News Agencies Change Tactics for Calling Races

Article excerpt

NEW YORK - A growth in early voting and a tough economy for the media are forcing changes to the exit poll system that television networks and The Associated Press depend upon to deliver the story on Election Night, all with the pressure-filled backdrop of a tight presidential race.

The consortium formed by ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox News Channel, NBC and the AP is cutting back this year on in-person exit polls while increasing the amount of telephone polling. This is to take into account more people voting before Nov. 6 and households that have abandoned land lines in favor of cellphones.

"It makes it trickier," said Joe Lenski, executive vice president of Edison Research, the company that oversees the election operation for the news organizations. "It means there are a lot of different pieces to keep track of."

On a perfect Election Night, Americans who are tracking results won't notice all the work being done behind the scenes. The Associated Press reports actual vote counts nationwide and news organizations use those numbers, plus the exit polls, results from precinct samples in some states and telephone polls of absentee voters to do their own race calls.

But things haven't always gone perfectly. The news organizations completely rebuilt their exit poll system after the 2000 embarrassment, when TV networks mistakenly called the race for George W. Bush when it wasn't decided until a month later (the AP mistakenly called Florida for Al Gore, retracted it, but unlike the networks, never called the overall race for George W. Bush). In 2004, early exit poll results overestimated the strength of Democrat John Kerry. …