This story actually started bubbling up more than a month ago but now it appears to be set in stone. One group of election analysts plan to release at least some exit polling and voter turnout numbers throughout the day tomorrow, beginning as soon as the polls open on the east coast. As you might imagine, this is giving the world of political journalism a bad case of indigestion on the eve of their biggest day of the year. (Politico)
This year, a handful of different projects are underway to disrupt the rhythm and flow of information on Election Day — including one controversial effort that some worry could affect the actual election results.
Slate and Vice News have partnered with Votecastr, a company helmed by Obama and Bush campaign veterans, to provide real-time projections of how the candidates are faring in each state throughout the day. They expect to begin posting projections at 8 a.m. Eastern time on Election Day — a dramatic departure from current practice, where representatives from a consortium of news organizations (The Associated Press, ABC News, CBS News, CNN, Fox News and NBC News) huddle in a quarantine room without cell phones, pouring over the earliest exit poll data but declining to release anything that points to an election result until all the polls have closed.
Does anyone outside of this group of upstart data farmers actually think this is a good idea? We don’t even need to rely on the old rules of the road which the Politico article starts off with for an answer. Yes, the news networks have long held to an oath to not release the exit polls or make predictions until all the polls close in each state. That’s not only for fear of depressing turnout and swinging the presidential contest, but even moreso the down ballot races. This phenomenon doesn’t need to be rehashed in full here and it represents the “against” argument.
So all we really need to be asking ourselves is, what’s the “for” argument here? What pressing need of the voters and media consumers will be met by doing this which they currently lack? I’d love to hear a cogent answer to that one. In order to build such a case we would have to envision some army of sloppy, marginal voters who have no idea whether or not they will set aside time to go cast their vote on Tuesday but might make up their minds after lunch if some talking head on CNN tells them that the rain is slightly heavier than projected in Snohomish county and there are eleven percent fewer voters coming out of St. Anthony’s Parish basement than in 2012 and six of them voted for Trump instead of the expected four. Is that really a significant part of the audience?
Compare that against the reality of the majority of American voters. They overwhelmingly go to either work or school during daylight hours and don’t get out until four or five o’clock. Except for a comparatively small number of freaks like me who show up at six in the morning to vote before they begin their day’s work, those late afternoon and early evening hours are prime voting time. If there’s some indication that the state where they live has pretty much already been called, why bother going (no matter whether your candidate is winning or losing) when you could just go home and put your feet up instead?
You know who does benefit from a plan like this if it’s widely adopted? The media. They struggle to find some way to fill the empty hours on election day until they can finally talk about the winners and losers. Up until then all they can really do is report that people are voting and get an endless parade of commentators on the air to rehash the same material they’ve had on the front burner for the previous 48 hours. Being able to give hourly BREAKING NEWS updates of early exit polling and turnout would allow them to ratchet up ratings and have more people tuning in to their coverage (and their endless advertisements).
This doesn’t even seem like a close call to me. Releasing the exit polling all day long is a lose – lose situation.