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2004-11-02

National Election Pool: How the Networks Are Calling the 2004 Election

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In the 2000 election four years ago, the major news networks helped trigger chaos when they called the pivotal state of Florida a little too early. To avoid repeating the mistakes of 2000, the networks have replaced the Voter News Service–a consortium of media outlets that conducted the exit polling and vote counting–with a new system called the National Election Pool. [includes rush transcript]

As the nation votes today in one of the closest presidential races in U.S. history, millions across the country and the world will tune in to their televisions tonight to find out who will be the country’s next president.

In the 2000 election four years ago, the major news networks helped trigger chaos when they called the pivotal state of Florida a little too early.

  • Montage of major newscasts calling the election in 2000.

Some of the sights and sounds of the major news networks four years ago. To avoid the mistakes of 2000, the networks have replaced the Voter News Service–a consortium of media outlets that conducted the exit polling and vote counting–with a new system called the National Election Pool. And this time around the networks say they are placing certainty over speed. This is NBC news VP Bill Wheatley. Today we take a look at how the networks are going to call the election.

  • Jonathan Storm, reporter and television critic for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Millions across the country will tune into their TV’s tonight to find out who will be the country’s next president. In the 2000 election four years ago, the major news networks helped trigger chaos when they called the pivotal state of Florida a little too early.

2000 ELECTION MONTAGE: It appears it will be a long and exciting evening … What the electoral vote count looks like so far. Mr. Gore taking a spurt there with that win in Florida … The State of Florida is back in play … Governor of Texas will become the 43rd President … We’ve seen this happen before … Her husband was … For the second time tonight, pull back Florida, and the odds … He is covering … As I indicated earlier, we don’t just have egg on our face, we have omelet all over our suits.

AMY GOODMAN: Some of the sights and sounds of the major news networks four years ago. To avoid the mistakes of 2000, the networks have replaced the Voter News Service a consortium of media outlets that conducted the exit polling and vote counting, with a new system called the National Election Poll — the National Election Pool. This time around the networks are placing certainty over speed, they say. Jonathan Storm is with us, reporter and TV critic for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Okay. What is this new election — National Election Pool, and how is it different from the Voter News Service?

JONATHAN STORM: Well, it has a lot of the same qualities, because the polling world is not a very large world; but the main way it’s different, primarily, is that all the numbers that are coming in to the various networks will be available for all to see. In 2000, they came in in big blobs, and they were accumulated before they got to the final network people, and they — they would have a situation where, suddenly, Bush had 20,000 votes in Volusia County, Florida and then, all of a sudden, he only had 16,000, and nobody knew where the votes went. So, now they’re going to be able to see where those votes come in. They also — most of the networks have hired separate individuals, statisticians, Ph.D. egghead-types to look at — be there tonight to be looking at the numbers as they come in.

AMY GOODMAN: You mean, it won’t be Jonathan Ellis Bush, the cousin of the Bushes who called it when working at the FOX news desk?

JONATHAN STORM: Well, it might be on the FOX news channel. They might actually have George Bush calling it. Who knows? That’s a different can of worms. But for the major news networks that actually are reporting news, you’ll have college professors and people like that. There’s also going to be a central location where this National Election Pool has hired consultants, polling consultants. They’re going to have 12 men in a room — 12 men and women — in a room, looking at all these numbers as they come in, especially at the exit polling. People blame the exit polling in 2000 for causing the problems. The exit polling was not as deficient as the actual reporting of the votes. It’s very hard to report so many individual actions, and even if people are of good will and good brain, they’re not going to get it right when the margin becomes too fine. The system they had in 2000 was simply not up to recording those kinds of margins. I’m not sure the system they have this time around is, either. It might just be impossible; and if that’s the case, they all swear up and down the flagpole that they are not going to call things unless they have a much greater degree of certainty than they had in 2000.

AMY GOODMAN: Jonathan Storm, reporter and TV critic for Philadelphia Inquirer. Thank you for being with us. Who knows? It may not be as close as they all say. So many people are excluded from mainstream coverage, also excluded from those polls in general, asking who they plan to vote for. A lot of new voters. They don’t get polled because they’re not the likely voters, the ones who voted in the last election.

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