Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin Puts Exit Polls and Midterm Elections in Perspective

Air Date: 11/05/2002
Source:
MSNBC
Creator:
Lester Holt
Air/Publish Date:
11/05/2002
Event Date:
11/05/2002
Resource Type:
News Report
Copyright:
NBCUniversal Media, LLC.
Copyright Date:
2002
Clip Length:
00:03:43

During the 2002 midterm elections, Voter News Service, or VNS, announces that it's not satisfied with the accuracy of its polling data and will not provide exit poll results. The result is that the media and public will not have access to instant data on the election and the requisite projections of winners. Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin puts this all into context, saying the lack of information is much like elections of years ago.

Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin Puts Exit Polls and Midterm Elections in Perspective

LESTER HOLT, anchor:

Well, maybe on your way out of the polling place today, someone asked you to fill out an exit survey that was likely by Voter News Service. They’re the folks who, for the networks, do the exit polling information. And a little bit of a bombshell dropped awhile ago, VNS said they’re not satisfied with the accuracy of their polling data with regard to the analysis of voter trends. Therefore, they will not be providing that sort of information that normally gives us a bit of texture as to which way voters are leaning. Why they voted the way they did. Now, we’ll still get an analysis of the numbers themselves, and information allowing us to make projections. But again, this is more the analysis, apparently computer difficulties, and they are not comfortable with the numbers that they have.

Lets talk to Presidential historian and MSNBC contributor Doris Kearns Goodwin now. Doris, we brought you on to talk about the House and Senate races in history, and we will get there. But, hearing that news, it kind of has to take you back to the old days of watching election coverage.

Ms. DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN (Historian): Well I think maybe those old days might have been better when people weren’t so accustomed to this instant analysis. I mean, think back to the 19th century, when they had to count up with quill pens all the votes were in paper ballots all over the country. And it might have taken days to go by horse and buggy to even tell people in the western territories who had won the elections. And yet, in those days, we still got some pretty good Presidents. Washington, Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln. So I think our frustration level is nuts, its just that we just need to know things too quickly now. We can wait.

HOLT: Its okay. You know, two years ago, we learned we can wait five weeks for the outcome of the election if we have to.

Ms. GOODWIN: Absolutely. What’s more important is the result, right?

HOLT: Exactly, Doris. Now lets talk about what’s at stake here. We keep talking about the control of the US Senate and the House, but the fact that right now Republicans look like they have a shot at not only hanging on to the House, but picking up seats. That’s a huge, historical moment for this President. Why does he find himself in this position?

Ms. GOODWIN: Well, I think in the first place, what’s so interesting that he has taken the risk because he must feel he’s in a good position to go running around the country, because not all Presidents do that, because they fear in midterm they are gonna lose elections. In 1966, Lyndon Johnson went back and forth, should I go around the country, should I not, he finally decided he should, he made plans, and then he decided not to, and then he claimed he had never made the plans in the first place, so they caught him lying so that didn’t help and he lost House seats. Even old Woodrow Wilson, in 1918 when we were just on the edge of an armistice in World War I, went around the country talking about a Democratic partisan victory being essential. But, it was interpreted somehow if he were casting the Republicans as anti-patriotic, just having been through a war, and he lost a lot of seats. So it was risky for this President, in a war setting, to do what he did, so it means he must believe that because of the unusual circumstances, that he didn’t have a lot of seats to lose like you normally do, that people are looking at him as a war President, because otherwise he might not have done this.

HOLT: Well we know historically Ronald Reagan lost seats. George Bush in his Presidency. Clinton in his first Presidency lost seats. In those cases, were their popularity ratings even as close as to President Bush’s now?

Ms. GOODWIN: No. I think what happened in those cases, economic factors are an issue, which they are now. But popularity of the Presidents were down, too. And the combination of those two things is what leads to the loss of seats. But perhaps the most amazing story is that Roosevelt’s popularity in 1942 was amazingly high. But he lost seats in that midterm election because there was frustration over the war. They hadn’t yet invaded North Africa, and just days before the midterm elections, some stupid coffee administrator announced they were going to be cutting coffee back to one cup a day. For a country that was used to three or four cups a day, that was the end! They voted it out.

HOLT: We gotta end it right there. Doris Kearns Goodwin, good to have you. Thanks so much for talking to us.

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