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Exit poll 'gold' harder to mine
Residents of Breezy Point, Queens vote in the 2012 presidential election in New York
November 9th, 2012
03:54 PM ET

Exit poll 'gold' harder to mine

By Libby Lewis , CNN

(CNN) - Nancy Belden loves data, especially public opinion data. She runs a public opinion and communications firm in Washington with her husband, John Russonello.

When it comes to voter behavior and attitudes, she says there’s nothing like the exit poll data that comes with every presidential election:

[:51] "For those of us in the survey research and public opinion field, in politics – the value of the exit poll is much greater AFTER election night. It’s the vehicle by which we can understand what happened and how and why and by whom."

But this year, the exit polls changed – to deal with how elections have changed.

CNN’s polling director Keating Holland explains:

[2:03] "Once upon a time, all voters could be contacted on Election Day because all voters voted on Election Day. Now we can’t do that. Roughly a third of voters nationwide voted one week, or two weeks, even a month before."

CNN is part of a media consortium that sponsors and pays for the exit polls: it includes ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and the Associated Press. Now, the consortium, called the National Election Pool, has to track down those early and absentee voters by telephone. It’s much more expensive.

This election year, the media consortium made some tough choices to deal with those rising costs – and to beef up polling in 31 states with competitive national races.

The trade-off was do less extensive exit polls in 19 states that weren’t considered battleground states. States considered solidly red or blue and easier to predict. States like South Carolina, and Texas.

It was a painful decision, Holland says. Data-loving pollsters like Nancy Belden, and academics who use exit poll data in their work, agree.

Editor's Note: Listen to the complete story in the SoundCloud player above.

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