Press Box

Git Yer Early Exit-Poll Numbers Here!

I will be trolling friends, enemies, and acquaintances in the media on Saturday for early exit-poll data from the South Carolina primary and will publish it here before the polls close, just as I did with the New Hampshire primary (See “Press Box Breaks the Exit-Poll Embargo,” Feb. 1). If you’re a pressie or a pol with access to the Saturday exit polls, please feel free to drop them to

Why am I publishing exit-poll numbers before the polls close? Because the exit-poll embargo that the media observes is a big joke.

The Voter News Service (VNS) consortium that assembles the exit-poll numbers (ABC News, CBS News, NBC News, Fox News, CNN, and the Associated Press), as well as the hundred news organizations that subscribe to VNS, honor the embargo mostly in the breach. As the exit-poll data streams into newsrooms on Election Day, reporters share the numbers with their friends and campaign officials, making a mockery of the so-called embargo. The most egregious violators of the embargo are the networks, who telegraph the winners of the contests before the polls close. Fox, MSNBC, and CNN all hinted broadly at who the winner would be well before the New Hampshire polls closed, reported the New York Times.

The argument against the early release of exit-poll data is that it will suppress voter turnout. I don’t buy this, and will be writing more about it next week. But let’s pretend it is true. Would it be such a tragedy? It’s up to the candidates and the League of Women Voters to lure bodies to the voting booth–not the press. By this argument, reporters should voluntarily suppress all reporting that might deter citizens from voting.

Secondly, why shouldn’t we trust voters with the most up-to-date information available about the progress of the election? The exit-poll data is rarely much different than the tracking-poll data released the day before the election, and nobody talks about suppressing those findings because they might deter somebody from voting.

Remember one thing when you read the early exit-poll data here tomorrow afternoon. Declaring the probable victor in a race is an art that is more complicated than simply measuring the exit-poll results. The news statisticians who call races factor in other data before they declare a winner. In the case of the New Hampshire primary, which Gore won, the exit-poll numbers made available to me from the New Hampshire primary at 4:30 had Bradley leading Gore.

That e-mail address again: