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ABC Tries for a Head Start Over Rivals on Midterm Coverage
NEW YORK —
ABC News says that it is treating midterm election night coverage as if it were a presidential year, promising Wednesday to get a one-hour jump on its broadcast rivals by devoting the entire prime-time schedule on Nov. 6 to reporting results.
The network said its “Your Voice, Your Vote” show, anchored by George Stephanopoulos, will begin at 8 p.m. Eastern time and 7 p.m. Central. While cable news networks will undoubtedly be on the story all day, both CBS News and NBC News previously announced that their continuous election-night coverage would begin at 9 p.m.
“It’s something I’m thrilled about,” Stephanopoulos said. “I’ve never seen a midterm election that feels like this or could potentially be more consequential. This feels like a presidential election, in part because President Trump has made himself the center of the debate.”
Four years ago during the midterm election of President Barack Obama’s second term, ABC had only an hour of prime-time coverage starting at 10 p.m. Eastern.
Starting at 9 p.m. allows CBS and NBC the chance to air two of its most popular programs, “NCIS” and “The Voice.” ABC will be bumping “The Conners,” but the head start may give it an edge among viewers interested in the race. ABC News President James Goldston said local affiliates are onboard with the extra time.
“It’s something that our viewers have shown that they want,” Goldston said. “I’m hopeful that this will be the most complete coverage that we have ever done.”
ABC’s election night will include a larger role for Nate Silver and his FiveThirtyEight blog. That has the potential to raise unpleasant memories from 2016, when Silver and his competitors forecast a strong probability of Hillary Clinton’s election, and saw predictions turn upside down as the night went on.
Silver’s blog on Tuesday showed that Democrats had an 85.9 percent probability of winning the majority in the House of Representatives, roughly the same as what Clinton had two weeks out from the 2016 election. That race was more volatile throughout and tightened considerably in the final days; polls have shown more consistency this year, he said.
Still, Silver said, “I get a little bit nervous when people see 80 percent and round those numbers up.”
“In 2016, people kind of came in with the impression that Hillary is going to win and all the talk of probabilities was just hedging bets,” he said. “People who worked on television thought that, too.”
The lesson of 2016 must be communicated on election night, that 85 percent is not 100 percent and probabilities are not certainties, Stephanopoulos said.
“Everyone was shocked,” he said. “I think the Trump campaign was shocked by how it turned out. That’s one of the things we all learned — be ready to be surprised.”
ABC will keep close tabs on Silver’s projections, updated through the night. Changes will be based on results and not polling, Silver said.
Goldston said ABC will offer a true second-screen option, where viewers will be able to call up statistics on local races. Similarly, NBC is working with Facebook to highlight coverage from local NBC reporters from across the country on the races in their areas.
Goldston is also excited about ABC’s “augmented reality,” essentially state-of-the-art 3-D imaging bringing to life illustrations on control of Congress.
CBS News is expecting a long night for its morning crew: its four-person “CBS This Morning” anchor team will all join with evening news Jeff Glor in leading that network’s coverage. Lester Holt, Savannah Guthrie, Chuck Todd and Megyn Kelly will lead NBC News’ team.
Suddenly, that means Stephanopoulos is the most experienced hand leading network election night coverage.
“I’ve worked in a lot of campaigns and I’ve covered even more,” he said. “I’m going to bring all of that experience to bear on election night.”