I had never heard of exit polls until my senior year of high school when I took Advanced Placement Government. Back then, I had a loose understanding of them and their importance. Now, I see the necessity.
Exit polls are a way for journalists and political scientists to see how citizens not only cast their ballot on Election Day but to also see how they feel about specific politically relevant issues in our society. Directly after voters leave the polls is such a unique time to catch them as well; this is when citizens are most politically motivated (or at least I hope they are). They’ve been watching the news, they’ve been researching policies and their beliefs have been either challenged or reinforced by candidates, making them eager to be heard.
University of Rhode Island students conducted exit polls on Election Day for professors and students to analyze and research the data. PSC 210 students at URI were required to participate. This class focuses on theories and hypotheses in politics and the application of them. I was one of the pollsters that stood outside in the rain for six hours conducting the exit poll.
I was at one of the Pawtucket, Rhode Island polling places to ask voters if they could take less than five minutes out of their day to take the survey. The survey was completely anonymous, took less than five minutes, and was for research purposes for students and professors- I could recite those three points in my sleep, considering I had to say them to the 50 or so voters I asked to take it.
Despite the survey being relatively quick, and the simple fact that it would help students/professors conduct research, voters were not motivated people to participate.
That was the biggest frustration of the day: Why not take a short survey to help students and professors conduct research? I received angry responses to the script I had to memorize, one woman saying something like, “Oh, I’m not telling anyone how I voted.” To which I responded, and was required to say, “Okay, have a great day, thank you!” What did I want to say? “It’s anonymous and helps students conduct research. Why not contribute, if not just to support education?”
It was cold, people were in a rush—I get it. However, people act like voting is a chore and anything beyond it (exit polls) is a huge inconvenience. Now, don’t get me wrong, there were around 25 voters who were very willing to take the survey and happy to be voting. However, the majority of voters I encountered were the opposite. One man went as far as making complete eye contact with me as I recited my three important points, to then just ignore me and walk away. That attitude towards the short survey for political research tells me that people are angry enough that they have to be there to vote, so don’t bother them with anything else.
If only the democratic process was as revered as it should be. If only the majority of citizens in our country respected the day and saw it as an opportunity to be heard, not as an annoyance. I want to see people excited and eager to make their voices heard, whether it be through voting or in exit polls.
I’m hoping that what I saw at the polling place is not representative of the rest of the state, and I certainly wish that it is not representative of the rest of the country. I don’t think it is. Maybe I’m naive, but I believe that the majority of people in the country realize the importance of being heard—in any form.
Beyond being rejected by many busy or angry people, I enjoyed the opportunity to take a small part in this process. Exit polls contact actual voters to see what issues are important to them and what they believe in. I’m happy to have seen the process first-hand, however, implore citizens to be energized to vote and then more than willing to contribute to research.