Faulty Exit Polls Turned Election Day Into Emotional Rollercoaster For Both Camps
Exit polls, available on the Internet early Tuesday afternoon, predicted an electoral landslide for Sen. Kerry. The numbers turned the final hours before vote-counting began into an emotional roller-coaster for both campaigns. NBC Nightly News recounted that at 1:51 PM, "as Air Force One touches down at Andrews Air Force Base, the President first learns of network exit polls showing Kerry ahead throughout the battlegrounds. Dejected, Mr. Bush tells his confidant Karen Hughes, 'The numbers are what they are. I'm surprised.' As the campaign war room kicked into high gear, the President's strategists struggle to contain widespread fears of defeat, arguing the early polls don't reflect heavy Republican turnout. By 9:30 PM, as the President watches returns with family members, a dramatic turnaround is underway. Florida is solidly Bush. And at 12:59 AM, the other prize appears certain." According to the Los Angeles Times, after the faulty numbers came in "it was Rove who kept spirits up at the White House, repeatedly telling Bush that exit polls were wrong in pointing toward a Bush defeat. 'I got the first wave...and they didn't make sense,' Rove said. 'It was absurd.'" Rove, who "by Wednesday evening had gone more than 56 hours without sleep, spent much of Tuesday afternoon and evening contacting influential Republicans around the country, urging them to ignore the polls, recalling that the same polls four years earlier had pointed toward a Gore victory." Bush also "was convinced the exit polls were wrong. 'I don't believe it either,' he said, according to a top campaign official."
The Kerry camp went through a crueler process. The Minneapolis Star Tribune says the Kerry campaign believed the exit polls, and in fact the senator's top aides went to work on a set of "talking points to explain how Kerry had won. At the top of the list: three stellar performances in debates with President Bush." Joe Lockhart "fed reporters the details of Kerry's lunch at Boston's 178-year-old Union Oyster House: a dozen littleneck clams, coleslaw, sole, mashed potatoes and dark ale. 'We felt pretty good until the actual votes were counted,' says Laura Nichols, a Kerry staffer who took a two-month leave from her job at a liberal Washington think tank to work for the campaign." The Los Angeles Times notes Kerry aides were "buoyant" when the exit polls came out.
Meanwhile, political commentator and former Bill Clinton advisor Dick Morris sees a sinister reason behind the pro-Kerry exit poll numbers. Under the headline "Those Faulty Exit Polls Were Sabotage," Morris writes in the Capitol Hill newspaper The Hill, "To screw up one exit poll is unheard of. To miss six of them is incredible. It boggles the imagination how pollsters could be that incompetent and invites speculation that more than honest error was at play here The mistaken exit polls infiltrated all three networks and the cable news outlets and had a chilling effect on the coverage of election night. . . . Dark minds will suspect that these polls were deliberately manipulated to dampen Bush turnout in the Central, Mountain, and Pacific time zones by conveying the impression that the president's candidacy was a lost cause. . . . This was no mere mistake. Exit polls cannot be as wrong across the board as they were on election night. I suspect foul play."