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How NBC projects election winners

Read about exit polls, results and how NBC News makes election night calls.

NBC News relies on two sources of information during the general election. The Associated Press delivers statewide vote counts as well as county by county results for general elections. The National Election Pool, a consortium formed by NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox and the AP, provides exit polls, absentee polls, precinct votes in selected sample precincts, and models for the analysis of the election information.

NBC News election unit analysts will first examine exit poll and any absentee poll or estimates in a given race to determine if the race can be called. 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, will be considered. 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 race 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. Absentee ballot polls will be conducted where appropriate.

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 clear about its nomenclature during the entire election process. 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 results on 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. 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.