The Voter's Guide to Election Polls

By Michael W. Traugott; Paul J. Lavrakas | Go to book overview

a particular state. Even though the projections may be available earlier, they are not broadcast until the polls close in that state. This is being done under a "gentlemen's agreement" that does not have the force of law, and Congress has considered ways to formalize this arrangement. In continuing discussions, a feasible proposal to eliminate problems for voters on the West Coast would have uniform poll closings all across the country. This could conceivably be done together with establishment of a uniform number of hours that the polls must be open in each precinct. In this manner, all the votes would be cast before news organizations made a burst of projections. Such a law would be very disruptive to the current administration of elections in the United States, and it would involve a substantial increase in costs for some jurisdictions. Therefore, such a law is not likely to pass in Congress until solutions are found for these problems.

In many foreign countries without the United States Bill of Rights, however, laws forbid the publication of preelection polls late in the campaign--for the last two weeks in France, for example, or for the weekend before the election in Canada. And other laws prohibit projections based on exit polls. But these restrictions will not be adopted in the United States.


References

BARTELS, LARRY M. 1988. Presidential Primaries and the Dynamics of Public Choice. Princeton: Princeton University Press. This book offers the best description of how the current presidential nomination process works. It focuses on the post- 1972 period in which the candidates have been required to enter primaries and caucuses in order to secure pledged delegates at their parties' national nominating conventions. Bartels deals with the concept of momentum---its value to candidates and its impact on voters. One of the key concepts explaining voter choice in the primaries is the set of expectations created by the candidates and the press in concert. Voters are looking for cues about whom to support, which can come from various sources, including political elites, the results in previous primaries or caucuses, and polls. The quantification of the opinions of others in polls has become one of the greatest contributors to the media's propensity to engage in "horserace" coverage that describes who is ahead and who is behind. And this makes a substantial contribution to momentum and perceptions of viability.

CANTRIL, ALBERT H. 1991. The Opinion Connection: Polling, Politics, and the Press. Washington, D.C.: CQ Press. This highly readable book was written under the auspices of the National Council on Public Polls (NCPP), a professional organization of survey firms dedicated to improving both the quality of polls and the quality of poll-based information that is publicly disseminated. It was written, in part, in response to the wave of criticism

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