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It isn’t magic, it is math. Here is how CNN makes election projections

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(CNN)For those who’ve ever watched CNN on election night, you may know that Wolf Blitzer pronounces that the community has projected this or that candidate will win a specific race.

It entails each real-time outcomes and data from exit polls. CNN, NBC, ABC and CBS work with the polling agency Edison Analysis in what is called the Nationwide Election Pool for outcomes and exit polling information. Fox Information and the Related Press have a separate association.

CNN’s Brian Stelter just lately interviewed Washington Bureau Chief Sam Feist on “Dependable Sources” about how CNN initiatives races and the way the method will probably be totally different this yr. A transcript of that dialog, edited barely for size, is under.

Individually, I additionally spoke with Jennifer Agiesta, CNN’s director of polling and election analytics, who runs the community’s resolution desk. Preserve studying for her views.

This yr is totally different

BRIAN STELTER: That is — Sam, that is, what, your eighth presidential election at CNN, proper?

SAM FEIST, CNN WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF: Proper. 1992 was the primary one.

STELTER: There’s quite a bit that hasn’t modified when it comes to the choice desk course of. What’s the largest X issue this yr that makes you and your colleagues suppose we have to clarify this extra about how the election works?

FEIST: That is going to be an election like no different. You have heard that time and again. However I am unsure that the counting or reporting of the votes are going to be an entire lot totally different. In reality, I feel there’s each purpose to imagine it will be orderly.

Clearly, this yr, due to the mail-in ballots, on account of the pandemic, it might take a bit of bit longer, proper? It takes longer to depend mail-in ballots. They need to be opened. They need to be processed. Some states do not start processing mail-in ballots till Election Day, so it might take a bit of longer.

However I actually imagine that if we do not have a winner on election evening, there’s an excellent chance that we will know the reply on Wednesday or Thursday as a result of the overwhelming majority of votes can have been counted by then.

How can we get election returns?

STELTER: Let’s get into the weeds concerning the counting. So the native precincts within the states, they depend — they depend the votes. After which what occurs with the information media, 1000’s of people decentralized throughout the nation which might be getting that information and feeding it to you and your colleagues of the choice desk?

FEIST: That is proper. Native officers throughout the nation on the county, metropolis, township degree, or typically on the state degree, they depend and publicly report the votes. After which all throughout the nation, the Nationwide Election Pool and the Related Press, for that matter, ship out reporters to study and report the votes.

The votes come again to a central tabulating heart for us, after which we after all, report them to the — to the viewers. And that occurs all through the evening, after which it can proceed occurring and at all times does after election evening is over as a result of votes proceed to come back in. Mail in and absentee votes proceed to be obtained. And that can occur for days after. After which when all of the votes are counted, we report all the outcomes, and it is so simple as that.

STELTER: There’s some misconceptions about how this works. For instance, the exit polls, there are tens of 1000’s of interviews with voters after they vote to get a way of why they voted the best way they did. However, you realize, networks don’t use exit polls alone to make projections and shut races. So, I feel we should always — we should always debunk that fantasy proper now.

Additionally on display screen right here, the networks don’t compete to be first to announce projections. Now, I really feel like within the yr 2000, there was a priority that that did occur. What about 2020?

FEIST: So, you had been proper that in 2000, I feel that there might have been some competitors between networks to be first. However I’ve not seen that so long as I have been doing this. I have been doing this working with the choice group since 2004, and there’s no race to be first. There is a race to be proper, which isn’t a race in any respect. It’s miles extra necessary to be proper than to be first.

And I actually can guarantee you that the choice groups on the networks are usually not in a contest with one another. They’re largely in sync with one another. One community could also be barely forward in a single state, one community could also be barely forward in one other state, however it’s actually the votes that drive the selections. When there’s sufficient votes in a specific state to present the choice group the arrogance that that individual goes to win, then they will announce a projection. So, you’ll not see a race this yr, nor do you have to, and that is a superb factor for the general public.

STELTER: I feel it is fascinating that there are two totally different programs, two totally different teams doing all of this. And that is new up to now few years. You’ve got the Nationwide Election Pool, together with CNN, after which this form of competitor in the marketplace, AP Votecast. Possibly it is a good factor, although, this yr to have two totally different teams assembling the outcomes, as a result of it is form of a verify and stability and may give folks extra confidence within the outcomes.

