Election Exit Poll


What is an Exit Poll?

An election exit poll is a poll of voters taken immediately after they have exited the polling stations. Unlike an opinion poll, which asks for whom the voter plans to vote, or some similar formulation, an exit poll asks for whom the voter actually voted. Pollsters – usually private companies working for newspapers or broadcasters – conduct exit polls to gain an early indication as to how an election has turned out, as in many elections the actual result may take hours or even days to count.


There are different views on who invented the exit poll. Marcel van Dam, Dutch sociologist and former politician, claims to be the inventor, by being the first to implement one during the Dutch legislative elections on February 15, 1967. Other sources say Warren Mitofsky, an American pollster, was the first. For CBS News, he devised an exit poll in the Kentucky gubernatorial election in November that same year. Notwithstanding this, the mention of the first exit polls date back to the 1940s when such a poll was held in Denver, Colorado

In India it began back in 1957 during the second Lok Sabha elections when the Indian Institute of Public Opinion conducted a poll


An accurate survey should follow some basic norms:

  • Every member of the targeted population should have an equal chance of being selected for the survey. Probability sampling ensures everyone a fair and equal chance of getting selected which results in avoiding coverage error.
  • The size of the sample to be selected should be adequate enough to achieve the required level of precision. The attempt should be to minimize sampling error.
  • The questions to be asked should be simple and clearly worded so that the respondents can understand it and answer it easily. The question to be asked should be worded in such a manner that it stimulates the respondents to answer them correctly. This reduces the measurement error though it cannot be totally avoided.
  • The sampled respondents who could be contacted and interviewed during the survey should have similar in traits as those who could not be interviewed. Everyone in the sample who responds to the survey should have corresponding characteristics with those who did not respond. This helps in avoiding non-response error

Factors that propel inaccurate poll predictions

  • First ‒ the socio-cultural diversity and volatility of India voters. Do voters form their voting decisions after the elections are declared or are there a significant number of voters who are floating voters and decide at the last moment? Do the Indian voters reveal their voting intentions to the surveyors or do they conceal them arising out of extraneous factors?
  • Second ‒whether the survey can capture the complexities of elections arising out of multipolarity of contests, party alliances and transfer of votes for each other and geographical concentration of votes for some parties in some regions/states? Similarly Indian elections witness factionalism in parties, rebel candidates and local level settings that is difficult to ascertain by a survey;
  • Third whether the sample selection is representative of the demographic of the voters and does size of the sample determine the accuracy of the survey?
  • Fourth ‒ how far are the various statistical models for seat predictions developed by pollsters in making an accurate election forecasting?
May 20, 2019

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