Copyright 1996 Union Leader Corp.
The Union Leader (Manchester, NH)
November 7, 1996 Thursday ALL EDITIONS
SECTION: SECTION A Pg. 1
LENGTH: 775 words
HEADLINE: Exit Poll Wrong Call in Senate Race Leaves Anger, Hurt, Red Faces
BYLINE: MICHAEL COUSINEAU Union Leader Staff
"N.H.'s Smith Defeated," read the front-page headline in yesterday morning's Washington
"New Hampshire Democrat Dick Swett has beaten conservative Sen. Bob Smith," declared
the New York Post.
"Democrat Dick Swett stunned freshman Sen. Bob Smith," reported USA Today.
Don't always believe what you read - and don't believe every poll you hear.
Those are two messages voters may leave with after news organizations Tuesdayused
exit polls to write their stories and announce to viewers that New Hampshire's U.S.
Senate seat went to Swett.
They were wrong. "I don't believe it's right to announce results before an election
is over," victorious Republican incumbent Bob Smith said from his Bedford campaign
The networks made their projections shortly after 7 p.m., when a majority of the
state's polling places closed.
President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore called Swett with congratulations.
Friends and colleagues phoned to offer condolences to Smith.
Final results showed Smith won by nearly 15,000 votes.
After the network projections, the polls remained open for at least a half-hour
in 20 communities, including Nashua, Merrimack and Exeter.
Swett's campaign office yesterday received calls from residents who planned to
back the Democrat, but didn't vote after hearing he had been projected the
"Clearly, there were people who chose not to vote because (they heard) the race
was over," said Tilley, who thinks projections should be delayed until all polls
Smith said he planned to look into what might be done to reform exit polling.
West Coast leaders complained to network executives this year that projecting a
White House winner before their polls close hurts Western candidates and the political
"What happens here is what's happening in California. It unfortunately exists,"
Secretary of State Bill Gardner said.
Republican U.S. Sen. Judd Gregg said the faulty call was "outrageous and totally
"It's a big black eye for the national media, and the national news networks especially,"
he told The Associated Press.
The race for New Hampshire's Senate seat was the only one of 114 races called wrong
by Voter News Service, which conducted the interviews with voters. VNS is a cooperative
of The Associated Press, ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox and NBC.
"It was the largest error in any exit poll estimate I've ever seen since I've been
doing this (since 1981)," said VNS Editorial Director Murray Edelman.
Edelman said his staff planned to examine what went wrong. "It's probably simple,
a lot more Swett people answered our poll than Smith voters," he said.
Voter News Service randomly asked the voting choices of 2,355 people as they left
25 precincts From that number, 1,165 also were asked more extensive
The 25 precincts, chosen based on past voting history and to reflect the state
geographically, are kept secret so candidates and supporters can't target them and
throw off the exit polls, according to Larry Laughlin, AP's chief of bureau for Northern
New England. Statistically, the exit poll had a 95 percent chance of being no more than
3 percentage points either way from the election's final outcome. The exit poll
showed Swett 5 points ahead.
A 2:30 p.m. wave of exit poll results gave Swett a 3-point lead. A second wave
at 3:45 p.m. showed Swett up by more than 5 points. The final wave at about 6:30
p.m. had Swett up by slightly less than 5 points.
"That's pretty comfortable for what they're used to dealing with with exit polls,"
As some networks began backing away from their earlier predictions, The Associated
Press held out longer Tuesday night.
"Our feeling was we were just going to sweat it out, no pun intended, the actual
vote returns," Laughlin said. "It's as close to scientific as they can
Added Laughlin, "I think obviously people are going to be in there with their screwdrivers
and wrenches trying to figure out what needs to be adjusted." Smith said his campaign
saw actual voting counts favor them. "As our numbers came in, we were never ever behind," he said.
Republican Presidential nominee Bob Dole called Smith yesterday, telling Smith
the faulty projection and eventual victory offered Dole some levity in an otherwise
"The story should have been that Bob Smith and Dick Swett had a close race and
after the votes were counted Bob Smith won in a close race," Smith said. "Instead,
the story is exit polling wrong and Bob Smith wins. You have headlines all over
the country: 'Smith defeated,' in The Washington Post."