18 June 2013

CNN Presidential Election calls 1992-2012: a timeline study

In what little spare time there is to be had, I have been going through video of network election night reporting all the way back to 1960. This study, a timeline study, is the first of a number of analyses of election night reporting and how we can see and interpret reporting patterns over time.

After having reviewed all videos, I then focused in only on CNN for the 6 election cycles from 1992-2012 and made an exact time-line of when each state was called for a presidential candidate.

The information is recorded in a number of ways.  First, there are individual tables by election year, which you can click on to see for yourself:

1992 Clinton vs. Bush vs. Perot

1996 Clinton vs. Dole vs. Perot

2000 Gore vs. Bush

2004 Kerry vs. Bush

2008 Obama vs. McCain

2012 Obama vs. Romney

Since 5 of the last 6 elections were won by the Democratic candidate in the national popular vote, I simply stayed with the same system of recording the state calls for the Democrat in the left columns and  for the Republican in the right columns, for simplicity's sake and also for ease of comparison, should you want to look at any two documents side by side. There are also some special notations that are hard to see in google, but if you download the .docx file for yourself, then those notes will be readable.

The timeline also serves as a running electoral vote tally. Here, as an example, is part of 2004:

Time
Kerry (D)
Kerry EV
Bush 43 (R)
Bush EV
Still out
notes
19:00
VT (3)
3
IN (11), KY (8), GA (15)
34
VA, SC

19:30
---
3
WV (5)
39
OH, NC, VA, SC
First time in TV-history that WV has been called immediately for a Republican. It was called after 9 PM for Reagan in 1984.
20:00
IL (21), NJ (15), MA (12), MD (10), CT (7), ME (3 of 4) DC (3), DE (3)
77
TN (11), AL (9) OK (7)
66
FL, PA, MO, MS, NH, OH, NC, VA, SC

20:30
---
77
---
66
AR, FL, PA, MO, MS, NH, OH, NC, VA, SC

20:36
---
77
VA (13), SC (8)
87
AR, FL, PA, MO, MS, NH, OH, NC

20:42
---
77
NC (15)
102
AR, FL, PA, MO, MS, NH, OH,

21:00
NY (31), RI (4)
112
TX (34), KS (6), NE (4 of 5), ND (3), SD (3), WY (3)
155
MI, WI, MN, AZ, CO, NM, LA, AR, FL, PA, MO, MS, NH, OH,

21:32
---
112
LA (9)
164
MI, WI, MN, AZ, CO, NM, AR, FL, PA, MO, MS, NH, OH,



A call made for a state just as the polls are closing is called an "immediate call", for instance, all of the states called through 8 pm (EDT) in the 2004 timeline. In the column next to the Bush EV count, you can see the states that have not yet been called.

Ok, so far, so good.

Next, I took all 6 timelines and merged the data into one large EXCEL file, which then also calculated the delay time between the poll closing times and the actual time a state was called.

Poll Closings vs. State Calls - analysis 1992-2012 (6 cycles)

The table is very bit-intensive and google docs doesn't like it too much in this form... so here is a simpler variety, without colors and such:

Poll Closings vs. State Calls - CNN 1992-2012, simplified form for google docs

The EXCEL data is sorted in three ways:

-chronologically, by poll closing time.
-alphabetically, by state name
-by frequency.

Frequency is probably going to be the most interesting table to look at.

Based on the data I have collected, 12 states were called IMMEDIATELY at poll closing times in all six of these election cycles, regardless of the winner of the national election:




And all of these 12 states always went for the same party all six times, 9 states for the Democratic candidate, 3 states for the Republican candidate.

Lost in all of this is the fact that the state of Illinois, the "Land of Lincoln", was once part of the Republican electoral strategy. Up through 1996, pollsters and pundits were still saying that no Republican had ever won the White House without Ohio -and- Illinois. After Clinton captured Illinois twice, pundits dropped that state from the saying. Jeff Greenfield from CNN noted this a couple of times in 1992 and 1996 and then altered the phrase in 2000.

