Tag Archives: Inner City

Burke 175, Walker 3: Exit Polling in the Inner City, Part 2

This is part 2.  Part 1 is here.

And so it happened that at 6:45 a.m., Madam Election Official (I’m chagrined to say I never got her name) understandably didn’t have time to deal with a superfluous exit pollster like me. She was busy setting up voting machines and organizing her team, and when I hovered and introduced myself, I felt a bit like a fly at a summer picnic. She did, however, direct me to sign a sheet for election observers (which I wasn’t really) and then on my own I proceeded to set up in the warm and cozy hallway, hoping for the best. Though she would ask me to move a few feet from my original place, I would be in this basic nook right next to exiting voters for the full day.

When 7 a.m. arrived, so did the crowds. By the end of the day, more than 1,000 voters would come through wards 150 and 170 – I was told the average had previously been 500 or 600. It was going to be a banner day for democracy at Westside Academy One, not to mention a banner day for Mary Burke.  More on that later…

They give you a line to use when approaching voters. Look them in the eye, and say, “Hi, I’m taking a short confidential survey for the news. Would you please take a moment to fill it out?” I bring a bunch of clipboards and have a good system, using brief down times to prepare each clipboard with a pen and the survey itself. At the end of my spiel, I hand them the clipboard nonchalantly, assuming that of course they will take part. Why wouldn’t they? It’s for democracy…of course. If the voter turns you down or you just miss someone in the rush, you mark “missed” or “refused” down on a tally sheet and guess at a brief demographic for sex, age, and race. When I am turned down, the extremely brief frustration I feel makes me want to guess them 10 years older than they probably are; but I successfully resisted the bitterness.

And I was scrambling. Edison uses scientific random sampling to get accurate results. Two years ago in Madison, I was tasked to interview every fourth voter. You count them as they pass – in slow periods, I actually mark them down as they pass because I’m scatterbrained enough to blow this. So mentally, I’m thinking, “One, two, three – the next one’s my guy (or gal)!” But this year at Westside Academy One…my instructions were to approach every person. Yeah, that’s right: every single voter.

And from 7 a.m. on, I was slammed, moving pretty constantly. I had a confidence deflator early on when a young gal turned me down and the crowd of 6 or 7 others she was with followed suit (“Yeah, you only think you’re 25 – you’re really about 40.”), but I picked myself up by the seat of my pants and started getting a lot of voters to do my thing. In a couple of hours, scrambling on my feet, I was starting to feel bushed. So it was a real delight when Larry arrived…(to be continued here)

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Posted by on November 7, 2014 in Uncategorized


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Exit Pollster in the Inner City – My Election Day Story

IMG_0092I’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)

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Posted by on November 6, 2014 in Uncategorized


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