What are exit polls?

What are exit polls?

A voter exits the Glen Lyon Italian American Sporting Club polling station after casting her ballot during the 2018 Pennsylvania Primary Election on May 15, 2018 in Glen Lyon, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Mark Makela/Getty Images)

The term only surfaces a couple of days a year, but on those days it is ubiquitous. You can’t get away from it.

“Exit polls.”

Every election day in the U.S., whether it’s primaries or mid-terms or the presidential election, “exit polls” becomes an incessant buzzword for media and political analysts.

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But what are they, exactly?

Think of exit polls as the other half of gauging the voting tendencies of the American public. The first half is opinion polls, in which voters are asked which candidates they prefer, what issues are important to them and other questions in the months leading up an election day.

Those polls are run by independent organizations as well as politically affiliated groups in order to assess the voting landscape. Some of these polls are used to predict the upcoming elections; others are used to adjust campaign strategies.

Exit polls are taken as voters leave their polling places and simply ask a person how he or she voted. They are typically run by private companies hired by media outlets in order to get an early idea of who won an election, as ballot-counting can often take hours or even days after polls close to determine the winner.