Q: What is AP VoteCast?
A: AP VoteCast is the new standard survey of the American electorate, designed to tell the Election Day story of why the winners won.
AP VoteCast reveals opinions held by American voters about candidates for statewide office, the issues those voters care about and their views on the future of the country. It’s a survey that powers AP’s race calls on election night and ensures AP and its customers can tell the full story of presidential primaries and general elections.
In its debut in 2018, AP VoteCast conducted nearly 139,000 interviews with registered voters across all 50 states, delivering data about the makeup of the American electorate nationwide and in all states holding an election for U.S. Senate or governor. AP VoteCast will return in the 2020 presidential primaries and the November general election.
Q: What are the primary advantages of AP VoteCast?
A: First and foremost, AP VoteCast is a highly accurate survey of the American electorate.
As polls closed in the 2018 midterm elections, AP VoteCast’s estimates of voter choice correctly projected the winner in 92% of races for Senate and governor. At 5 p.m. that Election Day, AP VoteCast said Democrats would beat the GOP by 9 percentage points in the total number of votes cast for the U.S. House of Representatives. The actual result was 8.6 percentage points.
AP VoteCast’s portrait of the national electorate was within 1-2 percentage points when compared to results from the U.S. Census’ Current Population Survey for all age, gender, racial and ethnic groups, and education levels in the 2018 midterms.
The advantages of AP VoteCast extend beyond accuracy. Because it is not based on in-person interviews, AP VoteCast is able to capture the opinions of people who vote early or on Election Day, and registered voters who decide not to cast a ballot. AP VoteCast also returns results in every state holding an election for U.S. Senate or governor in a midterm election year, and in every state in a presidential election year.
Together, that means AP VoteCast delivers a broader portrait of the American electorate than in any previous or competing election survey.
And while AP VoteCast is new, over time it will become a resource to examine how the American electorate has changed. AP is committed to ensuring AP VoteCast provides a robust data set in every midterm and presidential election, as well as in presidential primaries, allowing for rich longitudinal comparisons and exceptional journalism.
Q: Who developed the AP VoteCast methodology?
A: More than a decade ago, AP began conducting research, funded in part by the Knight Foundation, aimed at uncovering ways to improve the accuracy of data collected about the electorate. That work is the foundation of AP VoteCast’s modern approach to election research.
To develop AP VoteCast, AP worked with NORC at the University of Chicago — one of the world’s preeminent objective, nonpartisan research institutions and AP’s partner in The AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. AP and NORC worked with Fox News in 2017 to test in three statewide elections the methodology that would debut as AP VoteCast in the 2018 midterm elections.
Q: How does the AP VoteCast survey process work?
A: Starting several days before Election Day and concluding as polls close, AP VoteCast interviews thousands of registered voters in English and Spanish. In the 2018 midterm elections, nearly 139,000 people took part in the AP VoteCast survey.
The AP VoteCast questionnaires asks a standard set of demographic questions, such as age, race and ethnicity, marital status and income. It also includes a series of opinion questions, seeking details on what issues voters care most about, their thoughts on the direction of the country and their opinion on a variety of topics that are specific to their state. The questionnaire also asks for whom voters cast a ballot for U.S. Senate and governor, as well as the party of their candidate of choice for U.S. House. Every four years, the survey also asks about the race for president. In a few states, AP VoteCast also asks about ballot measures and other races for statewide office.
AP VoteCast starts with a postcard, mailed to a random sample of registered voters in selected states, inviting them to take our survey either online or by phone. We also call some of those registered voters directly by phone. AP VoteCast also surveys self-identified registered voters using online panels in all states, which allows AP to interview a very large number of people in just a few days. In general elections, AP VoteCast also includes a national random-sample survey of registered voters from NORC’s AmeriSpeak® Panel.
NORC then employs an innovative statistical calibration methodology to combine the random sample surveys of registered voters with the poll conducted via online panels. In doing so, AP VoteCast gets the best of both approaches. It delivers the accuracy of a survey conducted with a random sample, but also provides the research depth of a survey that interviews tens of thousands.
The final step in this process adjusts the AP VoteCast results with the actual vote count. Because of the large AP VoteCast sample, this process is completed in as many as 30 separate areas of a state, further adding to the survey’s ability to accurately reflect the opinions of voters.
More details about the AP VoteCast methodology can be found here.
Q: Why is AP confident in the results it delivers with AP VoteCast?
A: AP VoteCast is based on years of research and experimentation aimed at improving the quality of data about the American electorate that is available on Election Day.
AP successfully tested AP VoteCast in the 2017 gubernatorial elections in New Jersey and Virginia, and in the Alabama special election for U.S. Senate. At poll close, the surveys accurately forecast the winner and the winner’s final vote share. That success was replicated in the 2018 midterm elections, when AP used the data to calls races and report on election outcomes nationwide.
Our research and development into AP VoteCast continues after every election. While the core methodology will not change, AP and NORC will learn from the results of every election and update the methodology as needed to ensure AP VoteCast delivers the most accurate results possible.
Following the 2018 midterm elections, AP and NORC simulated changes to sampling, modeling, the size of the probability sample and the mode of the data collection (mail, phone, online), as well as conducting a voter validation study. The initial results of this research will be presented at the 2019 meeting of the American Association of Public Opinion Research and it will form the basis of any potential change to the AP VoteCast methodology in 2020.
Q: Isn’t AP VoteCast what AP did with an exit poll?
A: For years, AP was part of the consortium of media companies that conducted election research with an in-person exit poll.
An exit poll is exactly what is sounds like: a survey of voters interviewed in person as they “exit” a neighborhood polling place. That approach no longer works for how America votes today. In 1972, when President Richard Nixon was reelected, 95% of voters cast a ballot in person on Election Day. In the 2016 general election, 42.5% of voters chose to vote early, absentee or by mail.
AP VoteCast is built for modern American elections, and as a result, delivers accurate, unbiased results that journalists, academics and others can depend on.