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Florida Flashback

From this PDF, a riveting blow-by-blow of the disaster that befell one network’s Election Night coverage eight years ago. I’m going to be providing a number of reminders to you guys over the course of the next week that exit polls in particular, and even to some extent the networks’ calls of particular states on their Election Night broadcasts, should not necessarily be taken at face value.

2:15 a.m.: Fox News calls Florida for Bush, giving Bush the presidency.
2:16 a.m: NBC calls Florida and the presidency for Bush.
2:17 a.m.: The Decision Team completes its review of the Florida data and the apparent Bush lead of some 51,000. However, it bases its calculations on information from VNS and is not checking on vote counts of the AP, which is showing Bush with a 16 smaller lead and losing ground, or with the vote counts from the Florida secretary of state. AP has just caught the Volusia County error and has restored votes to Gore, so that AP now shows a Bush statewide lead of only about 30,000. The Decision Team, unaware of this, recommends to CNN and CBS that they call Florida for Bush, and they do so.
Shaw tells CNN viewers: “George Bush, governor of Texas, will become the 43rd president of the United States. At 18 minutes past two o’clock eastern time, CNN declares that George Walker Bush has won Florida’s 25 electoral votes and this should put him over the top.”
Jeff Greenfield adds that “with Florida, he gets 271 electoral votes, one more than he needs. What happens in Oregon and Wisconsin now becomes irrelevant unless by some remarkable miracle some state changes course.”
Much of the discussion over the next hour discusses the apparent Bush victory and the coming Bush presidency.
2:20 a.m.: ABC calls Florida and the presidency for Bush, the final network to do so. AP and VNS have not called Florida for Bush and never do.
2:40 a.m.: The Decision Team relaxes “for the first time all night” as more voting data comes in. VNS shows Bush’s Florida lead growing by just over 4,000 votes to a total of about 55,500 with only 68,500 votes left to be counted. (In fact, there were nearly 250,000 uncounted votes at that time).
With the data it had at 2:40 a.m., “we would have most certainly made the call then if we had not already made the call at 2:17 a.m.,” the Decision Team said in its postelection review. “We would not have been doing our jobs if we had declined to project the race based upon such convincing data.”
2:48 a.m.: Volusia County corrects its mistaken vote totals and Bush’s statewide lead narrows to 39,600, according to VNS.
3:00 a.m.: Most of the remaining vote from Palm Beach Count comes in, which narrows Bush’s lead further to about 11,000. The Volusia and Palm Beach changes make the race so close as to have “eliminated our margin for error,” the Decision Tea says later.
At the same time, CNN’s Bernard Shaw is telling the audience: “The United States has a new president. He’s the Texas governor, George Walker Bush, who tonight defeated Vice President Al Gore.”
Correspondent John King reports from Nashville that Gore ha called Bush to concede and is on his way to downtown Nashville to deliver concession remarks. Gore’s decision is based, in some large measure, on what television is reporting.
The anchors note that Bush’s lead appears to be only about 11,000 votes out of 5.6 million cast.

See the document … pages 10-20 or thereabouts, for the rest.

Nate Silver is the founder and editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.


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