This questions on Politics SE introduced me to the concept of the red shift. In short, the claim of a red shift boils down to a statistically significant difference between outcome of final exit polls and results of elections, which would then imply fraud. Some quotes of (effectively identical) claims from different sources:

America's Media Just Made Vote-Rigging Easier. By Victoria Collier, Truthout

The Red Shift has been detected in both state and federal American elections, where computerized vote totals have consistently "shifted" - often by a 5 percent to 7 percent margin disparity (sometimes less, but sometimes much greater) - in comparison to hand-counts and polling data. This mysterious seismic lurch invariably pushes votes to the right, and when the dust settles, it has inordinately benefitted GOP candidates and ballot issues

Wisconsin: None dare call it vote rigging. By Bob Fitrakis, The Free Press

One of my favorite mathematicians is Richard Charnin, who on his website using readily available public information, calculates the odds of the so-called ‘red shift" occurring from the 1988 to 2008 presidential elections. The red shift refers to the overwhelming pick up of votes by the Republican Party in recorded votes over what actual voters report to exit pollsters.

And perhaps the strongest claim of all, one used as a source for many others:

Election Fraud: An Introduction to Exit Poll Probability Analysis , Richard Charnin:

123 of the 126 exit polls in which the MoE was exceeded moved to the recorded vote in favor of the Republican (the “red shift”). Just 3 moved in favor of the Democrat (” the blue shift”). There is a ZERO probability that this one-sided shift was due to chance. It is powerful evidence beyond any doubt of pervasive systemic election fraud.

The titles of the three posts all state this implies fraud or vote-rigging, but a comment in the third link begs to differ:

The statistical analysis here is impressive, but it fails to address one major flaw in almost all statistics that involve exit polling and polling in general; there is an inherent demographic of individuals who willingly choose to take polls and that same demographic tend to lean more Republican/Conservative in nature. That factor alone can account for everything in your model suggesting fraud.

My question therefore consists of two parts:

  1. Is there such a "red shift"?
  2. If so, can this only be explained by fraud, or is there any evidence suggesting that this can be explained by other, such as demographic, factors? Studies addressing this question could look if such a "red shift", if measurable at all, depends on voter demographics, voting method (paper vs. machine), or other factors.

2 Answers 2


There is a so-called "red shift", but it's caused by unreliable exit polls leaning blue, not fraud causing the actual results to shift red.

If you had asked whether polls in general showed a Democratic lean compared to the results, you would be getting a very different answer. But since you specifically asked about exit polls, this is all about them.

This article, which dates from shortly before the 2008 election, discusses 10 reasons that exit polls aren't reliable. They may be informative, but you can't draw any statistical conclusions from them, even for something as basic as who won. I'll quote sections that specifically address the "red shift" issue below.

1. Exit polls have a much larger intrinsic margin for error than regular polls.

This is because of what are known as cluster sampling techniques. Exit polls are not conducted at all precincts, but only at some fraction thereof. Although these precincts are selected at random and are supposed to be reflective of their states as a whole, this introduces another opportunity for error to occur (say, for instance, that a particular precinct has been canvassed especially heavily by one of the campaigns). This makes the margins for error somewhere between 50-90% higher than they would be for comparable telephone surveys.

It's a fact of life that almost no media coverage of poll results ever discusses the error margins. But that's where almost all the fluctuation in polling comes in. If one poll predicts a candidate will get 47% of the vote +/- 1%, and another predicts that candidate will get 52% of the vote +/- 5%, then when the second poll is released all the media coverage will be about how much the candidate's position has improved, even though the error margins are so high that (in the absence of any other information), the candidate is really getting closer to 48% of the vote (and is thus likely losing). Because exit polls have even higher error margins than normal polls, their numbers are that much less reliable.

Error bars on statistical results are of huge importance. I can say right now, over a year out from the next presidential election, that the Republican candidate will receive 51% of the vote, +/- 49%. If the media were reporting on my prediction, they'd say that I said the as-yet-unnamed Republican was ahead... but I really said that it was way too uncertain to say anything at all (other than that the Republican will get votes, because my floor was 2% total).

2. Exit polls have consistently overstated the Democratic share of the vote.

Many of you will recall this happening in 2004, when leaked exit polls suggested that John Kerry would have a much better day than he actually had. But this phenomenon was hardly unique to 2004. In 2000, for instance, exit polls had Al Gore winning states like Alabama and Georgia (!). If you go back and watch The War Room, you’ll find George Stephanopolous and James Carville gloating over exit polls showing Bill Clinton winning states like Indiana and Texas, which of course he did not win.

This builds on the first point. Exit polls are unreliable, and (for reasons discussed below) lean Democratic. Thus if the unreliable numbers are skewed one way, then the actual results will appear to be skewed the other in comparison. Thus what's really happening is not that the votes are suddenly going more red than they should, but the exit polls are bluer than they should be.

4. Exit polls challenge the definition of a random sample.

Although the exit polls have theoretically established procedures to collect a random sample — essentially, having the interviewer approach every nth person who leaves the polling place — in practice this is hard to execute at a busy polling place, particularly when the pollster may be standing many yards away from the polling place itself because of electioneering laws.

5. Democrats may be more likely to participate in exit polls.

Related to items #1 and #4 above, Scott Rasmussen has found that Democrats supporters are more likely to agree to participate in exit polls, probably because they are more enthusiastic about this election.

These two mostly stand by themselves, but together they sortof explain why exit polls lean Democratic. In a busy polling place, even one where there's an even mix of people, if someone makes themselves more approachable by the pollster, they're more likely to be polled. If more Democrats than Republicans are willing to be polled (the link to the proof of which is dead in the article, and the reasons are not discussed), then the results will obviously skew Democratic.

