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Election Projections: What Do They Mean?

Photo courtesy of 270toWin

Looking at election results from different news sources and seeing different numbers can be confusing. One may wonder, “Why are all these numbers and percentages distinct from other news stations?” or “What are election night projections?” Election night projections are made on the nights of major primaries and elections to help project the winners of key political races — like president, senator or governor — and issue referenda in the United States. Various news sources use different statistical and mathematical analyses, as well as real time results, to make these projections. They are not made easily and are made by various political analysts and professionals no matter the news source.

The way election projections are being done in 2020 is similar to what has been done in the past; however, there are two systems in the political sphere that do things differently. The National Election Pool (NEP) uses exit polling data and is a consortium of news organizations including ABC, CBS, CNN and NBC. There is also the Associated Press’s AP VoteCast. The main difference between these two is that the NEP uses a combination of exit polls, related surveys of voters and samples of the tabulated vote in U.S. elections, while AP VoteCast uses a combination of mail, phone interviews and online surveys. The NEP format was the “traditional” way of projecting until the 2018 midterm election, which was when AP VoteCast debuted.

Though both of these systems rely heavily on surveys and polls, news stations do not make the assumption that they have the final answers. They compare the raw data that is provided to them from local counties, cities or states to what has happened in the past. Typically AP press stringers — a type of freelance journalist — are the first ones to report it and they then share it with other organizations. NBC News claims that “vote results are rigorously checked and verified. Part of quality control involves checking that vote data is consistent across sources, and we also compare the vote to past election results to see whether the turnout looks extremely different across multiple past races.”

By Sofia Gomez, Podcasting Director



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