Sunday, October 31, 2004

Poll games: one last card to play

Captain Ed looks at the latest polls. I think his assessment is dead-on:
The GOP has to be happy with these results, but it still will take all of their effort in the remaining 70 hours or so to make sure they get voters out to the polls.
They will have to do so against a MSM headwind right up until the polls close in their states. The GOTV efforts in the Midwest battleground states will hold the key in a close election.

Previously, I discussed how campaigns try to use early vote totals in the East to influence late voting in the Midwest and west. In 2000, the networks joined in to help Gore. Bill Sammons's analysis is damning:
The vice president's margin of victory in Michigan was a slim 4 points, the same spread by which Bush had won Ohio thirty minutes earlier. Yet the networks were still mum about the Bush win. The tiers of Democratic bias were now working unmistakably in Gore's favor.

"The fact that we projected Florida and Michigan before we projected Ohio for Bush is very telling;" Tim Russert told NEC viewers, hinting that Bush was lagging in states that should have been his and losing close states far too easily.

Michigan and Ohio were both important battleground states that held large numbers of electoral votes. Both were won by four percentage points. Although all polls closed in Ohio at 7:30 P.M., the networks waited an hour and forty-five minutes to declare Bush the winner. Yet they raced to call Michigan for Gore the instant the first polls there closed-even though voters west of the time line had another hour in which to cast their ballots

The lopsided calls in Gore's favor continued all night. The clarity of the double standard is downright jarring when one examines the calls made by CNN, which was typical of the networks:

Gore won Illinois by 12 points and CNN crowned him the winner in one minute. Bush won Georgia by 12 points and CNN waited thirty-three minutes.

Gore won New Jersey by 15 points and CNN announced it in one minute. Bush won Alabama by 15 points anci CNN waited twenty-six minutes.

Gore won Delaware by 13 points and CNN waited just three minutes. Bush won North Carolina by 13 points and CNN waited thirty-four minutes.

Gore won Minnesota by 2 points and CNN waited thirty-seven minutes. Bush won Tennessee by 3 points and CNN waited twice as long-an hour and sixteen minutes.

Withholding Tennessee from Bush was especially mendacious because news of the vice president's failure to carry his home state would have sent a powerful political message to the rest of the nation. If Gore couldn't carry Tennessee, how could he be expected to win the presidency? Even Walter Mondale managed to carry his home state of Minnesota in 1984, when Ronald Reagan won the other forty-nine states in a landslide.

Similarly, the networks were reluctant to call President Clinton's home state of Arkansas for Bush, which would have sent another potent message. Arkansas was one of the few states in which Gore had given Clinton permission to campaign for him. Timely news of Gore's failure to carry the state would have shocked Democrats and heartened Republicans nationwide. Instead, CNN waited three hours and thirty-three minutes before awarding Arkansas to Bush, who had won the state by six points. This inexplicable delay was even longer than the two hours and forty-one minutes CNN waited before giving Bush West Virginia, which he had also won by six points. By contrast, CNN waited only thirty-six minutes to give Maine to Gore, who had carried the state by only five points.

The pervasiveness of the double standard was shocking. Whenever Gore won a state by double-digit margin, the networks projected him the winner in three minutes or less. But in state after state, Bush posted double-digit victories that the networks refused to acknowledge for at least thirty minutes.

When Bush won Missouri by 4 points, CBS waited two hours and six minutes to hand it over. When Gore won Pennsylvania by the same margin, CBS shortened the lag time to forty-eight minutes. This was an enormously important call because it told America at 8:48 P.M. Eastern Time that Gore had already pulled off the trifecta, which was tantamount to winning the White House
I see no reason to think that 2004 will be different. Besides the speed with which they call states for Bush or Kerry, the Senate races will be a test of their objectivity. If Republicans gain seats, that makes Tom Daschle a weaker candidate in South Dakota. It also could affect turnout in the West, which will matter in states like Oregon, New Mexico, and Hawaii.

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