The only statewide, student-run exit poll in the nation
BYU political science professors Kelly Patterson and Quin Monson didn't get much sleep in the days leading up to Nov. 2. Then again, neither did statistics professors Howard Christensen and Dan Williams, Dale Cressman and Robert Walz of the Communications Department, or Mark Phillips of KBYU, not to mention countless others.
Patterson and Monson, who co-teach a class on exit polling, were only two members of a team that spanned disciplines, departments and even colleges to put together the KBYU/Utah Colleges Exit Poll, now in its 22nd year.
The College of Family, Home and Social Sciences, the College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences, and the College of Fine Arts and Communications all played a vital role in organizing the only statewide, student-run exit poll in the nation.
On Election Day, some 1,000 student volunteers from eight universities fanned out to polling places across Utah to survey voters as they left the voting booths. The collected results were used to project winners on Election Night and now serve as an invaluable database for researchers looking to understand voting behavior in Utah.
Political science undergraduates wrote the survey and then recruited and trained the volunteer pollsters under the guidance of Patterson and Monson. Both undergraduate and graduate statistics students designed the survey sample with the help of Christensen and Williams. And broadcast communications students - mentored by Cressman and Walz and producer Mark Phillips - produced the Election Night coverage on KBYU, featuring the results of the poll and related commentary.
To see the fruits of this large-scale collaboration, voters only had to read the papers or watch TV in the days after the exit poll accurately predicted the six races it called. On Election Night, television channels 2, 4 and 13 carried parts of KBYU's coverage, and the next day the Salt Lake Tribune featured BYU's numbers in several articles. Tribune columnist Vince Horiuchi referred to the students as the "best pollsters" in a column about election coverage highs and lows.
Those who worked on the project agree it proved more rewarding than taxing.
"There were a lot of meetings," said Phillips, who produced not only the Election Night broadcast but also several student-organized candidate debates. "But when we have students who rise to the occasion, that's always gratifying for me."
The exit poll was the brainchild of David Magleby, now dean of the College of Family, Home and Social Sciences, who in 1982 was a young political science professor new to campus.
He called up statistics professor Howard Christensen and said he was putting together an exit poll as an educational experience for the students.
Christensen signed onto the project and in time the Statistics Department assumed more and more of the planning burden. Today Christensen is the only member of the original team who is still involved with the exit poll.
"This is an exciting experience every two years," he said. "There's nothing quite like the pressure of getting into the TV studio and being asked, 'Can we call this race? Should we call this race?'"
It's a rush that makes up for all the hours spent in meetings, and all the sleepless nights, the professors agreed.
Writer: Ryan McIlvai