NBC News relies on two sources of information on election night. The Associated Press delivers statewide vote counts for all Senate and governor races as well as some selected propositions. In addition, county by county results are available on MSNBC.com. The National Election Pool, a consortium formed by NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox and the AP, will provide exit polls, precinct votes in selected sample precincts, and models for the analysis of the election information.
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NBC News will continue to use exit polls, precinct votes, county votes and statewide votes to project races, using the new computer models which were developed for the last presidential election.
NBC News election unit analysts will first examine exit poll information in a given race to determine if the race can be called. Exit polls will be conducted in 31 states. In order to make a call, all three senior election unit analysts must agree, the NBC News director of elections must agree, and the senior news division management representative must agree. If all five agree, a call is made.
If the exit poll information is not sufficient to call a race, usually because either the race is too close to call based upon exit polls alone or because there is a limited amount of exit poll information available, the election unit analysts will examine results from selected sample precincts. If sample precinct information is not sufficient to call a race, the election unit analysts will examine county by county model results. If that is still not sufficient information to make a call, the actual raw votes, both statewide and county by county. When all the votes have been counted, a candidate may be named the apparent winner.
NBC News will not project a winner in a state until after the last scheduled poll closing time in that state. If the election appears to be close in any given state, an abundance of caution will be used before calling a race in that state.
The increase in absentee and early voting has required a thorough re-evaluation of election projection methods to ensure that absentee voters are properly accounted for. This year 9 absentee ballot polls have been conducted.
The head of NBC News’ decision desk, the decision analysts and the quality control desk will be isolated from the calls of other networks. In addition, the entire decision desk area has been physically isolated.
Understanding Election Night calls
NBC News will be clearer about its nomenclature during the entire Election Night broadcast. In addition, NBC News will explain methodology for collecting data it presents. Here are some terms you will hear on TV and read on the Web on Election Night:
“Projected winner”: NBC has made a projection that a candidate will win the race, but the vote count is not complete. This call is made only after all the polls are scheduled to have closed in a state.
“Apparent winner”: NBC has tallied enough votes to indicate that a candidate has won the race, but the results may well depend upon a potential recount or final official tallies.
“Winner”: A candidate who has clearly won the race, beyond the normal margin for a recount. “Winner” will not be used unless returns make the outcome a virtual certainty. Note that neither of these terms refers to the “official” winner, since most states take weeks to certify a winner in an election.
“Too early to call”: There is not enough data in the NBC News decision computer systems to allow analysts to make a call.
“Too close to call”: While there is data in the systems, the numbers are too close to allow analysts to make a call.
Understanding Election Night results on MSNBC.com
As part of NBC News, MSNBC.com receives data from NEP and from the Associated Press. NEP gathers two sets of data on Election Day: Exit polls, conducted by NEP, and projection information which is used by NBC to “call,” or project, a race once all the polls have closed in that state. The Associated Press collects unofficial vote tallies, as reported by election officials.
For exit polls, voters leaving the polling place in selected voting districts are handed a questionnaire with both demographic (sex, race, age) and attitudinal questions (Do you approve or disapprove of the way Congress is handling its job?). They are also asked to indicate how they voted in the relevant senate, house and gubernatorial races, and for selected ballot propositions. Those responses are collected and then transmitted to the NEP, where the results are tabulated and reported.
For vote tallies, results are gathered from election officials in each state as the vote is reported. These are “unofficial” returns because the tallies have not been rechecked and certified by state election authorities.
MSNBC displays the election results two ways — in summary tables and in breakdowns by candidate. Summary tables are used to show overall results for senate, house and gubernatorial elections. This is the summary table for Senate:
The Current column shows the current composition of the Senate. The Holdover column shows the seats not at stake in this election. Seats won shows how many seats have been won by each party. And the New column shows the projected post-election composition of the Senate. At the beginning of the night before any results are reported, the numbers in this column reflect the seats that are not at stake in this election.
The row called TBD shows seats that are at stake but for which results have not yet been reported. As the night goes on, seats shift out of TBD and into Democrat, Republican or other parties. For the House of Representatives, the projected post-election composition also has a margin of error expressed as plus or minus a number of seats.
The House and Governor summary tables are similar to the Senate table.
How to read our exit polls
Two types of exit polls are being conducted on Election Day. One is a national poll, with surveys being conducted in key precincts nationwide. The other type is a series of state polls — in 31 states. Exit poll results are displayed on national pages and state-by-state pages.
On each survey, the answers to both demographic and attitudinal questions are displayed in the left-most “% of total” column. In the example below, 51 percent of the respondents were men and 49 percent were women. This column will normally total 100 percent, within some rounding error. In sum, the left-hand column should be read down.
Respondents in the state exit polls are asked which candidate they voted for in the relevant Senate and gubernatorial races. In some states they are also asked about selected ballot initiatives. Respondents in the national exit poll are asked the party affiliation of the congressional candidate they voted for in their districts. The totals of the demographic and attitudinal questions are then further broken down, or “cross tabulated,” by candidate in the “% of category” column.
In the national exit poll example to the left, 41 percent of the male respondents voted for “candidate #1” in their district and 58 percent voted for “candidate #2”. Of the women, 52 percent voted for “candidate #1” and 46 percent voted for “candidate #2”. These rows will normally total 100 percent, unless a significant vote was captured by third-party candidates. (See outlined row.)
From these results, the reader can see what the electorate is doing this election. For example, “candidate #1” seems to be more popular with female voters than male voters. How accurate this inference is depends primarily on a) how well the respondents reflect the attitudes of the electorate at large, and b) how large the sample is. Proper random sampling techniques are required to ensure the former; for the latter, the larger the sample size, the greater the confidence in the data.
For most of the state exit polls on these pages, the uncertainty is plus or minus 4 percent, which means that the “true” values for the entire electorate are almost certain to be within 4 percentage points of the results tallied for the sample. (“Almost certain” is generally taken to be 95 percent certain, which means that if the poll were repeated 100 times, in 95 cases the true values would be within 4 percentage points of the sample values.) The national exit polls, because of a larger sample size, have a lower uncertainty of plus or minus 2 percentage points.
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