Photo courtesy of Mortimer.
Today’s ‘A Word With’ feature begins with a full disclosure. Our subject, co-founder and Executive Vice President of Edison Media Research, Joe Lenski, is a dear friend of BreakThru Radio. His company not only conducts market research for well-to-do media platforms such as yours truly, but is also responsible for the National Election Exit Polls for every political cycle in the U.S. and has a front row seat to the research material that is a source for much debate and media scrutiny.
With Election Day just around the corner, there are few individuals in this country who have a better idea of what voters are thinking than Mr. Lenski. In this excerpt of his conversation with Third Eye Weekly co-host Matthew DeMello, taken on Friday, September 28th, Joe talks about exit polling Edison was about to conduct for the general elections in Georgia that took place October 1. He gives us an inside scoop behind the values voter bloc that supposedly won the 2004 presidential election for President George W. Bush.
BreakThru Radio: Tell us a bit more about Edison Research, and the extent of the work you do.
Joe Lenski: Well, Edison Media Research was founded in 1994. We’re probably best known for the work we do for exit polling in the United States. We’ve been conducting exit polls of elections in the United States since 1996 and we’ve been conducting all the exit polls for the national election pool, which are the main national news organizations: ABC, CBS, CNN, FOX, NBC, and the Associated Press since 2003. Any of the data that your listeners would have seen from the 2012 Republican primaries or the 2012 Wisconsin Governor recall election, that came from Edison Research.
BTR: Interesting. As I understand you’re leaving today to do exit polling in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia. You do exit polling internationally as well?
JL: Yes we do, we actually did the first exit poll in Tbilisi, Georgia in May of 2010 for a
mayor’s race. There’s a parliamentary election on Monday, October 1, in the former Soviet
Republic of Georgia and it’s a very interesting race.
BTR: Just out of curiosity, what are some issues facing Georgians today?
JL: The main issue in the Republic of Georgia is the relationship with Russia. Russia
supported separatists in the part of Georgia that now is occupied by Russian Troops and there
was a brief border war in 2008.
BTR: Yes, I remember.
JL: That’s the outstanding issue and again, like many countries in the world right now, the
economy plays a big issue as well, and the state of the economy is always front and center in the debate.
BTR: Turning to the United States, in 2004, Edison Research conducted the exit polling for the presidential elections of that year. The interpretations of those polls brought some controversy. At first, it was widely believed that his popularity among values voters brought President George W. Bush a second term. Upon closer inspection it’s been charged that influence was exaggerated. Can you give us a behind the scenes look at the mechanics of those polls and explain to us the source of that controversy?
JL: The exit poll is conducted among Election Day voters on Election Day as they leave the
polling place. We have interviewers at approximately 1,000 polling locations around the country that ask voters to fill out their questionnaires after they voted. In addition, there’s about 30 to 35 percent of voters now who cast their ballot before Election Day, so they aren’t at the polls for us to do an exit poll interview. So we conduct telephone interviews the week before the election of voters who have already cast their ballots in the race, and ask them the same questions that merged the data from the telephone polls of early and absentee voters with the Election Day exit poll interviews of Election Day voters.
BTR: Was there any validity to that original charge that values voters had a hand in bringing…
JL: Well, there’s a lot of ways to interpret exit poll data. There’s lots of ways to interpret how these questions are asked, and how the data is interpreted. For that question you’re talking about in 2004, there was a list of issues that we asked about on the questionnaires, which was, ‘[what was] the most important issue in your vote today?’ Moral values was one of several issues listed on that list and it came in first by one point, but still, only a quarter of voters said it was the most important issue in your decision. So while those moral values voters, as they were so called, got the most attention because they were the largest group, they were still less than a quarter of voters and there were other issues that were a factor in play. I think there were a lot of political interpretations of that result to make that 25 percent of voters seem to be the most important voters when they were just another segment of the voting population.
For more with Joe Lenski, check out this week’s episode of BTR’s current events podcast, Third Eye Weekly, airing this coming Thursday.