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
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
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."