The word count is a communication about the level of detail required. It would be possible to write a short statement of 80 words, or a thesis of 80 000 words, on the same topic. The word count lets you know information such as how much detail to give, how many main points and sub points to choose, and how detailed the examples should be.
If you are referring to a required length of an essay (1500 words, etc.), quotes generally do not count towards your total number of words.