I’ll bet my Election Day was more interesting than yours: while you were busy going to work and voting (of course!), I was hanging out in the inner city of Milwaukee as an exit pollster. Here’s my story:
Two years ago I began my second career surveying exiting voters in Madison for Edison Research. Edison is the national organization that does the official exit polling for the major news organizations on Election Day. When you hear “exit polls” on Election night, you are hearing about Edison Research. Now, I must admit that as a second career, it has its limitations – you only work one day every other year; but, that said, if you like politics (I thought of going into it as a schoolboy) and have a flexible schedule, it’s darned interesting, and for your trouble, they shoot you a check for $300 after a day’s work. As the sage once said, that’s better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.
It wasn’t really on my radar this year, but I got an email a few weeks back and before you knew it, I was assigned to be the Edison pollster at Westside Academy One, of the Milwaukee Public School System, handling voters from Wards 150 and 170 of the big city.
I had to rise early. Edison prefers you to visit your polling place before the big day to be sure you know the way; but that wasn’t going to happen, so I wanted to leave myself plenty of cushion to get there by 6:45. As it was, I was awake at 3 a.m. thinking about life, and I rolled out of bed around 4. I was on the road by 5 for the trip which Google maps told me would take an hour and 10 minutes. With a stop for an early morning diet Pepsi (I never picked up the coffee habit), I made it to my polling place around 6:20.
Now, Diane had mentioned slight concerns about the neighborhood (she got her bachelor’s degree from UWM, and knows Milwaukee fairly well), but she wasn’t sure, and I felt a slight trepidation. Arriving in the early hours, as much as you can tell these things, the neighborhood seemed okay, and for all the negative reputation of Milwaukee Public Schools, Westside Academy One sure seemed to be a gem. The hallways shone with beautifully polished wooden floors and the walls were lined with thoughtful artwork, complete of course with hand drawn turkeys made in preparation for the season. Pictures of many former students were displayed in the central hallway, and the script on the bottom of each picture was the college each was attending or had attended. The message was clear: they did it – so can you.
And, perhaps you won’t be surprised to find out that I was a minority for the day. I once heard the white guy Phil Ryken of Wheaton College speak of how minorities wake up every day very conscious and aware of their minority status. I wouldn’t have thought of this, and I suppose Ryken must have had some inside info to come up with such an insight (maybe he was a pollster in the inner city), but walking for a day in minority moccasins, I have no reason to doubt it after my experience.
The first part of the exit pollster’s day is by far the most important for his or her happiness during the next 13 hours: greeting the election official and getting your place to stand for the day. This may not matter for Edison workers in Southern California, but for us question-askers in Wisconsin on the first Tuesday in November, settling the question of inside or outside makes all the difference in the world. Most exit pollsters end up doing their work outside… (continued here)