Like always, media followed math on Biden call
In every presidential election, there’s usually a small number of people on the losing side incredulous that the media has declared a winner before votes are official and the Electoral College has met.
This year, The News received a still-small but surprisingly large number of complaints that we carried an Associated Press story on Nov. 9 headlined, “Biden wins presidency.”
Many of the complaints also seemed louder than typical, not just mad we had the headline before the Electoral College vote but saying we must have run it because we’re part of a vast left-wing conspiracy to undermine President Donald Trump.
But the press did this year what it always does: Follow the math.
In 2016, Trump was declared the winner in blaring headlines all across America the day after the election, as opposed to the four days it took for the press to report Biden had won (check out this photo gallery of 2016 front pages: https://tinyurl.com/y6r5o44z).
Major media outlets (the AP’s been doing it since the 1800s) watch results as they’re reported and compare that information against the number of votes outstanding and against historical voting trends and exit polls. A race is only called when the math shows it’s impossible for the other candidate to get enough of the outstanding votes to win.
In 2016, despite razor-thin margins in several states (including Michigan), it was obvious on election night (or rather very early the day after) that Hillary Clinton wasn’t getting the votes she needed from typically Democratic places to overcome Trump’s lead.
This year, with so many unknowns surrounding the record number of absentee ballots, that math couldn’t be completed until Pennsylvania had counted and reported enough absentee votes to make it clear Biden would win that state, putting him over the top in the Electoral College count.
Only when the math showed Biden had it did the press report his win.
Just like always.
As I wrote last week, the media showed their math, transparent with readers and viewers about how they reached their conclusions.
The press does not wait for boards of canvassers or the Electoral College to finalize votes because those procedures are usually perfunctory. The Electoral College has never voted differently than what was clear on election night. Candidates don’t wait either, by the way. Most losing candidates concede after the press reports they don’t have enough votes.
Well, one reader said in an email, what about Bush v. Gore? The 2000 race between Al Gore and George W. Bush included court challenges and allegations of shenanigans, just like 2020, so why isn’t the media affording Trump the same courtesy it afforded Gore in waiting until those challenges play out?
The answer, again, is math.
The 2000 vote all came down to Florida. Neither candidate could win without that state’s 25 Electoral College votes, and the two candidates were in a statistical tie there. In the final, official tally, Bush won Florida by just 930 votes out of nearly 6 million cast (the New York Times has a great archive of the race and its coverage here: https://tinyurl.com/y26y668r). The final Electoral College tally was 271 Bush, 267 Gore, among the closest in U.S. history.
Biden, by contrast, leads by thousands of votes — tens of thousands in some states, such as Michigan — in enough states to give him a projected Electoral College margin that no recount or court challenge has ever overcome. Plus, as judges keep telling Trump’s campaign, there’s no evidence of widespread fraud that might change the outcome.
While the AP was specifically the target of some News readers’ scorn, the AP afforded Trump the exact same courtesy given Gore — by following the math.
While many outlets, for example, called Georgia for Biden, the AP still hadn’t as of Thursday morning, because it didn’t believe the math justified doing so.
The press all reports that Biden’s victory is according to “unofficial results.” If the official votes change things, the press certainly will report that.
I know they will because they’ve already done so.
They told us that Biden’s lead narrowed in the hand recount in Georgia. They reported how Wayne County canvassing flipped a judge’s race that had been separated by 631 unofficial votes (0.7%).
And, when the Wayne County Board of Canvassers failed to certify results there (Biden won by more than 330,000 votes), then did certify it, and then the Republicans on the board tried to back out again, the press told us that, too.
If anything else changes in this weird, weird election year — like the president summoning legislative leaders from Lansing to Washington — the press will tell us that, too.
Because that’s what they always do.
Justin A. Hinkley can be reached at 989-358-5686 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JustinHinkley.