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EXIT POLL DATA WAS MISLEADING

News organizations promised Wednesday to look into why their Election Day exit polls showed an initial surge for Sen. John F. Kerry but also blamed bloggers for spreading news that gave a misleading view of the presidential race.

The National Election Pool, a consortium of television networks and the Associated Press that hired Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International to do exit polling after the networks' blown calls four years ago, came under fire for exit polls that showed President Bush trailing Kerry in key battleground states throughout Election Day.

Those results were quickly disseminated on Web sites such as Slate, the Drudge Report and Wonkette.com and confounded the media, both campaigns and the public, delaying calls in some states and influencing early coverage of the race.

Some correspondents, privy to the erroneous results, subtly telegraphed the polls to viewers. On the evening news, before any polls had closed, NBC's David Gregory said Bush "appeared subdued," while ABC's Terry Moran noted the president had expressed a "rare sense of doubt." Bush ended up winning the election with a popular vote total of 51 percent to Kerry's 48 percent.

The news organizations blamed any public confusion on Internet bloggers who raced out early with results that are intended to be kept confidential but invariably trickle out.

The numbers -- some accurate, some not -- raced like wildfire across the Internet, triggering a stock market sell-off by investors skittish about a Kerry victory.

"People want to jump on (exit polls) because they are the first little sliver, little shred of evidence," CNN anchor Judy Woodruff said. "It's dangerous to seize on those numbers and assume anything -- and yet that's what happened."

Bush strategist Matthew Dowd, who spent the day reassuring a nervous Bush team that the campaign's internal polls were more accurate, said Tuesday's exit poll performance should persuade networks to await vote returns before calling races. "Hopefully this puts a final nail in the coffin of exit polls," he said.

Others disagreed, though some suggested that the exit poll -- which seeks to explain who voted and what issues drew them to the polls -- should not be used to determine the outcome of races.

"The exit poll probably in the long run should be developed into an analytic tool for the next day when we have a better sense how well they have been executed," pollster Andrew Kohut said on NPR. "But doing them on the fly has led us astray."

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