LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
The polls were wrong. We've heard that a lot, especially after the 2016 presidential election. Exit polls then, for instance, substantially underestimated the number of white voters without a college degree. Now Fox News and The Associated Press are rocking a quarter-century of standardized practice of how exit polls are done. For more, NPR lead political editor Domenico Montanaro joins us now from Denver, where some of the country's top pollsters have gathered this past week and where Fox News and the AP have detailed their joint venture for the first time.
DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hey there, Lulu.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Sounds like a fun gathering.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Lots of pollsters in a room - I'm sure there's jokes. What makes this new effort such a big deal?
MONTANARO: Look, this is the first time since 1992, when all the media organizations bought into one National Election Pool, that there's going to be competition. And it's a totally different approach to measuring the electorate. They're launching it, by the way, they announced, in all 47 states where there are elections this fall for statewide elections in these midterms. And it's a massive undertaking that really is - you know, just talking to people here - starting a crackup of American election polling.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's fascinating. What is different, though, about what Fox News and the AP are doing?
MONTANARO: Well, first of all, it's not an exit poll (laughter).
GARCIA-NAVARRO: OK. Well, that's a big deal.
MONTANARO: Think of this really as a massive pre-election poll of likely voters, in other words, making phone calls and online surveys that they'll be doing up to election day of about 5,000 voters per state. Now, to put that into some context, most decent polls that survey now with a, you know, good - low margin of error are about 500 people in the state. So we're talking 10 times the sample size of a regular poll.
They also break up the states into more subregions than the current exit polls do. They think that this is going to help them be more accurate. And Fox and AP are pretty confident that their results are better than the traditional exit polls in some ways. They actually did shadow polls with the new system in three big specials this year - special elections in the 6th Congressional District in Georgia, the New Jersey governor's race and the Alabama Senate race. And guess what - they got the winner right in all three.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: That sounds promising. But are there pitfalls to this way of doing things? I mean, are people asking questions about whether or not they are going to be able to keep their winning streak?
MONTANARO: Yes (laughter). And there's a big degree of risk when you're not actually speaking to voters. They're not actually speaking to people who have gone and voted. There's always a number of people who say they're going to vote who don't. And this is an experiment. AP and Fox - even though they're putting this - they're operationalizing this, they acknowledge that there are some demographic shortcomings. They found this in their tests in their poll. They underestimated in Alabama, for example, the number of black voters who would show up. But like scientists, they acknowledge those shortcomings. And they're going to be tinkering with their models along the way. So we may have something good eventually, but it's a whole new Wild West era here.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: What has been the reaction to this from the pollsters at this conference that you're at?
MONTANARO: In the hallways here, I was surprised to hear, actually, that academics and pollsters are mostly saying that this effort is overdue. There's general consensus that the traditional exit polls are oversampling Democrats because older voters don't like having to fill out these forms. And they, of course, lean pretty heavily Republican.
Many people I talked to here said that they've been raising alarm bells with the National Election Pool for a decade to no avail. And they see this as a pretty good thing to light a match under those exit pollsters to change. I talked with a consultant to one of those exit polls. And he said that they are actually going to be trying to make changes and that this is part of that.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's NPR's lead political editor Domenico Montanaro in Denver.
Thank you so much.
MONTANARO: You're welcome.
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