When covering Tuesday's gubernatorial elections in Virginia and New Jersey, NBC, CBS, ABC, CNN and the Associated Press will share the same exit poll data, as they have on every Election Day since forming a consortium called the National Election Pool in 2003.
But Fox News, a member of the pool until April, is striking out on its own and piloting a polling system that it hopes will be even more accurate.
“I don't want to knock the exit poll,” said Arnon Mishkin, who directs the Fox News decision desk. “We think what we're doing is going to be superior.”
The project, dubbed the Fox News Voter Analysis, was born from the network's frustration at having underestimated Donald Trump's chance of victory until late on Election Day in 2016. Fox News anchor Chris Wallace told CNN's Brian Stelter in January about a meeting held shortly after 5 p.m. on Election Day.
“We were all around this long table, Rupert [Murdoch] at the head of the table, and all of the producers and anchors on both sides of it,” Wallace said. “They gave us the first wave of exit polls. While it didn't flat out say Clinton was going to win, if you read it, you had to think Clinton was going to win.”
Mishkin said he and a team of seven others have developed a new projection system that includes doing something counterintuitive.
“We're going to be talking to people who tell us they're not going to vote,” Mishkin said. “We're going to say, 'Well, okay, why aren't you voting? And if you were going to vote, who would you have voted for?'”
Here's the logic: “If you think about American politics since 2004, election results are less about who convinced whom and more about who motivated their base better. Who got their people to the polls?”
The Fox News Voter Analysis will start by polling voters on landlines, mobile phones and the Internet four days before Election Day. If in Virginia, for example, Fox News can detect that a significant slice of Republican voters who prefer Ed Gillespie to Ralph Northam are going to stay home because the candidate they really wanted was Corey Stewart, then the network might make a more educated guess on Election Day.
That's part of the theory, anyway.
“Our goal is to come up with a better approach and if for some reason this approach doesn't work, we're totally fine with saying it didn't work,” Mishkin said. “I mean, I'll tell you in all confidence, I think it is going to work. But you do experiments to learn from them.”
Another news outlet, Slate, also tried a new approach last year and broke with tradition by publishing its swing-state projections in real time throughout Election Day. Slate's estimates were off, incorrectly predicting that Hillary Clinton would win Ohio, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Florida and Iowa.
Fox News will keep its analysis under wraps during voting hours on Tuesday, so as not to influence voters.
“The data is going to be fully quarantined until 6 p.m., internally, and we're not going to go on the air with any sort of trend until after polls close in Virginia or New Jersey,” Mishkin said.