How does projecting the winner of the US presidential election work? And what is the earliest time at which the election may
To clarify, I'm asking about television networks -- let's define these as ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox News, PBS for the sake of this question -- not other news sources such as the AP
Now, let's break this down into several more specific questions:
) Is it possible that a network calls a state
before all of its polls are closed, e.g. California for the Democratic candidate or Utah for the Republican, based on the assumption that it almost certainly will not break the other way? If not, is this a direct result of 2000 or has it always been this way?
) Extending the previous question, is it possible that a network calls the election
before it has made 270 Electoral Votes worth of per-state calls for any candidate? For example, if at any given time the Democratic candidate has accumulated a projected 200 EV from states east of the Mississippi, will a network call the election based on the assumption that the West Coast's 73 EV will break for the Democrat? (A similar scenario could of course be constructed for the Republican candidate.)
) Are poll closing times this year identical to those in 2004
) Based on the answers to (1), (2) and (3) and any other information, what is the earliest time the election could possibly be called?
I remember 2000 and 2004, and I understand that in close elections it can take a long
time before a winner is projected. But I am too young to remember 1996 and earlier, and I can find very little convincing historical information online.
It logically follows that for this question I'm assuming a not-so-close election, or at least one that might allow for an earlier call than the last two times around. But I feel compelled to note that I am not necessarily assuming the 2008 election as it stands today. I'm asking about what is possible
, not what's likely this time: in other words, this question should basically be equally applicable to 2012 or any hypothetical election, not specifically the 2008 election as it stands today.
Lastly, it goes without saying, but I would ask you to kindly refrain from political discussion -- this is about how election night calls work and what is possible, not about who you want to win or think might win.
Historical bonus questions:
) For past presidential elections during the television era, what time was the earliest network call (for the presidency) made?
) Can you point to any video of this online, or any text accounts?
Let's assume ET for the sake of clarity. And more general information on specific broadcasters' policies, historical examples etc. would also be very welcome.
I'm sorry if this seems convoluted or like multiple questions for the price of one, but since the answer to one question essentially determines the other, I felt I had to break it down like this.
Let me know if anything's unclear, and thank you ever so much for any insight you might have. Thanks!