Another 10 states added to those twelve are states that were called immediately in 5 of the last 6 election cycles:


Of the 22 states seen here, unsurprisingly, we see the Northeast fill up for the Democratic party and the Heartland fill up for the Republican party. All 22 of these states went their respective party all six times, without exception.

Adding 2 more states that were called immediately (for the same party) in four of the last 6 cycles and it looks like this:




But there are three more states that were called immediately in 4 of the last 6 election cycles, but NOT for the same party, and these three states are part of the so-called "Clinton 6"; they also border each other:




WV, KY and TN were called immediately in 4 of the last six cycles, but those three states have made a major turnaround: KY was called immediately every time since 2000 for the Republican candidate, but it went for Bill Clinton (D) in both 1992 and 1996. TN was called immediately for Clinton in 1996, but called for Bush, McCain and Romney immediately in 2004, 2008 and 2012, respectively. West Virginia was called immediately for Clinton in both 1992 and 1996, waited a long time to be called in 2000 and was then called immediately for Bush in 2004 and Romney in 2012. 2004 was the first time in television history that West Virginia was called immediately for a Republican.

Now, you will see a number of states on the map that have not been called immediately for at least 4 of 6 cycles, but they are rock solid states for their respective party: MS, AL, SC and SD have gone Republican for all 6 cycles, but it took a while to call them. Ditto for WI, MN, WA and OR for the Democratic Party.

By the way, Mitt Romney set an electoral record in Arkansas in 2012: This is the first time in television history that Arkansas has been called immediately for a Republican candidate. In fact, this is first time EVER that Arkansas has been called immediately for a Republican.

So, essentially, the 23 states that are left are states that are usually considered battleground states or were a battleground at least once or twice, like MT.

Here are the states that have been called just 2 or 3 of the last 6 cycles:

„2-3 of 6“ (18) State Called 2012 time lapse Called 2008 time lapse Called 2004 time lapse Called 2000 time lapse Called 1996 time lapse Called 1992 time lapse
8:00 PM Alabama immediately 0 8:58 PM 00:58 immediately 0 9:27 PM 00:27 immediately 0 9:25 PM 01:25
8:30 PM Arkansas immediately 0 10:11 PM 01:41 10:12 PM 01:42 12:05 AM 03:35 immediately 0 immediately 0
7:00 PM Georgia 8:15 PM 01:15 9:12 PM 02:12 immediately 0 7:34 PM 00:34 after 12:00 05:00 immediately 0
6:00 PM Indiana -- -- -- -- -- -- immediately 0 8:18 PM 02:18 7:00 PM 01:00
7:00 PM Indiana immediately 0 7:18 AM 12:18 immediately 0 -- -- -- -- -- --
10:00 PM Iowa 11:10 PM 01:10 immediately 0 03.11 3:11 PM 17:11 2:05 AM 04:05 immediately 0 immediately 0
9:00 PM Louisiana immediately 0 9:47 PM 00:47 9:32 PM 00:32 immediately 0 9:25 PM 00:25 9:25 PM 00:25
9:00 PM Minnesota 10:51 PM 01:51 immediately 0 2:32 AM 05:32 9:37 PM 00:37 immediately 0 immediately 0
8:00 PM Mississippi immediately 0 11:23 PM 03:23 9:34 PM 01:34 immediately 0 11:25 PM 03:25 11:30 PM 02:30
8:00 PM Missouri 11:16 PM 03:16 19.11.08 14 days 10:14 PM 02:14 10:06 PM 02:06 immediately 0 immediately 0
10:00 PM Montana 11:00 PM 01:00 04:00:00 06:00 12:36 AM 02:36 immediately 0 After 12:00 am 02:00 After 12:00 am 02:00
10:00 PM Nevada 11:49 PM 01:49 11:38 PM 01:38 3:54 AM 05:54 11:22 PM 01:22 immediately 0 10:47 PM 00:47
8:00 PM New Hampshire 10:04 PM 02:04 8:29 PM 00:29 01:18 AM 05:18 10:05 PM 02:05 -- --

