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Election Night “Calls”: The Peril of Predictions

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Geraghty The Indispensable has field reports on the ground game.  Very encouraging.

But not surprising.  What is surprising is the indifference to the flaws this GOTV effort reveals in the turnout models used by “pollsters.”

Information affects the political environment, encouraging enthusiasm when favored candidates are ahead, discouraging effort and contributions when candidates are perceived to be behind. Polling information has a huge impact, which makes nakedly partisan and objectively disfigured “polls” like the Minneapolis Star Tribune’s operation simple propaganda.

The networks fancy themselves as real journalists, however, and not Strib-like pretend journalists, so the issue presents itself whether they can continue to use any polling operation that gets it really wrong when the dust clears.

And it creates special problems for election day and night.

GOP GOTV concentrates on early voting, which means its most reliable voters don’t show up at the polls and don’t complete exit polling.  Does this skew day-of-election data collection?

And if proejections depend on sample precincts, are those sample precincts talying absentees first or last?

In next Monday’s interview with ABC News political director Mark Halperin –taped yesterday for airing Monday– we discuss the effect on turnout in 2000 of the erroneous call of Florida for Gore.  Halperin dismisses the charge that the networks’ error impacted panhandle voting or GOTV efforts across the U.S. resulting in the loss of close senate races that year in Michigan, Missouri, and Washington State to name three. But if information didn’t impact voting behavior, there’d be no reason for networks not to report exit polling and sample precinct generated projections until after the polls closed.

Obviously information matters a lot, especially on election day.

If the networks put out bad information on election day –like the absurdly wrong “exit polls” of 2004– or sit on good information, like an easy Allen win in Virginia, they will be impacting the elections in states further to the west. (Virginia polls close at 7 PM EST, which means Montanans, for example will have three more hours left in their voting day –polls close there at 8 PM Mountain time.)

So what are the rules that the networks’ desks will be using?  Who will be making the call on putting out calls?

Transparency is a good thing, especially in an age of instant access to information.

If there is a source for the nets’ plans in this regard, please send along a pointer to


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