Transcript: How Exit Pollsters Plan to Cope with a Super-Crowded Election Season

Source Organization: Pew Research Center

Speaker: Joe Lenski

Co-founder and Executive Vice President of Edison Media Research

Venue: Pew Research Center

12/14/2007 - In an exclusive interview, Joe Lenski, co-founder and Executive Vice President of Edison Media Research discusses the special problems in conducting exit polls this campaign season given the unprecedented clustering of primaries and caucuses in the first two months of 2008.

Lenski is an expert in the operation and organization of survey research and has been involved in every major exit poll conducted in the last decade for the television networks and the Associated Press. Under his supervision, in partnership with Mitofsky International, Edison Media Research currently conducts all exit polls and election projections for the six major news organizations -- ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox, NBC and the Associated Press that participate in the National Election Pool (NEP).

Interviewer: Andrew Kohut, President, Pew Research Center

My first question is a simple one: How many primaries and caucuses will the NEP cover this year?

That will depend upon the competitiveness of the primary season. The members have already made the commitment to cover every primary through February 12. They'll make decisions about the primaries after that some time in January and February. So as of now we are planning to cover 23 primaries and 2 state caucuses-Iowa and Nevada- including all of the primaries through February 12.

So everything is covered on the big February 5 day?

All the primaries are covered on February 5th day. But the only caucuses we are covering are Iowa and Nevada and there are a few caucuses on February 5, like in Idaho and Colorado, that we aren't covering.

The big question I see in the current situation is what challenges have arisen given the late setting of dates for Iowa, New Hampshire, and other races? I can imagine that the issue is recruitment and training.

We usually need about an 8-week head start on recruiting. It was a little nerve racking until Thanksgiving waiting for New Hampshire and Michigan to set their dates. Also Massachusetts moved its date up at the last minute to February 5. So there was a lot of jockeying around, which kind of played havoc on our schedules, but in terms of the actual work, we were right on track. We have already done all the research and the picking of samples, etc., and we are pretty close to fully hired in Iowa and New Hampshire. We'll begin our in-depth training next week in both places, and then we are on track to be ready for the February 5 dates.

The real issue with the timing though is how close Iowa and New Hampshire are to the Christmas and New Years holidays. That will, I believe, raise some issues, because you can't just call up and train people on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day or New Year's Eve or New Year's Day, and we still need them to show up in Iowa two days after the start of the year. So that's one thing that we are going to keep an eye on. But we are going to start training earlier than usual, and hopefully people will still remember what they learned after they eat a lot on Christmas Eve and drink a lot on New Year's Eve so that they are ready to go on January 3.

Read the full transcript Primary Problems: How Exit Pollsters Plan to Cope with a Super-Crowded Election Season on the Pew Research Center Web site.

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