Voting won't be the last questions for some Iowans on Election Day

Exit polling set for 40 Iowa precincts

Carol Davis of Cedar Rapids fills out her ballot for Cedar Rapids City Council during a runoff election at the Kirkwood Recreation Center on Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2013. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette-KCRG-TV9)
Carol Davis of Cedar Rapids fills out her ballot for Cedar Rapids City Council during a runoff election at the Kirkwood Recreation Center on Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2013. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette-KCRG-TV9)

CEDAR RAPIDS — For some Iowa voters, deciding between Joni Ernst and Bruce Braley won't be the last question they'll be asked on Election Day.

After casting their ballots Tuesday, voters at five Cedar Rapids and Marion precincts and two in Iowa City will be asked for whom they voted, what issues influenced their decision, when they made their decision and their thoughts on a variety of issues. The in-person, confidential polling will be conducted by Somerville, N.J.-based Edison Research for the National Election Pool that includes ABC, the Associated Press, CBS, NBC, Fox News and CNN.

The exit polling, which Edison has done for general elections and presidential caucuses since 2004, provides a snapshot of the electorate that co-founder and Executive Vice President Joe Lenski said will be more accurate than any poll conducted before the election.

That's due in part to an average response rate of 50 percent — much higher than the 10 percent or less that many telephone and online polls are getting at the end of an election cycle, Lenski said. Also, Edison is conducting telephone surveys of early voters leading up to Election Day, so the sample size of the poll is larger — more than twice as large in some cases — than most pre-election polls.

“That allows us to go into detail about things like how young Hispanics vote or how college-educated young voters voted, how independents and moderates voted,” he explained.

The other thing about Edison's exit poll, Lenski added, is that his interviewers are talking to actual voters.

“Not likely voters, not registered voters, but actual voters,” Lenski said. “We know we're talking to actual voters because we just saw them walk out of the voting place.”

And the Edison poll is not a random sample of Iowans. The target precincts are selected through a two-year process.

“We gather all the precinct vote data from past presidential election, research every precinct and divide the state into four geographic regions,” Lenski explained.

Then, within each region, precincts are selected that represent the voting patterns of that region.

“We pick a lot of precincts in Iowa and a lot of precincts in all 50 states,” Lenski said. “Once we pick the sample, we do even more research” that involves Census Bureau information, location of precincts and the composition of voters in each state.

But the precincts selected for polling were not chosen because they are representative of the Iowa electorate, Lenski said.

“As a group, those 40 precincts represent a random sample that represents the political and geographic diversity of the state,” he said.

He also cautioned against looking at any sample precinct as a bellwether — an individual precinct that tends to vote like the state as a whole.

“Bellwether is a term from the 1950s and 1960s before exit polling, where you tried to find precincts that vote early that give you an indication of how the state will go,” he said.

“Bellwethers are good predictors until they are not,” he added. “They can be predictive until something changes. A representative sample picks up on the changes that a bellwether precinct may or may not.”

In the 1980s, for example, farmers who tended to vote Republican began to vote Democratic because they didn't like President Ronald Reagan's farm policy, Lenski noted. However, many have returned to the Republican fold.

A bellwether wouldn't pick up those changes or demographic changes such as aging and the influx of immigrants, Lenski said.

In addition to the Election Day exit polling, Edison is calling voters who already may have cast their ballots. Once early voting reaches about 20 percent in a state, Edison begins polling people who have said they have voted or tell Edison they definitely will vote before Election Day.

Edison interviewers will be at the 40 precincts around the state from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. to ask voters to fill out a one-page — front and back — questionnaire. Much like a ballot, once they finish marking it, they place it in a secure “ballot box,” Lenski said.

The survey is non-partisan. Voters only are asked to participate after they have voted. They will not be pressured to participate.

All responses are non-verbal and there is no attempt to get names and addressed, he said.

Edison works with county auditors where it will have interviewers to have access to people who have voted without interfering in any way with the voting process.

Cedar, Allamakee counties call the shots

If you're looking for an early indication of how Iowa will vote, there are a couple Iowa counties that are recognized as bellwethers. points to Cedar County, which has gone with the winner in every Iowa presidential and Senate election since 1992. That's 13 for the past 13 elections.

The results have all mirrored the statewide results.
In the past five presidential elections, the percentages fell this way:

Year Cedar State
2012 Obama 52-47 Obama 52-46
2008 Obama 54-44 Obama 54-44
2004 Bush 50-49 Bush 50-49
2000 Gore 48.3-48.1 Gore 48.5-48.2
1996 Clinton 50-39 Clinton 50-40
The New York Times considers Allamakee County in the far northeast corner of the state as a bellwether.
Although it doesn't have the history of other bellwethers, Allamakee County results may answer two questions, said Nate Cohn of the Times's Upshot data-analysis feature:
1. Is Bruce Braley, who referred to Sen. Chuck Grassley as “a farmer who never went to law school,” going to struggle in rural Iowa?

2. Is Braley going to struggle in Iowa's 1st District, which he has represented for the past eight years?

In 2012, Allamakee went favored President Barack Obama by a 4.1 percent. In 2004 it swung for President George W. Bush by a 1.5 percent margin, according to the Times.

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