6. Exit polls may have problems calibrating results from early voting.

Contrary to the conventional wisdom, exit polls will attempt account for people who voted before election day in most (although not all) states by means of a random telephone sample of such voters. However, this requires the polling firms to guess at the ratio of early voters to regular ones, and sometimes they do not guess correctly. In Florida in 2000, [absentee votes were substantially Republican], leading to an overestimation of Al Gore’s share of the vote, and contributing to the infamous miscall of the state.

7. Exit polls may also miss late voters.

By “late” voters I mean persons who come to their polling place in the last couple of hours of the day, after the exit polls are out of the field. ... this adds another way in which the sample may be nonrandom, particularly in precincts with long lines or extended voting hours.

So both people who voted before election day itself and those who come close to closing time aren't necessarily well represented. I couldn't find any statistics on how these groups tend to vote overall, but they're certainly enough to introduce even more error into the exit poll results (even if they balance out from one year to another).

In short, any claims that are based off of the difference between exit poll results and the actual results of an election are only showing how unreliable exit polls are.

The article I quoted from finishes with a good summary:

10. You’ll know the actual results soon enough anyway.

Have patience, my friends, and consider yourselves lucky: in France, it is illegal to conduct a poll of any kind within 48 hours of the election. But exit polls are really more trouble than they’re worth, at least as a predictive tool. An independent panel created by CNN in the wake of the Florida disaster in 2000 recommended that the network completely ignore exit polls when calling particular states. I suggest that you do the same.

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    It would be interesting to know if the same shift occurs in other countries, and in the same 'direction'...
    – Benjol
    Commented Oct 1, 2014 at 5:17
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    Just as a note: +/- error does not mean anything at all, unless you specify what the error is. Standard deviation? Standard error? Range? Confidence interval? That makes a HUGE difference.
    – nico
    Commented Jan 30, 2015 at 9:43
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    @nico - I used it in the simplest form (range), as a plain English proxy for the more statistically robust information that actual polls include with their data (which the media then ignores).
    – Bobson
    Commented Jan 30, 2015 at 15:29
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    @Bobson sure, mine was more of a general note :)
    – nico
    Commented Jan 30, 2015 at 15:59
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    Only as a comment: In germany, almost all before-election polls are showing almost no extreme-right parties, but they tend to get a lot more votes in the actual poll. An explanation might be that "voting right" is frowned upon and so most people don't say they do it - but in the cabin they do. Exit-polls are not legal, so I cannot say anything about them. Commented Feb 20, 2015 at 9:49

The elephant in the room that is being ignored here is that before the 2000 Election, there was no perceiveable "red-shift" at all, in nearly all elections.

Back in the 60s/70s/80s and 90s, elections were called VERY accurately by exit polls in the overwhelming majority of races, all over the country. I was there. I saw it.

I vividly remember Reagan's 1980 election being called by exit polls at 5 PM, hours before polls closed. Folks were upset at the effect this had on other races (many voters stayed home after hearing the results).

So, after 1980, the media started following a new rule: Don't call an election until the polls close. Exit polls worked incredibly well, until they suddenly "stopped working" in 2000, and after.

I say: BS.

The "red-shift" appeared suddenly in and after 2000, when a gentleman named Karl Rove got involved in Federal elections for the first time.

Suddenly, election irregularities that had been detected in Texas (with Rove-run elections) spread to Federal elections as well.

Since 2000, the red-shift has appeared many times, and the GOP, and conservatives, have been the sole beneficiaries.

A "Purple Shift" has been observed in some Democratic Party primaries in 2016, favoring centrist Hillary Clinton over the more left-progressive Bernie Sanders. But that is the only other shift that has been observed other than the all-too-common "red" one.

There is virtually NO "blue" shift in any election these days.

When conservatives say thay are embarrassed about revealing who they vote for, that is a disingenuous response-----Exit polls are confidential----The voter taking the exit poll marks their ballot out of the sight of anyone, unless they wish it otherwise. I have taken exit pols myself, and privacy is ALWAYS offered and respected.

So conservatives' objections are insincere, or naive, regarding exit polls.

In addition, exit polls are STILL used by America and other countries to decide whether OTHER countries' elections are being frauded or not.

We used them in Ukraine and Egypt in recent years, to invalidate the elections there.

No, the red-shift is a very real phenomenon, and almost certainly represents a high level of American ELECTION FRAUD, which, ofcourse, is enabled by computer tabulation and touch-screen voting, which are both totally UN-verifiable.

If the US ever decides to use a voting system of hand-marked ballots that are ONLY hand-counted at the polling site, BEFORE being moved, under video cameras and with observers from BOTH PARTIES, I believe we'd see the red-shift disappear, probably with much consternation by our ruling elites.

Always notice how the Establishment of both parties resist switching away from (easily frauded) electronic voting, which, IMO, enables election fraud in America. The elites will fight it tooth and nail. Just watch them.

Cui bono?

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    Welcome to Skeptics. I'm afraid that only answers with solid evidence are accepted here. Your comment on Karl Rove is based on the post-hoc fallacy, possibly with cherry-picking (do you have evidence that electoral fraud was restricted to Texas before 1980?). The rest of your post is anecdote, innuendo and accusations made without supporting evidence. That is why I've marked it down. Commented Sep 1, 2018 at 9:16
  • 2020 saw huge amounts of fraud. Commented Dec 19, 2020 at 0:53

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