US TV networks to staff: watch what you tweet on Election Day

LOS ANGELES Tue Nov 6, 2012 7:02pm IST

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney's podium is lit up at the final rally of his campaign in Manchester, New Hampshire November 5, 2012. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney's podium is lit up at the final rally of his campaign in Manchester, New Hampshire November 5, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Brian Snyder

Related Topics

Stocks

   
Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, daughter of Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi, adjusts her flower garlands as she campaigns for her mother during an election meeting at Rae Bareli in Uttar Pradesh April 22, 2014. REUTERS/Pawan Kumar

Election 2014

More than 814 million people — a number larger than the population of Europe — are eligible to vote in the world’s biggest democratic exercise.  Full Coverage 

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - U.S. television networks face a new challenge in covering this year's excruciatingly close presidential election: prevent closely guarded exit poll results from leaking onto Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms.

The major TV news networks agreed to shield early exit poll data suggesting who is leading in a state until the state's polls close. That means no tweeting exit polls, posting on Facebook, or re-tweeting figures reported by others.

"We will not either project or characterize a race until all the polls are scheduled to have closed in that state," said Sheldon Gawiser, director of elections for NBC News.

Election officials worry that leaks could discourage people from voting if they think the race in their state is already decided, depressing the vote count and distorting the results. In 1985, Congress extracted a promise from the major TV networks to refrain from using exit polls to project a winner in a particular state, or to characterize who is leading, while voting continues in that area.

The closeness of this year's election between President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney has focused attention on key battleground states - such as Ohio, Virginia and Florida - and what their exit polls might signal about who will win the White House. It has resurrected memories of the disputed 2000 election between Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore - some media outlets projected a Gore victory in Florida while polls in the western part of the state remained open. The networks later pulled back, leaving doubt about who won and leading to a month of r e counts and court battles.

If early results become public, "it can be a real problem," said Jeff Berkowitz, a Republican strategist who runs Berkowitz Public Affairs. "For somebody who's got seven things on their list to do that day, and if they're already being told the election is over, are they really going to prioritize voting over the other six?"

Exit poll data is collected by New Jersey-based Edison Media Research on behalf of the National Election Pool, a consortium of Walt Disney Co's (DIS.N) ABC, News Corp's (NWSA.O) Fox, Time Warner Inc's (TWX.N) CNN, Comcast Corp's (CMCSA.O) NBC, CBS Corp's (CBS.N) CBS and the Associated Press. The media companies use the findings to help them call results in each state, and to inform post-election analysis.

Reuters is not a member of the consortium and collects exit data with market research firm Ipsos. The news organization will not share any exit data before polls close, a Thomson Reuters Corp (TRI.N) (TRI.TO) spokeswoman said.

Smaller news outlets and Internet blogs are not bound by the commitment made by members of the National Election Pool, and could post any exit poll numbers they get their hands on.

In 2004, for example, The Drudge Report posted early results that favoured John Kerry. U.S. stocks dipped, and Kerry eventually lost the race, highlighting that early and incomplete results can prove wrong. A representative for The Drudge Report could not immediately be reached by e-mail.

There is no evidence that exit poll results influence voters, but t he rise of social media means any leaked data could spread like wildfire.

After leaks in past elections, the big TV networks have taken steps to keep a tighter lid on information. While some findings previously were available as early as 1 p.m. Eastern time, news staff are no t to be given an initial look until 5 p.m. - still two hours before the earliest poll closings.

Following a template used in the last three elections, six analysts - one from each news organization in the National Election Pool - will be locked in a "quarantine room" from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Eastern time on Tuesday with no phone or e-mail access, Gawiser said. They will conduct preliminary analysis of the data before it is released to staff at the news outlets.

"They cannot talk to us. We don't know anything about it. We can't see any of these data until five o'clock," Gawiser said.

These kinds of restrictions helped keep exit data under wraps in 2008, when Obama defeated John McCain. The race also was not as close as in t h e two previous elections, or indeed this year's vote, reducing demand for early information.

This year, the tight race and prevalence of social media increases the risk that data will spread quickly if it leaks, said Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism.

"If that were to happen today, with Internet penetration and the speed of social media, that (data) would be known pretty widely," he said.

(Reporting By Lisa Richwine; Editing by Ronald Grover and Steve Orlofsky)

FILED UNDER:
Comments (0)
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.

  • Most Popular
  • Most Shared

Internet Constitution

REUTERS SHOWCASE

Chip Company

Chip Company

Panasonic, Fujitsu to form chip design, development company  Full Article 

Huawei Shrugs

Huawei Shrugs

China's Huawei says reports of NSA spying won't impact growth  Full Article 

Google Mobile

Google Mobile

Google extends reach into mobile apps with new ad feature  Full Article 

Internet Conference

Internet Conference

Brazil conference will plot Internet's future post NSA spying   Full Article 

Declining Growth

Declining Growth

Amazon's eroding tax advantage, bid to sustain growth in focus in Q1   Full Article 

IBM's New Server

IBM's New Server

IBM unveils new server model to tackle big data, analytics   Full Article 

Oculus Deal

Oculus Deal

Facebook gets U.S. antitrust approval to buy Oculus.  Full Article 

Reuters India Mobile

Reuters India Mobile

Get the latest news on the go. Visit Reuters India on your mobile device.  Full Coverage