Date of Award




Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Department of Sociology

Content Description

1 online resource (viii, 229 pages) : illustrations (some color)

Dissertation/Thesis Chair

Jennifer Stromer-Galley

Committee Members

Robert Sanders, Steven Messner, Ronald Jacobs


ambivalence, exit poll, response bias, spiral of silence, Elections, Presidents, Exit polling (Elections)

Subject Categories

Communication | Sociology


Leaked exit poll data on the 2004 Presidential election suggested that John Kerry was ahead in several key states and was winning the election. Yet the official vote tallies showed that George W. Bush easily secured his second term. The unprecedented degree of discrepancy between the exit poll estimates and the official tallies fuelled a fierce controversy. Since no particular methodological shortcomings had been identified, some advanced the "reluctant Bush respondent" hypothesis, arguing that the exit polls overstated the Kerry vote because Bush supporters were less willing to express their views by participating in the exit polls. Since no information existed on those alleged reluctant Bush supporters who refused to participate in the exit poll, this hypothesis relied on rather fragmented, circumstantial evidence. Also, the scope of the reluctant Bush respondent hypothesis was seriously limited: it remained virtually unaccounted why Bush voters would have been reluctant to participate. Due to its circumstantial empirical standing and limited scope, the hypothesis was criticized and deemed implausible. This criticism had far-reaching implications: in lieu of hands on evidence on what made the exit polls overestimate the Kerry vote, some alleged that not the exit polls but the vote counts might have been inaccurate.