7:00 PM New Hampshire -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- immediately 0 immediately 0
9:00 PM New Mexico 11:11 PM 02:11 9:47 PM 00:47 03.11 3:11 PM 18:11 Nov 30th 23 days immediately 0 immediately 0
11:00 PM Oregon 11:15 PM 00:15 immediately 0 12:40 AM 01:40 November 10th 3 days immediately 0 immediately 0
8:00 PM Pennsylvania 9:43 PM 01:43 8:38 PM 00:38 10:35 PM 02:35 8:48 PM 00:48 immediately 0 immediately 0
9:00 PM South Dakota immediately 0 11:18 PM 02:18 immediately 0 immediately 0 11:25 PM 02:25 11:30 PM 02:30
11:00 PM Washington immediately 0 immediately 0 1:33 AM 03:33 12:09 AM 01:09 immediately 0 immediately 0
9:00 PM Wisconsin 11:02 PM 02:02 immediately 0 03.11 11:33 AM 14:33 6:22 AM 09:22 immediately 0



(The excerpt above is from the EXCEL documents linked to at the beginning of this analysis)

Sometimes you see a state listed TWICE on the table: this is because the poll closing time for the state has changed somewhere along the line between 1992-2012. A number of states that were once 8 pm poll closing states are now 9 pm states, like Texas and Michigan.  Ditto for the former 6 pm poll closing states that now close their polls at 7 pm. These are generally states that cross over time zones, so that, for instance, an 8 pm closing in one part of the state may mean a 9 pm closing in another.

BTW, the latest change in the poll closing schedule was little Rhode Island, which moved its poll closing time UP from 9 pm (1992-2008) to 8 pm as of 2012.

South Dakota is a good state to look at from this list. A very solid GOP state in 2000, 2004 and 2012, but with a 2:18 delay in 2008, a 2:25 delay in 1996 and a 2:30 delay in 1992, all years where the Democratic candidate won nationally with a margin over +5%.

A good reverse example is Oregon: it was called immediately for Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996 and also immediately for Barack Obama in 2008. In 2012, the call delay was just 15 minutes, so for all intents and purposes, it was very close to an immediate call. But in 2004, the delay was 1:40 and in 2000, it took 10 full days to call the state.

Pennsylvania is also an interesting state to look at: since 1992, it was called immediately for Bill Clinton both times, but since 2000 it has taken between roughly one-half hour and two and one-half hours to call the state. Even in 2004, where a number of Kerry states took an excruciatingly long time to come in, Pennsylvania was called in 2:35 after the polls closed.

New Hampshire has an interesting election night history at CNN: in 2004 and 2012 - both being re-election cycles -, the state was called at 10:05 and 10:04 PM respectively - pretty much the same time. CNN could have included New Hampshire in the 10 PM poll closing calls, but in both cases, waited 5 minutes to make a call in the Live Free or Die State.

Let's take a look at the states that have pretty much never been called immediately. This list may surprise some people:

„1 of 6 or never“ (6) State Called 2012 time lapse Called 2008 time lapse Called 2004 time lapse Called 2000 time lapse Called 1996 time lapse Called 1992 time lapse
9:00 PM Arizona 10:51 PM 01:51 11:21 PM 02:21 12:10 AM 03:10 11:47 PM 01:47 9:25 PM 00:25 After 12:00 am 03:00
9:00 PM Colorado 12:21 AM 03:21 11:17 PM 02:17 12:36 AM 03:36 11:13 PM 02:13 After 12:00 am 02:00 immediately 0
8:00 PM Florida 09.11.12 3 days 11:25 PM 03:25 12:13 AM 04:13 Dec. 13 36 days -- -- -- --
7:00 PM Florida -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- immediately 0 After 12:00 am 03:30
7:30 PM North Carolina 11:02 PM 03:32 06.11.08 2 days 8:42 PM 00:42 8:00 PM 00:30 8:50 PM 01:20 After 12:00 am 03:30
7:30 PM Ohio 11:18 PM 03:48 9:34 PM 02:34 02.11 2:52 PM 18:22 9:16 PM 01:46 immediately 0 10:00 PM 02:30
7:00 PM Virginia 12:40 AM 05:40 10:58 PM 03:58 8:36 PM 01:36 7:26 PM 00:26 10:08 PM 03:08 9:00 PM 02:00


Of these six states, we see five of the most contested states in the Union, at least in the last cycles. 

