The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Who won Arizona? Why the call still differs by media organization.

Allies of President Trump criticized Fox News for calling Arizona’s 11 electoral votes for Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden on Nov. 3. (Video: The Washington Post)
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Original story published 3:34 pm Wednesday. Updated Thursday 3:34 p.m.

More than a day and a half after the polls closed, news organizations still differed on their projections on who would win Arizona’s 11 electoral college votes.

That’s because each organization makes its own determination on calling races for the states. Fox News was the first major one to project that former vice president Joe Biden would win Arizona, a call that came at 11:20 p.m. Tuesday and infuriated Trump campaign aides. The Associated Press followed suit at 2:50 a.m. Wednesday. But as of Thursday afternoon, several other news organizations — including the three big TV networks and CNN — still report the race is too close to call.

Meanwhile, Biden’s lead narrowed from about 90,000 votes on Wednesday to 68,000 by Thursday morning as more results came in from Maricopa County, the state’s largest. Arizona has fewer than 450,000 ballots left to process, which include about 275,000 early ballots from Maricopa. Officials said updated tallies would be released at 7 p.m., local time.

The Arizona call by Fox News and the AP have put Biden at 264 electoral votes — meaning that if they just called a single medium-sized state like Nevada, with only six electoral votes, or Georgia, with 16, they would in effect have projected the winner of the presidency. For the media organizations that have held off on calling Arizona, though, only moving a single state as big as Pennsylvania, with its 20 electoral votes, into Biden’s column would prompt them to call the race.

Fox and the AP differ from their counterparts in the data they use to do their analyses; the organizations came together after 2016 to hire a University of Chicago-affiliated research operation. AP VoteCast, which debuted in the 2018 midterms and conducts surveys online and by phone, is also used by NPR, “PBS NewsHour,” Univision, USA Today and the Wall Street Journal — all of which have called Arizona for Biden. At Fox, the data set is called Fox News Voter Analysis and its decision desk makes the network’s calls.

The AP made its call on Arizona “after an analysis of ballots cast statewide concluded there were not enough outstanding to allow Trump to catch up.”

Trump campaign was livid when Fox News called Arizona for Biden — and tensions boiled over on-air

“With 80 percent of the expected vote counted, Biden was ahead by 5 percentage points, with a roughly 130,000-vote lead over Trump with about 2.6 million ballots counted,” the AP wrote. “The remaining ballots left to be counted, including mail-in votes in Maricopa County, where Biden performed strongly, were not enough for Trump to catch up to the former vice president.”

Fox News decision-desk director Arnon Mishkin went on-air during Fox’s election night coverage to explain the independent team’s methodology, saying, “The president is not going to be able to take over and win enough votes to eliminate that seven-point lead that the former vice president has.”

Meanwhile, as they have done for decades, other major news organizations — including ABC, CBS, NBC and CNN — joined the National Election Pool, a consortium that works with Edison Research to collect exit poll data from in-person and phone interviews.

There was some confusion on social media Wednesday when a technical glitch on Edison Research’s data feed briefly showed 98 percent of the vote was counted in Arizona rather than 86 percent. That blip, which did not affect the other numbers shown in the race, lasted for a few minutes on Wednesday morning and was quickly corrected, according to Edison.

The three major TV networks, CNN and other major outlets that participate in the National Election Pool haven’t called Arizona yet.

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