Election 2012: How the Post will call key races

As the country waits to hear who its next president will be Tuesday incumbent Barack Obama or Republican hopeful Mitt Romney, a team of Post staffers will be analyzing exit polling and other data — from state and county election returns to updates from Post correspondents —  to call results in key states in the presidential race, in addition to closely-watched House and Senate races.

The 2012 presidential election map, which details key demographic factors and key states in Tuesday’s races, in addition to analysis by The Fix

Interactive designer Wilson Andrews teamed up with embedded developers Serdar Tumgoren and Jason Bartz to create an interactive map that will help readers keep track of our election calls. The map will also include vote counts and percentages for candidates and historic breakdowns of how each party has fared in particular locations.

You can already get a preview of what’s to come by looking at our 2012 projections map, which provides detailed demographic information, historic results by state, and electoral projections courtesy of The Fix.

On Tuesday, the map will include live election results down to the county level along with a live dashboard of results from battleground states. The results map will focus on who is winning (and by how much), highlighting pivotal races and surprise wins. 

“We don’t want to throw all of that [demographic] data in on election night. It’s all about who wins,” Andrews said. “The next day is when you care about why that happened.”

In the hours after the election, the team will start to focus on a few interesting demographics as a custom view for the map. “That will get more to the heart of the story,” Andrews said.

Tumgoren said he and Bartz will monitor Associated Press results on Tuesday, as the Post has done in past election years. For some states, the Post will defer to the AP’s call. But calling battleground states will ultimately rely on analysis from the decision desk, run by Len Downie, a former executive editor of the Post.

Downie noted in an e-mail that he’s “played a role in election night decisions as national editor, managing editor and executive editor since 1984.” Downie will coordinate with the Post’s polling unit, social media team and a team of journalism students to make final calls for key races.

It’s the same role Downie played in 2008, just months after he retired as executive editor. It’s a checks and balances system that has served Post coverage well in recent election years. Downie recalled in his e-mail: “In 2000, I and the managing editor, Steve Coll, decided at the last minute to prevent publication of an election-night edition that would have reported George W. Bush as the winner when we realized that the outcome in Florida remained in doubt, despite network reports to the contrary.”

In addition to the modern tools being used to accurately call the election on Tuesday, Bartz had the idea to borrow at least one technology from the past — key people in the newsroom will communicate via walkie-talkies to ensure that no race is called prematurely.

 Related:

The Fix’s Election Night Viewers Guide

2012 Election Map: The race for the presidency

 2012 Election Map: The race for Senate control

 2012 Election Map: The race for House control

2012 Election Map: Governors’ race ratings

50 States: The top races in every state

Bethonie Butler is a producer and a reporter on The Post’s engagement team. She oversees online comments and has also contributed to The Style Blog and She The People.

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Melissa Bell · October 29, 2012