Restricting the broadcast and publication of pre‐election and exit polls: some selected examples

Bale, Tim (2002) Restricting the broadcast and publication of pre‐election and exit polls: some selected examples. Representation, 39 (1). pp. 15-22. ISSN 0034-4893

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Even before it came down to butterfly ballots and pregnant chads, the battle between George W. Bush and Al Gore had already raised some familiar questions about elections, and in particular, the way they are dealt with by the media (see Norris, 2001a). Although scholars will always disagree on the extent to which the media actually influence the result of the contest, there are few who can resist bemoaning the so-called 'horse-race' style of campaign coverage pumped out by networks and newspapers, seemingly more interested in opinion polls than issues. With the result 'too close to call' going into the final days, things appeared to be little better this time around (Norris, 2001 b). Some would even say worse - especially those conservatives convinced that the major networks' exit poll predictions of a Gore win in Florida prior to the close of voting may have robbed Bush of votes that might have rendered the multiple recounts unnecessary.
But however bad things got, few if any American commentators - in or out of the academic community- seriously suggested that political opinion polls should be done away with altogether for part or all of the campaign. This essential liberalism is by no means universal, however, even in advanced democracies - including many whose enlightened progressivism apparently obliges them to scold the Americans for their reactionary attitudes on a whole host of issues, most notably on the environment and on the death penalty. An attempt to identify cultural reasons for the variation between countries which restrict the reporting of pre-election and exit polls and those which do not would indeed be fascinating. But the aim of this brief report is rather more modest. It arose out of the surprising difficulty encountered by the author in putting together a submission on prevailing international practice to a Select Committee of the New Zealand Parliament regarding a clause seeking to ban opinion polls for three weeks prior to a general election - a clause inserted at the last minute into an otherwise uncontroversial government bill.
This report aims simply to bring together in one convenient place our best understanding of the current situation in a number of English-speaking and European democracies (countries with which New Zealand routinely compares itself) and a few other important cases. If anything, there is some bias towards discussion of countries in which legal restrictions are in operation. For instance, both France and Italy feature heavily here, even though, in trying to enforce a period of pre-election opinion poll silence, they have more in common with the former communist countries of Eastern Europe than with their Western counterparts.

Item Type: Article
Schools and Departments: School of Law, Politics and Sociology > Politics
Subjects: J Political Science > JF Political institutions (General) > JF0020 General. Comparative government
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN1990 Broadcasting
Depositing User: Tim Bale
Date Deposited: 06 Feb 2012 20:59
Last Modified: 11 May 2012 08:38
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