FEIST: Sure. I would not actually name it a competitor. I’d counsel that there — the 2 organizations are working in parallel, the Nationwide Election Pool and the Related Press. Every will probably be independently acquiring the vote depend from across the nation. And I feel that they in some methods present a verify on one another as a result of when the general public sees that two impartial media consortiums, two impartial media shops report the votes and so they’re very comparable, I feel that is a confidence builder and that is one thing that we want on this election. So, I do not actually see them as rivals. I see them as working in parallel and that is good factor.

Have endurance, America. This might take some time.

STELTER: Sometimes 11:00 p.m. is the earliest time — 11:00 p.m. japanese time — that an election will probably be known as as a result of the western states have closed their polls. Is there any likelihood of a projection at 11:00 p.m. on November 3?

FEIST: Sure, after all there’s an opportunity of a projection. It’s potential and we are likely to make projections early on election evening if the race just isn’t shut significantly in these battleground states, so it’s potential. However it’s fully potential that there will not be a projection on election evening.

You already know, folks neglect that in two of the final 5 elections, now we have gone to mattress with no president-elect. Everybody remembers 2000 the place Florida was the deciding state after which it was too near name on election evening, and we did not know, and it took one other 31 days.

However the very subsequent election was 2004, and in that case, Ohio was the state that was going to be decisive and we didn’t have sufficient votes in to mission a winner on election evening, so we waited. And it was noon the subsequent day when sufficient outcomes had been clear in Ohio that George W. Bush gained Ohio and was reelected. So, it’s not uncommon for elections to not be selected Election Day, particularly this yr as a result of mail-in ballots take longer to depend. You need to open them, you must course of them, and so it may very well be that we do not know till Wednesday or Thursday and even later. However I feel the overwhelming majority of the votes within the nation will probably be counted by late within the election week, so I imagine that we’ll seemingly know a winner. It simply is probably not on election evening.

And that is OK. That does not imply something is unsuitable. The general public, the media, the candidates simply have to be a bit of bit affected person.

What if a candidate prematurely declares victory?

STELTER: Proper. We have to inform folks to have endurance. A sluggish depend is a protected depend. However you realize, we do not know what is going on to occur when it comes to Florida or different key states, what is going on to occur with the turnout in these votes. What about for instance it is midnight or 1:00 a.m., and Donald Trump comes out and says I’m the winner of the election, and our information doesn’t again that up in any respect, what is going to CNN do?

FEIST: If now we have not projected sufficient states for a candidate to get to 270 electoral votes, and a candidate comes out and declares victory, we’ll make it clear that the info don’t again up that declare of victory. And we’ll do it in quite a lot of methods. For those who’ve watched CNN’s election evening, John King on the magic wall spends an terrible lot of election evening explaining why we have not projected a winner in a specific state.

And he goes county by county, reveals what number of votes are left to come back in, what number of votes have been counted, which counties haven’t reported a lot votes. This yr, after all, we’ll layer in absentee votes all through the evening in our dialog. And if we’re not able to mission the state — we’re not able to mission the state, that does not imply that something is unsuitable.

And we’ll make it clear to our viewers and our readers, that there is merely not sufficient data to make a projection, and that the candidate, if a candidate goes out and declares a winner — declares victory forward of time, that they’re doing it earlier than the votes have been counted, earlier than — that’s primarily based the truth is.

Everyone seems to be trying on the similar outcomes, together with Fox Information

STELTER: Sure, the candidates will not know something greater than the networks. They will not have any magic information that the networks will not have entry to.

FEIST: That is appropriate.

STELTER: Sam, what about Fox? What about Fox Information? Is the choice desk at Fox reliable provided that elsewhere on the community you have received propagandists like Sean Hannity who may attempt to facet with Trump in some type of election tug of battle?

FEIST: All the networks have wonderful resolution groups. These are made up of political scientists and information scientists. Jenn Agiesta, who runs the CNN resolution group, is our polling director. She’s been working with our resolution group for a few years. And that’s true at the entire networks. The general public has each purpose to trust within the resolution groups of the networks.

And my recommendation to everyone, the entire politicians, the partisans, the commentators, the analysts, anticipate the projections from the networks and the Related Press, and do not get out forward of them. These are the consultants that the nation has come to rely upon through the years.

