In 1904, Alfred Ochs, then the owner of the New York Times, wanted to broadcast the presidential election results in a faster, flashier, way. Sure, people could read the headlines of his paper the next morning—but this was the White House we were talking about. The public wanted to know the outcome right away, and the competition to deliver the news first was fierce. So Ochs installed a spotlight atop the tallest building in Times Square. If the spotlight pointed west, it meant that Republican Theodore Roosevelt had won. If it pointed east, the victor was Democrat Alton B. Parker.
This went on until 1961, when radio, and later television, delivered the news instantly. Fast-forward sixty years, and election coverage is now abundant—and way more technologically advanced. The question isn’t necessarily how to watch the election, but what’s the best and most accurate way to do so—especially as the ghosts of elections past haunt our collective consciousness. In 2000, several broadcast networks erroneously reported the Florida results, and in 2016, the New York Times’s election probability needle flopped dramatically from a sure-fire Democratic blue to a certain Republican red.
Below, the best ways to keep up on election night—whether you have cable or only an internet connection. Plus, an in-depth look at the data methods each outlet is using to declare a winner, and how internet platforms are combating disinformation and unverified reports.
’Round-the-Clock Cable News Networks
All the major cable news networks—CNN, MSNBC and Fox News—will be doing around-the-clock coverage on November 3.
CNN: CNN’s coverage will be led by Dana Bash, Wolf Blitzer, Anderson Cooper, Abby Phillip, and Jake Tapper. They’ll be joined by a slew of experts and analysts: Jim Acosta and Kaitlan Collins are reporting from the Trump campaign headquarters, whereas Arlette Saenz and Jeff Zeleny will cover Biden. Also rounding out their coverage? Chief national correspondent John King and Chief political analyst Gloria Borger.
They’ll be getting their exit poll data from the National Election Pool and Edison Research. NEP and Edison have been interviewing early voters, over the phone and in person, since October 13. The latter method is new for this presidential election; Edison only started talking to early voters face-to-face in 2016. Now, they’ll be doing so in eight swing states with the hope of getting a more accurate result. (You can find a full breakdown of their methodology here.)
MSNBC: MSNBC is starting bright and early with Kasie Hunt at 5 a.m., followed by Joe Scarborough, Mika Brzezinski, and Willie Geist’s Morning Joe at 6 a.m. The coverage will continues throughout the day, kicking into high gear at 4 p.m. when Nicolle Wallace, then Chris Hayes, take over. At 6 p.m., Rachel Maddow and Brian Williams, along with Nicolle Wallace and Joy Reid, will broadcast live from New York. NBC News National political correspondent Steve Kornacki will also be showing state-by-state results on what they dub “the Big Board.”
MSNBC will get its exit poll data from NBC, which is also part of the National Election Pool.
Fox News: Fox New’s 8-hour election coverage will be led by Special Report’s Bret Baier and The Story’s Martha MacCallum. The network is vague on who else will be joining them, although Fox News president Jay Wallace told the New York Times that controversial hosts like Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham may make appearances. And what if Trump decides to call in himself—which the president is known to do? “Honestly, we’d have to see what was going on,” Wallace told the Times.
Fox is collaborating with the Associated Press on exit polling (they left the National Election Pool after the 2016 election).
Sally Buzbee, AP’s executive editor, gave an in-depth interview with Poynter on their methodology. “AP decided after 2016 that we would no longer use the traditional exit polls to assist our race calling,” she explained. “They were badly inaccurate in 2016 and they had some issues even before then, which are well documented. Exit polls were built for a different era: when all Americans went to a polling place on Election Day and voted, and survey workers asked them questions afterward.” Instead, they will look more closely at early voting and have a ‘race caller’ for every state.”
The Broadcast Networks
For those who prefer to tune in closer to the results—or want a viewing experience free of pop-ins from opinion show hosts—a primetime broadcast show is the call. Although they touch on the election in various programs throughout the day, their main coverage kicks off at 7 p.m. eastern standard time. Here’s a breakdown of the major networks:
NBC. NBC’s coverage is co-anchored by the network’s all-stars: NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt, Today co-anchor Savannah Guthrie (fresh off of her town hall with the president), Meet the Press’s Chuck Todd, and NBC News senior Washington correspondent Andrea Mitchell. They’ll host until 7 a.m.
NBC will also collaborate with the National Election Pool and Edison on exit-poll data.
ABC. ABC’S programming is led by anchor George Stephanopoulos, with World News Tonight’s David Muir and ABC News Live Prime’s Linsey Davis also on deck.
ABC News, like CNN and NBC, will also rely on Edison exit-poll data.
CBS: CBS tapped Evening News anchor Norah O’Donnell, CBS This Morning co-host Gayle King, Face the Nation’s Margaret Brennan, 60 Minutes correspondent John Dickerson, and CBS News correspondent Ed O’Keefe for election night. (A fun fact: They’ll be broadcasting from MTV’S old Total Request Live headquarters in Times Square.)
Like the other networks, CBS will use Edison-exit poll data.
Livestreams and Live Blogs
For those without a cable package, here’s how to track the results, with no login required.
The livestream: CNN will stream all of its coverage on CNN.com’s homepage. In addition, Youtube will have an election playlist that highlights several live-news programs (although, according to the New York Times, they have not disclosed what those sources will be). The direct link to NBC News’s Youtube livestream is here.
Meanwhile, The Washington Post launched their own live-stream show, “Post Live Election Daily,” on October 28. On November 3, they kick off a special report at 7 p.m.
The live-blog: If you want to read, rather than watch: both the New York Times and NBCNews.com are live-blogging, whereas ABCNews.com teamed up with FiveThirtyEight to publish interactive content all day.
Twitter, too, launched an “Election Day Hub” back in September, which curates tweets about polling, results, and other election events in a central feed. Due to the platform’s track record with rapidly spreading disinformation, the New York Times reports they are limiting the ability to retweet and will remove tweets that support voter intimidation or suppression. An entire team will be dedicated to filling the hub with reliable sources.
And what happens if, well, a candidate prematurely calls themselves a winner? Twitter told the Times that two news outlets will need to back up the declaration before they can tweet.