Exit Polls And Early Voting Results For 2012 About To Come In, But Campaigns Urge A Grain Of Salt

Exit polls and early voting results for the 2012 election are expected as early as 5 PM today for the former and have already arrived in the latter, and both the Romney and Obama campaigns have urged voters to take first results with a grain of salt.

Exit polls and early voting results for 2012 are a hotly watched property, after a season where presidential polls felt like extra innings in the World Series. Polls have been widely in flux for the past few weeks, until Obama seemed to take a strong and decisive lead over Romney in just the past few days.

In fact, poll whiz Nate Silver upped President Obama’s chances of a win to over 90% late last night on his popular 538 blog, essentially betting the ranch and his career on an incumbent win this election night. Silver currently projects Barack Obama to win a landslide 313 votes in the Electoral College to Mitt Romney’s projected 225 electoral votes, with a 90.9% chance of an Obama win and only 9.1% for Romney.

Silver says early voting trends and polls in Ohio (where exit polls may again come in as early as 5 PM) are the sticking point for Romney, and even the most die-hard GOP poll watchers believe that without Ohio, Romney has no path to 270:

“Ohio remains the largest problem for Mr. Romney, where he has been behind in most polls all year. Mr. Romney might ordinarily take some solace in the fact that Ohio is slightly Republican-leaning, but the auto bailout may have changed its character this year, as there is evidence that Mr. Obama is performing more strongly with working-class voters in Ohio than he is elsewhere in the country … Mr. Obama could secure the Electoral College by winning Wisconsin, Nevada and Pennsylvania, along with Ohio.”

Of his presidential poll, exit poll and early voting in 2012 assessment, Silver uses poker to explain his confidence in an Obama win:

“All of this leaves Mr. Romney drawing to an inside straight. I hope you’ll excuse the cliché, but it’s appropriate here: in poker, making an inside straight requires you to catch one of 4 cards out of 48 remaining in the deck, the chances of which are about 8 percent. Those are now about Mr. Romney’s chances of winning the Electoral College, according to the FiveThirtyEight forecast.”

Silver adds:

“As any poker player knows, those 8 percent chances do come up once in a while. If it happens this year, then a lot of polling firms will have to re-examine their assumptions — and we will have to re-examine ours about how trustworthy the polls are. But the odds are that Mr. Obama will win another term.”

But the Obama camp isn’t getting ahead of their skis, as the President would say, nor have they begun resting on their laurels in what seems to be an early and decisive win for their team.

Stephanie Cutter, a visible and senior advisor to Obama, urged caution in interpreting exit polls and early voting in 2012 as Americans eagerly await an end to the never-ending election cycle.

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Cutter urged poll watchers to keep it together, saying:

“My warning, we need to stay calm for much of the day … We’ve already banked a pretty big portion of our vote.”

And indeed, exit polls (if not early voting results) wound up being a major player in 2000, and some believe that eagerness in predicting a result added to the confusion in the infamous and arduous Bush/Gore upset that year. Television news prematurely calling the election for Bush was considered by many a factor in muddying the waters, and we all know how that turned out.

The AP looked last month at the influence of exit polls in recent elections last month, and explained that TV news has become more circumspect in reporting the results due to the elections in 2000 and 2004:

“The news organizations completely rebuilt their exit poll system after the 2000 embarrassment, when TV networks mistakenly called the race for George W. Bush when it wasn’t decided until a month later (the AP mistakenly called Florida for Bush, retracted it but, unlike the networks, never called the overall race for Bush). In 2004, early exit poll results overestimated the strength of Democrat John Kerry.”

So as exit polls and early voting results in 2012 filter in, be wary — and as always, don’t let the projected results stop you from voting.