Exit-Poll Secrecy Measures Aim to Plug Leaks to Blogs

WSJ reports on extraordinary measures being taken to safeguard exit poll results from diabolical bloggers.

Two-by-two, polling specialists from ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox News and the Associated Press will go into rooms in New York and Washington shortly before noon Tuesday. Their cellphones and BlackBerrys will be confiscated; proctors will monitor the doors; and for the next five hours, these experts will pore over exit-poll data from across the country. If all goes well, only when they emerge from their cloisters will the legions of ravenous political bloggers have any chance of getting their hands on the earliest indication of which party will end up controlling Congress.

“The demand for info is intense, and if the safeguards aren’t steel doors bolting people inside a room, it will get out,” says Marc Ambinder, associate editor of National Journal’s Hotline OnCall. “The insatiable appetite for this info will overwhelm the ability to keep it secret.”

The extraordinary security is a result of mix-ups that prompted grumbling about the accuracy of exit polls after the 2004 presidential election: Bloggers posted data from early exit polls, incorrectly calling some states for Massachusetts Democratic Sen. John Kerry and indicating that he would unseat President Bush.

This year, media executives figure the secret will keep less than half an hour. “Based on past experience, I expect that I’ll have exit-poll data soon after it’s released from multiple sources,” Taegan Goddard of the newsy independent blog Political Wire says in an email.

The irony is that, of course, erroneous exit poll results were made public long before there was such a thing as a “blog.” The television networks routinely broadcast them. Even after some embarrassing glitches caused them to pledge to stop calling races before balloting stopped, they had the information and maintained the sham of secrecy while slanting their coverage based on what the polls told them.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.