And any analysts that suppose they know greater than these resolution desks which have been doing this for 30 years is unsuitable. They only do not. And I’d have plenty of confidence within the resolution desks. And that they are going to be affected person — they’re going to take their time, and so they’re not going to get forward of themselves. So, I’d give that recommendation to everyone on election evening.

Nobody is aware of what is going to occur

STELTER: Backside line right here is it is about endurance, and about not assuming we all know what is going on to occur. There’s lots of people assuming the worst, and that is not a good suggestion. However we must also be ready for lots of various potentialities. Is that truthful?

FEIST: That is appropriate. That is completely proper. And we simply have to present the — these — native election authorities the time to depend the vote. In lots of states, they could have time to do it on election evening. In different states, due to state election legal guidelines the place they can not start counting absentee ballots till Election Day, simply give them time. It might take a day or a couple of days. Give them time. They may depend the votes, after which we’ll all know.

Agiesta on the particular issues the choice desk considers

WHAT MATTERS: What are the particular metrics you are on the lookout for to mission a race? Is there a magic threshold by which you are capable of say there is no means a specific candidate can overcome this?

AGIESTA: There’s no magic concerned in projecting races, sadly, it is actually all math. There are a variety of issues we’re on the lookout for in every state to trust in a projection. Most necessary is what’s been counted: The place are the votes coming from geographically throughout the state, what kinds of votes are included within the depend, and the way a lot of the entire vote does the depend symbolize proper now?

If there is a clear lead for one candidate within the present depend, however not one of the votes from the strongest a part of the state for the trailing candidate aren’t in but, that margin seemingly will not maintain up. If as a substitute there may be good geographic illustration within the vote, that is a degree in favor of a projection.

If every little thing that is been counted is absentee and early votes, or all Election Day votes, there will not be a transparent image of how all of the votes will look when each kinds of vote are included. A few of each are wanted for projections in nearer races.

And the quantity of vote left to depend is important, and could also be a harder piece of knowledge to trace down in 2020. That is harder for 2 causes. First, the rise in vote by mail, and the variety of ballots which can have been mailed in time for Election Day, however are obtained by election officers afterward. There isn’t any method to know on election evening precisely what number of of these there are. And second is the decreased worth in figuring out the variety of precincts reporting. There are fewer folks voting on Election Day in most locations and a few states are consolidating precincts, so comparisons of the variety of folks voting in a specific precinct now to the previous are much less priceless, and it could be more durable to get a superb learn on Election Day turnout earlier than a county or city is absolutely reported.

It is usually priceless to check what we all know concerning the vote now to what’s occurred in a state or county up to now when it comes to each turnout and who they’re voting for. Whether or not these patterns stay the identical or are altering this yr will assist to find out once we could make a projection.

What states are key to a presidential projection?

WHAT MATTERS: Is there one particular state you are taking a look at this yr as a bellwether for the presidential race?

Agiesta: It is troublesome to slender it down to 1 state, however there are usually two kinds of states that election analysts want to this yr, and one state inside every kind that’s most crucial for figuring out the president. One set are fast-growing, historically Republican, Solar Belt states the place Democrats have been gaining floor because the make-up of the inhabitants has modified. Arizona, North Carolina and Florida are emblematic of these traits, and inside these three, Florida is most crucial to the electoral fortunes of both presidential candidate. The opposite set are Northern states which have been Democratic in current presidential elections however broke for Trump in 2016. These states — Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — have sizable populations of White voters with out school levels and economies which have needed to change because the financial system in America has shifted. In that group, Pennsylvania is the powerhouse in electoral votes.

What concerning the Senate?

    WHAT MATTERS: You are not simply trying on the presidential race — management of the Senate can be up for grabs. Will you be projecting Senate races and is the method totally different there?

    Agiesta: Sure, we’ll mission all these Senate races, in addition to gubernatorial contests within the 11 states the place these will probably be held. Projections for downballot races observe the identical procedures as presidential races. We’re taking a look at how a lot we find out about all of the several types of vote which might be on the market, the place within the state these votes have come from, how they evaluate to what we find out about votes there up to now, and what we find out about what’s left to depend. We’d like the identical kind of confidence in that details about Senate and gubernatorial contests as we do for the presidential races.

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