Ohio, Colorado and Florida have all been immediately only once in the last six cycles, and in all three cases, for Bill Clinton.

Arizona, which is a 5-for-6 Republican state since 1992, has taken between 2 to 3 hours to call. Likewise for Colorado. In fact, it is most interesting that it took around 3 1/2 hours to call Colorado in both of the last re-election campaigns (2004, 2012).

It is no surprise that Ohio usually takes a while to call: it is the quintessential battleground state and people are generally used to waiting on results from Ohio. And this pattern goes back much farther than 1992. In fact, since 1960, Ohio has only been called immediately by networks overall three times: 1972, 1984 and 1996.

However, with both North Carolina and Virginia on this list, I bet that is a surprise for most people. Until 2008, those two states were reliably Republican states, and yet, no networks have been able to call these two states immediately. In Virginia, it took 5:40 to call the state in 2012, but it also took over 3 hours to call it for Dole in 1996.

A couple more important notes: sometimes it has nothing to do with the networks that certain states are not called immediately. Mississippi is notorious for a very late feed to the AP for results, ditto Alabama.

Sometimes, a network waits to make a call on a state just because it was considered a battleground by at least one side during the election campaign. Obama won Pennsylvania by +10.31% in 2008. That is the largest win in this state since 1972 and actually, based on the earliest of returns, all networks could have called the Keystone state for Obama immediately.

Likewise, the networks could have called Arkansas immediately for President Bush in 2004. He won there by an easy +9.76%. However, considering the former electoral history of the state, the networks decided to wait.

In 2012, Mitt Romney won Arizona by +9.04%, but the state wasn't called for almost two hours. He won in Indiana by a very similar margin (+10.18%), but that state was called immediately. He won in Georgia by a lesser margin (+7.80%), and yet, Georgia was called just 1:15 after the polls closed in 2012. So, it would appear that perception about a state does indeed play a role in calling it, in addition to exit polls and early vote tallies from key precincts.

It should also be noted that CNN took more time than the other networks to call a number of states: both NBC and FOX called Wisconsin for Obama at 9:36 PM in 2012, but CNN called it circa 90 minutes later, at 11:02 PM, And though all the networks called Ohio for the President around the 11:15 PM mark, CNN was the LAST network to call the Buckeye State, after MSNBC, ABC, CBS and FOX News.

One final piece of data. I took all of the timelines and then concentrated only on the rolling electoral vote totals, by half-hour, and put them in one handy table to read:


Time (EDT)
2012 D / R
2008 D / R
2004 D / R
2000 D / R
1996 D / R
1992 D / R
6:00 PM
---
---
---
0 / 20 - +20
0 / 0 - +/-0
0 / 0 - +/-0
6:30 PM
---
---
---
0 / 20 - +20
0 / 0 - +/-0
0 / 0 - +/-0
7:00 PM
3 / 8 - +5
3 / 8 - +5
3 / 34 - +31
3 / 28 - +25
32 / 0 - +32
20 / 12 - +8
7:30 PM
3 / 24 - +51
3 / 8 - +5
3 / 39 - +36
3 / 41 - +38
58 / 0 - +58
25 / 12 - +13
8:00 PM
64 / 40 - +20
77 / 34 - +43
77 / 66 - +11
119 / 121 - +2
198 / 55 - +143
150 / 12 - +138
8:30 PM
64 / 73 - +9
81 / 34 - +47
77 / 66 - +11
119 / 130 - +2
204 / 67 - +137
164 / 28 - +136
9:00 PM
123 / 152 - +29
174 / 49 - +125
112 / 155 - +43
182 / 153 - +28
267 / 96 - +171
238 / 46 - +192
9:30 PM
123 / 152 - +29
174 / 69 - +105
112 / 155 - +43
182 / 185 - +3
284 / 96 - +188
247 / 53 - +194
10:00 PM
143 / 158 - +15
206 / 89 - +117
112 / 176 - +64
167 / 197 - +30
299 / 105 - +188
254 / 64 - +190
10:30 PM
147 / 158 - +11
207 / 135 - +72
112 / 193 - +81
172 / 217 - +45
299 / 118 - +194
265 / 64 - +201
11:00 PM
228 / 176 - +52
297 / 135 - +162
188 / 197 - +9
230 / 217 - +13
375 / 121 - +254
362 / 67 - +295
11:30 PM
274 / 201 - +73
333 / 155 - +178
188 / 197 - +9
230 / 229 - +1
375 / 132 - +243
362 / 77 - +285
12:00 AM
281 / 201 - +81
338 / 155 - +183
188 / 197 - +9
230 / 240 - +10
375 / 135 - +240
362 / 80 - +282
12:30 AM
290 / 201 - +89
338 / 155 - +183
188 / 234 - +46
242 / 246 - +4
?
?
1:00 AM
303 / 203 - +100
338 / 156 - +182
195 / 249 - +54
242 / 246 - +4
?
?
1:30 AM
303 / 206 - +97
338 / 156 - +182
200 / 249 - +49
242 / 246 - +4
?
?
2:00 AM

