Was the media right to name Biden president-elect?
- Election Day was Tuesday, November 3, 2020.
- Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the amount of mail-in-ballots skyrocketed. Tensions over mail-in-ballots were high as many believed fraud to come hand-in-hand with absentee voting.
- Before the majority of mail-in-ballots were counted of the battleground states, Trump was in the lead in Georgia, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania. By November 7, Biden overtook Georgia and Pennsylvania.
- As of Saturday, November 7, media channels like CNN, PBS, Fox News, and Facebook broadcasted that Biden won the election with 290 electoral votes against Trump’s 214 votes.
- After the election results, Trump said, 'The simple fact is this election is far from over. Joe Biden has not been certified as the winner of any states, let alone any of the highly contested states headed for mandatory recounts, or states where our campaign has valid and legitimate legal challenges that could determine the ultimate victor.'
As pointed out in the New York Times, media in the US plays a uniquely large role in our elections, 'occupying the place of most countries' national election commissions.' While the rumors of cheating around this election are almost certainly overblown, the influence of the media on results in any election shouldn't be ignored, no matter how you feel about the results of this particular election. This can happen through something referred to as a feedback loop where media coverage of those doing well in polls leads to them gaining more of a lead. This is one reason many other countries have a 'blackout period,' preventing the release of opinion polls around elections.
The last time we saw this kind of coverage before knowing the final official results of an election was during the 2000 presidential election. The confusion in Florida led to Al Gore prematurely conceding to George W. Bush and the media proclaiming Gore the winner. It is worth noting that media outlets such as AP have 'moved away from exit polling,' at least partially in response to the Gore/Bush situation. Since the US presidential race is decided by electoral college votes, not directly by the popular vote, basing such predictive calls on exit polling can lead to misleading results, so this is at least a move in the right direction. While 'blackout periods,' like those mentioned above, have been struck down in the US on the grounds of free speech, the media should, at the very least, refrain from calling the results until the final tally is known.
It is common for races to be called early once it becomes mathematically and statistically certain that a race is over in public elections. Right now, the race is over due to Biden winning Pennsylvania and passing 270 electoral votes. Consider the situation we were left with the morning after the election. Biden had 227 electoral votes, and Trump had 213. Seven states were still undetermined, including Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. By Wednesday evening, Wisconsin and Michigan (with 10 and 16 electoral votes, respectively) had both been called for Biden. This gave Biden an advantage of 253 votes to 213. The ensuing days were tense and full of uncertainty for both parties, with races in Pennsylvania, Arizona, Nevada, North Carolina, and Georgia still counting ballots and tallying results.
Four years ago, Donald Trump narrowly won the presidential election in Pennsylvania. On Saturday, Joe Biden managed to flip the Keystone state and won the presidency; the 20 additional electoral votes were enough to cross the 270 threshold. At 11:25 AM EST on Saturday, the Associated Press called the race for Biden, who held a 34,243 vote lead. It had been determined the remaining ballots left to be counted would not allow Trump to catch up. It should be noted that there has been no evidence of fraud or tampering occurring in this election. Trump and other GOP figures have repeatedly threatened litigation due to the election results; however, there is currently no substantial basis for any legal action to be taken.