Two years ago, a consortium of news outlets that conducts nationwide exit polls during every November election announced it was scaling back efforts in Texas and 18 other states. The move left political researchers with little data to study shifts in the Texas electorate.
This year, with a high-profile gubernatorial race on the November ballot, the National Election Pool confirmed on Tuesday that it plans to conduct more robust exit polling in Texas this year, giving researchers and political analysts the means to better examine the outcome.
“The current plan is to do a full-state exit poll in Texas,” said Joe Lenski, executive vice president of Edison Research, the New Jersey firm that conducts polling for the National Election Pool, a consortium that includes The Associated Press, ABC News, CBS News, CNN, Fox News and NBC News.
Every two years, Edison hires nearly 3,000 people to interview more than 15,000 voters around the country after they cast their ballots. The surveys ask not only about how participants voted but also about their opinions on major issues and about their backgrounds, including age, education, income, religion and ethnicity. In Texas, the NEP has traditionally conducted a mix of in-person exit polling and telephone interviews to account for early voters, who can cast more than half of the ballots in some races.
Lenski said that the decision to return resources to Texas this year could change until plans are finalized in September. The sponsoring media organizations decide how to divide polling resources among the 50 states. And over the last year, the gubernatorial race between Republican Greg Abbott and Democrat Wendy Davis has drawn national interest.
“The states get more resources the more competitive and newsworthy the races are,” Lenski said. “That’s an editorial decision that the news organizations make.”
Media companies use the exit poll data to predict the outcomes of races on election night and to identify trends in voter behavior. The data is also helpful to academic researchers, who study changes in voting behavior by using NEP’s data and similar exit polling that was conducted by other organizations prior to 2004 and going back decades.
“It's a wealth of data that provides the ideal snapshot of actual voter opinion,” said Mark P. Jones, a political science professor at Rice University.
In 2012, the NEP cited rising costs when it decided to conduct only bare-bones exit polling in states that weren’t viewed as battlegrounds in the presidential contest between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, or that didn’t have a high-profile statewide race. The decision meant fewer Texans were surveyed than in previous elections, which made the data less valuable to researchers interested in studying the Texas electorate. The decision to pull resources from Texas drew particular criticism amid growing interest in the political leanings of the state’s Hispanic voters and questions about how Republican U.S. Senate candidate Ted Cruz performed among those voters.
"It was a dramatic loss for scholars and researchers and anyone concerned with Texas politics,” Jones said.
Jones predicted that this year’s exit polling data from Texas would draw strong interest from researchers, particularly those interested in how Hispanic voters respond to efforts by Democrats to break a two-decade drought in statewide elections. But he said the data would also help them compare different groups of Texas voters to their counterparts in other states.
“It's great to know how liberals and conservatives voted, how different age groups voted,” Jones said. “Without it, we're in many ways driving around in the dusk having to utilize pre-election polls and private polls.”
Disclosure: Rice University is a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Texas Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.