The only statewide exit poll in Utah was conducted by 600 college students and was led by BYU students and others from six Utah colleges.
On Election Day, many BYU students and other university students from across the state worked from 6 a.m. to well after the polls closed to analyze data collected at 130 different polling locations across Utah. The students approached random voters as they left polling places and invited them to participate in a confidential survey.
“Quite frankly, we are not trying to predict the vote,” said Ethan Busby, a political science major and part of the exit-poll team. “The purpose is to see why people voted for certain candidates and to understand what people from Utah want from their elected representatives.”
The Utah Colleges Exit Poll is the longest running student-run exit poll in the country, beginning in 1982. Surveyors and analysts included students from BYU, Southern Utah University, Utah State University, Utah Valley University, Weber State University and Westminster College. The organization provides experience for students that supplements their classroom instruction on timely and accurate predictions of election day results.
“The Utah Colleges Exit Poll is one of the most unique learning experiences a student can have,”said BYU political science Professor Kelly D. Pattersonr, “During this consequential election year, it is great to be able to help students gain a first-hand look at the political process.”
Students from both the political science and statistics departments at BYU organized this year’s poll. The tasks the students performed included random sampling, survey design, training student interviewers, data entry in computer systems and preparation for election night coverage on TV.
“For me I am interested in doing this, I want to be a professor and I want to do research,” Busby said. “So this is practice for me doing something like this on my own in the future.”
During the election, there were students who roved and provided “back-up” to different geographic areas and gave encouragement to those doing the surveys. Most of the participating students stayed at BYU to receive and process the data that came from the student interviewers.
“There are a lot of risky things that could possibly happen,” said Ben Ader, political science major and member of the exit-poll team. “We always want to have a quick response and a team that can be there to help them.”
This years exit-surveys not only included the voters’ choices for president, governor and congress members but also voters’ opinions about the national economy, the budget deficit, healthcare reform and foreign policy. The personnel at each exit poll were trained by BYU students.
“I have learned the importance of coordination,” said Katherine Westmoreland, a political science major and part of the exit-poll team. “I learned the value of communication and that each step is crucial.”
Although the exit polls showed Utah going to Romney, Obama won early in the electoral college. Obama will serve four more years as president of the United States.