in order for the media to make predictions about election outcomes before all the votes have been counted.
For 20 years, exit polls after presidential elections have included voters in all 50 states. However, this year that number will be cut to 31 states, eliminating the surveys from 19 states where there is already a high level of confidence that one candidate will win. 

The change will allow exit polls to focus on gathering data from hotly-contested swing states.

ABC News elections director Dan Merkle, a member of the National Election Pool's managing committee, said the decision was to an attempt to maintain quality while dealing with increasing costs.

An increase in early voting has necessitated a rise in the use of telephone interviews rather than cheaper in-person precinct polls.

In addition, the National Election Pool is increasing the number of precincts that will be sampled in the national survey this year, facilitating detailed analysis of subgroups.

The states that will not have exit polls this year are: Alaska, Arkansas, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia and Wyoming. The District of Columbia will also be excluded.

As a result, analysts and researchers will not be able to see the individual state breakdown of voters by religion, sex, age or race in these states.

However, Gray explained that he does not think the change will affect the way in which campaigns appeal to the Catholic electorate.

"It does not diminish the importance of the Catholic vote either," he added. For years, the Catholic vote has been considered an important demographic in presidential elections.

"The loss of the national exit polls simply means we won't quickly be able to discern how Catholics voted," Gray explained. Instead, analysts will have to rely on small national surveys, such as The National Election Study, which "won't be released for some time after the election."
Mark J. Rozell, professor of public policy at George Mason University, agreed that the change will likely not detract from the way that campaigns reach out to Catholics.

Election seasons will still include numerous polls with participants broken down by religious affiliation, he said, and individual campaigns look at voter subgroups in "minute detail."

The biggest loss resulting from the decision to cut exit polls from some states will be to the academic community in its post-election analysis, Rozell stated.

"I don't think it will minimize one bit the perceptions of Catholic voters," he said.

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