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Polling service errors distorted Florida election night projections, VNS report says

TV networks also 'bear responsibility'

(CNN) -- An internal investigation by the polling organization that incorrectly said Al Gore won the state of Florida on election night concluded that its projections were plagued by errors all night long.

But the confidential report by the Voter News Service also says that the major television networks, including CNN, bear responsibility for calling the race too soon, according to an article published in Friday's editions of The Washington Post and on the newspaper's Web site.

The networks and the Associated Press created VNS in 1990 as a cost-cutting measure. CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN and Fox all relied heavily on VNS data when they first projected Gore, then George W. Bush, the winner in Florida. The networks were forced to retract both projections after it became clear the candidates were separated by only a razor-thin margin of votes.

A copy of the VNS report, obtained by the newspaper, identified four major errors that contributed to what the Post called "the biggest blunder in television history."

  • VNS had no reliable way of estimating how many absentee ballots were cast, and the final number was nearly double what the group had expected.

  • Gore's projected lead was inflated by problems with the sampling of voters in the 45 precincts where VNS conducted exit polls.

  •  The exit poll "model" itself used by the VNS also inflated Gore's lead, because the group used Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's 1998 victory as the best predictor of how his brother would fare instead of the number of votes received by GOP presidential nominee Bob Dole in Florida in 1996.

  • VNS was not able to correct its exit poll errors for Tampa and Miami because at 7:50 p.m. on election night, when the network calls for Gore began, those two cities had not reported any raw vote totals. At that time, the exit poll in Tampa inflated Gore's estimated lead by 16 percentage points.

If any one of those four errors had not occurred, the VNS might not have called Florida for Gore, according to the report, which was written by VNS editorial director Murray Edelman. But the television networks also must shoulder responsibility for making projections without consulting VNS, according to Edelman.

"It would appear that calls are being made at the minimum acceptable tolerances for risk, with very little allowance for error," he wrote. "If we are to continue in this manner, our decision procedures must be redesigned."


Friday, December 22, 2000


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