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Election results tell you who won and lost. AP VoteCast tells you why

WASHINGTON (AP) — When the dust settles from Monday’s first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses, the returns will reveal who had Republican caucusgoers’ vote, but they won’t shed much light on the types of people who voted or what was on their minds as they cast their ballots. That’s where AP VoteCast comes in.

Launched in 2018, AP VoteCast is a comprehensive survey of both voters and nonvoters that aims to tell the story behind the election results. Conducted for The Associated Press and Fox News by the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, it’s a detailed snapshot of the American electorate that helps explain who voted, who didn’t vote, what issues they care about, how they feel about the candidates and why they voted the way they did.

It’s also a powerful resource that the AP analyzes, along with vote results and other election data, to help declare winners on election nights in contests across the country.

How does AP VoteCast work?

AP VoteCast uses a combination of methods — mail, phone and online interviews — to reach voters and capture their opinions about the candidates and the election regardless of whether they vote in-person on or before Election Day or by mail-in ballot.

The first step in the process is to find people to participate in the survey. A random sample of registered voters is contacted through the mail and invited to take the survey online or by phone. Some voters are also contacted by phone if they do not respond to the initial invitation to take part in the survey.

Besides the survey of a random sample of eligible registered voters, AP VoteCast also collects data by conducting interviews with additional voters recruited through online panels. This helps give AP VoteCast a broader reach and additional depth. The composition of panels is carefully calibrated to mirror that of the random sample survey to make sure that key demographic and ideological groups are not over- or underrepresented.

The interviews begin several days before Election Day and conclude as polls close. In primaries and caucuses, those who take the survey more than two days out are contacted again just before the election and asked to retake the survey to reflect how late-breaking developments in the campaign might affect their thinking. For example, Iowa voters who completed the survey before former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie withdrew from the 2024 GOP presidential race will be contacted and asked to take the survey again to capture their latest views.

What does AP VoteCast tell us?

Voters are asked a standard set of demographic questions, such as their age, sex, race and ethnicity, education level and the type of neighborhood they live in. They’re also asked to share their views on what they look for in a candidate, what they think about the candidates on the ballot and what they believe are the key issues facing the country, such as abortion, crime, the economy, health care and immigration.

While voters are also asked who they’re voting for in the election, the AP doesn’t use this information to report an overall horse race result or to replace vote totals. But the survey results do provide valuable insight into how specific groups voted. For example, in the 2020 presidential election, AP VoteCast results showed that white men favored Donald Trump, while women with college degrees favored Joe Biden. It showed that voters who thought the economy was the top issue preferred Trump, a Republican, while those who thought health care was the top issue supported Biden, a Democrat.

Which candidates are included in AP VoteCast?

The AP VoteCast survey generally includes all major active candidates who are on the ballot. In the case of the Iowa Republican caucuses, where there is no set list of candidates, the survey includes Christie, Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley, Asa Hutchinson, Vivek Ramaswamy and Trump. Respondents also are given the option to indicate their support for a different candidate not specifically mentioned in the survey.

What’s the difference between AP VoteCast and an exit poll?

Although it serves a similar purpose, AP VoteCast is not an exit poll, which relies largely on in-person interviews with voters conducted outside of select polling places after they’ve cast their ballots. Prior to the launch of AP VoteCast in 2018, the AP worked with other major news organizations to conduct Election Day exit polls.

AP VoteCast was created in part to reflect significant changes over the years in how people vote, from a world where most voters cast their ballots by showing up at the polls on Election Day to one where a growing number cast their ballots before Election Day.

In 1972, for example, 95% of voters nationwide cast a ballot in-person on the day of the election. Since then, the number of voters who cast their ballots before Election Day has steadily grown, especially in the last few elections. In 2018, roughly 43% of voters cast their ballots before the November general election. In 2020, in the thick of the coronavirus pandemic, the number shot up to 70%. In the 2022 midterms, 51% of voters cast pre-Election Day ballots.

Where can I get more information about AP VoteCast?

AP VoteCast results from the Iowa GOP caucuses will be available Monday night on the AP’s caucus results homepage.

A detailed description of the methodology used in AP VoteCast is also available.

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Follow the AP’s coverage of the 2024 election at https://apnews.com/hub/election-2024.

Robert Yoon, The Associated Press


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