338 / 159 - +179
211 / 249 - +38
242 / 246 - +4
?
?
2:30 AM

349 / 159 - +190
228 / 249 - +21
249 / 271 - +22
?
?
3:00 AM

349 / 159 - +190
242 / 249 - +7
249 / 271 - +22
?
?
3:30 AM

349 / 159 - +190
242 / 249 - +7
249 / 271 - +22
?
?
4:00 AM

349 / 162 - +187
242 / 254 - +12
249 / 246 - +3
?
?
4:30 AM



249 / 246 - +3
?
?
5:00 AM



249 / 246 - +3
?
?
5:30 AM



249 / 246 - +3
?
?
6:00 AM



249 / 246 - +3
?
?
6:30 AM



260 / 246 - +14
?
?
Other:
332 / 206 - +126 (Nov 9.)
364 / 162 - +187
(Nov 6.)
252 / 254 - +32
( Nov 3, 11:33)
267 / 246 - +21 (Nov 10.)
In the night:
379 / 159 - +220
In the night:
370 / 168 - +202


365 / 162 - +203
(Nov 6.)
252 / 274 - +32
( Nov 3, 14:52)
260 / 246 - +14 (Nov 10.) - NM retraction




365 / 173 - +192
(Nov 19.)
252 / 286 - +32
( Nov 3, 15:11)
267 / 246 - +21 (Nov 30.)






267 / 271 - +4 (Dec 13.)









Winner declared /state over the top:
11:18 PM, Ohio
11:00 PM, West Coast
Nov. 3, 14:52 PM, Ohio
Dec. 13, 13:00, Florida
21:25 PM, Louisiana, Arizona
10:47 PM, Ohio


This is a totally handy table to see where the electoral vote totals stood at every half-hour junction in the election night reporting from CNN over the last 6 cycles.


---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

So, why did I do all of this, and what does it mean?

Well, it helps to cut through a lot of propaganda. Having to wait 2 hours to see Minnesota called for a Democratic candidate does not mean that the state is in danger, at least until now.. Ditto Texas for the Republicans, also at least until now.

And it gives us a baseline to imagine how reporting in 2016 would like like, assuming that conditions remain as they are.

If in 2016 the networks can't call Vermont right away, then it is probably going to be the "Night of Long Knives" for the Democratic candidate.

Likewise, if the networks can call Ohio and or Florida immediately for the Democratic candidate, ala 1996, then those famous knives will be pointed squarely at the Republicans.

For me, three of the most critical new battleground states to watch - and also to watch the electoral call times, will be Virginia, Colorado and North Carolina. Combined, those three states have almost as many electors (37) as Texas (38).

Quite logically, if one candidate is losing badly, then his states will generally take a long time to call. If it is a tight race, then the delay in call time does indeed play a role in seeing who is most likely ahead.

I hope this study was helpful to you. I will be referring to this in future analyses of network election night reporting.

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