Michael Kinsley is tired of the exit poll charade. TV analysts, he says, almost certainly know the results of the election early in the evening, but aren’t allowed to say so until the polls close. So they engage in a weird dance:
Exit poll data is supposed to be used for demographic insights only, not to predict the result. You can say, “Republicans are doing well tonight among upper-middle class white men aged 35 to 45, wearing red sweater vests and answering to the name of ‘Champ.'” But you can’t say, “Chances are better than even that Obama’s got it in the bag.”
You can learn a lot from tiny samplings by comparing them with past results. By 6 p.m. Eastern time on election night, CNN undoubtedly knew that President Obama was almost certain to win reelection. And it pretty much knew the electoral college count. But it thought it best to deny this information to its viewers.
I happen to agree that the exit poll charade is a little wearying, even though the motive behind it is reasonable. But in this case, I’m not sure Kinsley is right. If the nets really knew who was going to win Ohio and Virginia by 6 pm, they would have called them at 8:01, when the polls closed. But they didn’t. They didn’t call Ohio until after 11 pm. Sure, it was obvious before then that things were trending in Obama’s direction, but the timing of their calls suggests that, in fact, they weren’t “almost certain” until well after 6 pm. The election may not have been a “tossup,” as so many folks pretended, but it was still pretty close.