When the exit polling data showing Sen. John Kerry performing strongly leaked out this afternoon, it sent Wall Street into a tailspin.
But as actual vote totals came in after the polls closed, it appeared the exit polls were inaccurate.
The exit polls made it more difficult for television newscasters to project winners because of the conflicting data.
Exit polls are surveys of voters leaving the polling places and are designed to provide data about what voters are thinking, rather than to provide evidence of trends in vote counts.
Political websites gave Kerry an early lead over President Bush in key states in the presidential race, jumping the gun on the U.S. networks by citing what they said were pirated early exit polls.
“Kerry Finds Comfort in First Batch of Exit Polls,” was the headline on the popular website the DrudgeReport.
Another well-known political website, Slate.com, posted what it said were early exit poll numbers, which had Kerry leading Bush in the crucial states of Florida and Ohio and by a wide margin in Pennsylvania.
The candidate who wins two of those three battleground states is almost guaranteed election by securing a victory in the 538-member Electoral College.
Kerry was also leading in other battleground states such as Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota and New Mexico, according to the numbers posted on Slate.com and other websites.
There was no independent confirmation of the accuracy of the numbers, and several websites that published the data stressed it was raw and not definitive.
Slate.com and other websites said the exit poll numbers came from the National Election Pool, a consortium of the U.S. news agency the Associated Press and the five television networks ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN and Fox.
However, the actual vote in several states showed significantly higher Bush counts than the exit polling showed.