Too close to call? Uncertainty and bias in election-night reporting

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2 Scopus citations


Objective. Previous research has found that early election-night projections can have a depressing effect on turnout in presidential elections. Although this effect has been found to be small in the past, it may be enough to sway state outcomes and, potentially, the final outcomes of close presidential and other elections. Therefore, this article analyzes the election-night presidential projections of the three major cable news networks in 2000 and 2004 to examine the forces that lead to the timing of election-night calls. Method. I collect the on-air projection times of the cable news networks from videotapes, transcripts, and network documents. I apply duration analysis, specifically Cox models, to examine the forces that lead networks to make projections when they do. Results. Results of duration analysis indicate that while the cable networks timed their state-by-state projections primarily on the competitiveness of the state presidential races, network competition appears to drive projections at the beginning of election night. Furthermore, I find that early in the night in 2000, the cable networks appeared to call states sooner for Al Gore than for George W. Bush when controlling for the competitiveness of the state presidential races. Conclusions. This article provides support for Republican allegations of biased election-night projections in 2000. However, it appears that because the networks amended their election-night procedures, there were no miscalls or differences in how cable networks called states for the two presidential candidates in 2004.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)51-67
Number of pages17
JournalSocial Science Quarterly
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2007
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences(all)


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