Television Election Coverage Follows Tradition in the Race for President


Television news outlets turned their attention to the 2016 election on Tuesday night, in the race to see who will be the next president of the United States and more.

Every four years, every major news network turns its focus on Election Day towards who the next president will be and this year was no different. Republican presidential candidate Donald J. Trump and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton headlined the night, with their respective campaigns being the focus of every news network.

CNN, Fox News Channel, CNBC, and MSNBC devoted all their air time to cover the election. By 8 p.m., all major television news outlets had begun their coverage of the event including, Comedy Central and Showtime, television channels not typically associated with news coverage, also put out election programming.

Television coverage on almost every network focused on examining state voting trends and how each state’s electoral votes would fall. The first state projections came through around 7:00 p.m., with Indiana and Kentucky going to Trump. Heavy focus was given to the close race in Florida, a state Trump said he could not win the election without.

Television stations also spoke about and examined Hispanic and African-American voter trends compared to years past. Analysts paid particularly close attention to Trump’s Hispanic vote count following comments he has made throughout his campaign.

Television networks examined United States Senate races, with considerable attention given to former Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio’s win in Florida and Senator Patrick Leahy’s eighth consecutive win in Vermont. The House of Representatives was also projected to keep its Republican majority, with every House seat up for re-election.

Some critics discredit the accuracy when it comes to election night coverage, pointing to CNN’s incorrect call in 2000 that Al Gore had won Florida, but experts disagree.

“Stations are more on the same page today, they’re more accurate,” said Mark Brewer, professor of Political Science at the University of Maine.

“Television stations are very careful, they pay more attention to exit poll data,” said Amy Fried, head of the Political Science Department at the University of Maine.

As the night progressed, questions in accuracy began to surface. At one point, MSNBC had 209 electoral votes for Clinton, while CNN had Clinton at 197. Numbers like this come down to data like exit polls and trends, meaning data like this is more based on investigation, rather than error.

Bias is another issue levied towards mainstream news networks concerning politics, but experts also disagree with biased coverage.

“Television coverage doesn’t favor any one candidate, but not all of it is worthwhile,” said Fried.

“It depends, but I think most of the major stations are objective. Some of the commentators can be biased,” said Brewer.

Television stations discussed Clinton and Trump evenly throughout the night, never focusing on one more than the other.

Third-party support and polling remained higher than years before entering Tuesday night. While rarely mentioned by name, Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson’s vote total was shown when examining state elections on CNN and MSNBC.

At the state level, Independent presidential candidate Evan McMullin had polled higher than both Trump and Clinton at times in the state of Utah.

“Evan McMullin has connected with Mormon voters who don’t like Trump,” said Robert Glover, professor of Political Science at the University of Maine.

McMullin is only on the ballot in 11 states, but hopes to win enough electoral votes to prevent either candidate from receiving the 270 electoral vote majority. Should McMullin, a former CIA officer, win Utah, he would be the first third-party candidate since George Wallace in 1968 to receive electoral votes.

Overall, this was another standard year in television coverage. The election remained close throughout the night and television stations stayed vigilant in their pursuit of the final results into Wednesday morning.