Until Donald Trump’s election and the subsequent four years of his rallying cry of “fake news,” major national news outlets were the trusted sources of the definitive word on election winners and losers. That’s how America has found out who its next president is, courtesy of the news media.
But now with so much of the country bifurcated between the likes of The New York Times, Washington Post, ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN and the Associated Press and the alternate reality spun by Fox News, it’s fair to ask the question: how will we really know who won? In the past several days mainstream media outlets have gone out of their way to tell us how they will call winners and losers Tuesday night, if they can.
ABC, CBS, CNN and NBC are part of the National Election Pool, which delivers exit polls conducted by Edison Research to those organizations. Edison Research exit pollsters use written questionnaires at voting sites to find out which candidates voters selected. During the 2016 general election, Edison polled 85,000 people at 1,000 locations nationwide and conducted phone surveys with 16,000 advance voters.
The AP wire service and Fox News left the National Election Pool after 2016. To replace traditional exit polling, those outlets partnered to develop a proprietary survey along with NORC, formerly known as the National Opinion Research Center, at the University of Chicago. Their method surveys thousands of randomly selected voters in the days leading up to an election and combines that information with poll results from online panels to get a sense of who voters are and which candidates they’re leaning toward.
Major news outlets like ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox News, NBC and the AP are telling their audiences not to expect clear-cut results on election night. Donald Trump says the vote counting must stop on Nov. 3, but numerous state courts do not agree. Just Monday, Texas and Nevada judges ruled that the counting should continue until all legitimately submitted ballots are counted.
After four years of “fake news” slurs by the president and others, Fox enjoys a unique space: In the eyes of millions of Americans, and particularly Trump voters, if you see it on Fox News, it has to be true. On November 3, the network’s framing of the story may help alleviate nationwide chaos — or sow it.
In a statement, Fox News said: “The integrity of our Decision Desk is rock solid. We have full confidence in each of the consummate professionals who run it and who are in charge of our Voter Analysis System, which made its stellar debut in the 2018 mid-term elections. We will call this presidential election carefully and accurately, relying on data and numbers.”
Fact is, our democracy has no rulebook for declaring the winner of a presidential election. Good luck with that.