NEW YORK — Heading into Tuesday's election, the broadcast and cable news networks took pains to stress that they had worked to fix the problems that marred the 2004 exit polls.
This time, the National Election Pool -- the consortium of five networks and the Associated Press that commissions the national exit polls -- said it was hiring fewer college students in favor of professional interviewers to survey voters coming out of the polls, hoping to capture a more accurate sample of the electorate than two years ago. In that race, the exit polls showed Sen. John F. Kerry beating President Bush, largely because the surveys overrepresented Democratic voters.
At least one network said it happened again Tuesday.
In the middle of its election coverage, Fox News -- one of the members of the consortium -- announced that it was going to stop relying on the exit-poll data because its decision-desk analysts had discovered a Democratic bias of six to eight percentage points in many areas after comparing the survey results with the actual vote.
"They felt these numbers were unreliable," Michael Barone, a senior writer for U.S. News & World Report and principal co-author of The Almanac of American Politics, told Fox News viewers at 6:25 p.m. PST.
Instead, Fox News said, it was going to base its projections for the rest of the night solely on the actual tabulated vote.
None of the other networks echoed those concerns. Officials with Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International, the polling firms that administered the NEP surveys, could not be reached for comment.
All the networks had assembled decision-desk operations for election night, bringing in analysts to crunch exit-poll results, historical voting trends and the actual vote count to project the races.