When the exit polls are released from the quarantine room at 5pm EST on election day, they’ll be available to the major news broadcasters. They’ll also be incomplete, probably misleading and almost certainly leaked over the internet. Politico.com senior political writer David Kuhn says what the polls will certainly show is how potent and tempting the information is.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Lenski and his pollsters may be hoping for a landslide, but for broadcasters who go live early evening on Election Day, a landslide would be nothing but trouble. How do you fill all those hours?
As you heard, this year the members of the National Election Pool are quarantined with the incoming exit poll data until 5 p.m. Then they'll leave with some demographic data about who voted for whom and why, and with a few incomplete numbers, which they're not supposed to report. They won't have the poll results from the West, which could be crucial. But with hours to fill, commentators may find themselves hinting and grasping at numerical scraps.
Politico.com senior political writer David Kuhn says the current system, though improved, is still a recipe for disaster. The people with the data may not say those early numbers on TV, but - DAVID KUHN: After 5 o'clock I fully expect them to leak. I think we're going to see these exit poll numbers online, and that’s the problem. The news organizations may sponsor the exit polling, but after 5 o'clock, when the exit polling is given to the wider staffs of the news organizations, it’s emailed to some blog or somebody leaks it. That will then be linked to by Drudge Report, and they will be reporting that somebody is this much ahead – on imperfect numbers.
And so, I think the news organizations bear as much responsibility – and I mean the executives – for the leaks, as the person who leaks it. BROOKE GLADSTONE: In other words, you’re advocating that they stay a couple of hours longer in the quarantine room. DAVID KUHN: I'm advocating that they stay a couple hours longer in the quarantine room. Although it may starve pundits of a little bit of information for a couple of hours, it will help enhance and secure the reputation of the news organizations. BROOKE GLADSTONE: What keeps the broadcasters from just holding out for concrete information? DAVID KUHN: Because they have competing pressures. One pressure is accuracy and their reputation, which was sullied terribly in 2000, most especially in Florida.
But the other competing pressure is keeping viewers and offering a narrative arc that’s extended long enough, that, you know, lasts from 5 o'clock to 11, if not all night, rather than an hour period when, okay, here are the results, this is who won, and now let's go live to John McCain or Barack Obama accepting the presidency. [LAUGHS] BROOKE GLADSTONE: I understand that there’s a new Pew Research poll that is gauging the public’s opinion of the coverage of this election season, and a vast majority of them have come to the conclusion that the press is biased against McCain. Right? DAVID KUHN: Not only that, 70 percent feel the press wants Barack Obama to win the presidency, and only 9 percent – 9 – feels that the press wants John McCain to win the presidency. So that’s a stark ratio of seven to one. Seven to one Americans is far bigger than any conservative media influence. This is simply larger than any swath of, let's say, who’s watching Fox or listening to Rush. BROOKE GLADSTONE: But regardless of that lean, you don't anticipate that any legitimate media outlet is going to rush to judgment on election night. DAVID KUHN: I anticipate, to be honest, that one of the cable news networks who have the early exit polling will in very subtle ways say certain things, because they see premature numbers. And it could lead to, at 5 o'clock or 6 o'clock, the misperception that someone is far more ahead than they are.
And so, the best thing people can do is really turn off their televisions and their BlackBerrys and their radios for a couple of hours and just wait ‘til the numbers are coming in, the bed of exit poll numbers and, most importantly, the actual votes. BROOKE GLADSTONE: David Kuhn, I cannot tell you how much I appreciate your taking this principled stance. I'm really looking forward to the mail. [LAUGHTER] Thank you very much. DAVID KUHN: Thanks for having me. BROOKE GLADSTONE: David Kuhn is a senior political writer for Politico.com.