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VERIFY: How news outlets call races with few precincts reporting

Every Election Day, news networks and websites call some states the moment polls close. They often do this based on exit polls and historical trends.

Media outlets tracking the election and projecting winners are once again calling races in some states with 0% reporting. 

Understandably, people are asking how and why various media outlets are calling races when they have zero votes to go off of.

These same questions were asked during the primary season. We tackled the question on Super Tuesday.

RELATED: VERIFY: How does the media call races so early?

For the most part, calling races still works the same as it did then. The major difference is that early voting has affected the data media outlets can work off of.


How does the media call races in states as soon as the polls close and before they have any results?


Each outlet has a different system, but the biggest factor in calling a race early is exit polls and historical data. The AP boasts that their exit poll system was specifically made for increased early and mail-in voting.


ABC, NBC, CBS and NBC are in Edison Research’s National Election Pool. The Associated Press used to be a part of this pool, but they now run their own projection models with the AP VoteCast.

Both the National Election Pool and AP VoteCast collect data that is used to project races, with exit polls being a key component of both. The AP explains VoteCast also reaches beyond exit polls -- reaching voters by mail, phone, and online like a traditional poll -- to account for early and mail-in voters. The National Election Pool expanded in-person early voting interviews this year to account for increases in such voting.

A few days ago, the AP put out an explainer on how their race-calling works. The AP said they’ll call a race when polls close if data from VoteCast confirms long-standing political trends they’re seeing in a state.

That essentially means if the exit polls show a strong Republican lean in a state that is historically very Republican, they’ll call it when polls close. 

The AP also said they consider “how many [ballots] were cast in person on Election Day, or in advance by mail or in person. [Race callers] also pay close attention to how many have been counted so far, and how many are left. Another important factor: The voting history of areas where votes are still being counted.”

What that means is that they pay attention to where votes are being counted when calling races, not just the total number being counted. So if all of the historically Republican parts of a state have counted 100% of the vote but all the historically Democratic parts of a state have counted 0% of the vote, they may call the race for a Democrat losing the state by one percent if the exit polls show the Democratic areas will continue voting for the Democrat by a significant margin.

The different media outlets who call races separately follow similar methodology and decision-making, even if it’s not entirely the same. That means that they may call races soon after each other, but not call them at the exact same time.

This is true even of the networks that use the National Election Pool. For example, ABC News has opted to take longer to call races than other media outlets this Election Day and has generally waited until after precincts begin to report vote counts to call races.

NBC says they make most of their calls on election night races “based on analyses of precinct- and county-level vote returns.”

Fox News, on the other hand, call their races based on Fox News Voter Analysis. They work in partnership with the AP and their VoteCast, and thus use the same methods they do to take into account early votes.


Some media outlets call races as soon as polls close when exit polls match historical trends and expectations for a state. They may also call races for a candidate who is currently losing based on where votes have been counted at that point in the night.

Not all media outlets are opting to call races that early this election. Some are taking a more conservative approach.

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