Articles about "Election 2012"


How the Washington Post made its election-predictor tool

Source | Washington Post

NPR news apps developer Jeremy Bowers discusses in Knight-Mozilla OpenNews’ Source the legwork that went into the Washington Post’s election predictor app.

Bowers worked with the Post’s Ezra Klein and graphics editor Emily Chow to produce the tool, which launched in April 2012 using economic data models from to predict the likelihood of President Obama being re-elected. In the essay, Bowers says the work of political science professors John Sides at George Washington University, Lynn Vavreck at UCLA, and Seth Hill at Yale (now of UC-San Diego) was integral to the process. Read more

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Why The New York Times, Washington Post called the election late

The New York Times
NBC called the election at 11:14 p.m. ET Tuesday night. The magnificently cautious Associated Press waited until 11:38 p.m. So why didn’t The New York Times sign off on another four years of Barack Obama until 12:03 a.m. Wednesday, Public Editor Margaret Sullivan asks.

Unlike the television networks, which depend on their combined exit polls in calling elections, The Times prefers to look at real numbers in addition to exit polls, said Janet Elder, an associate managing editor who is part of The Times’s election “decision desk.”

“We have been disciplined” she said, “and it has paid off.”

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Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney delivers his concession speech at his election night rally in Boston, Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

Gaffes defined and defied campaign narratives, but did they affect who won?

As Mitt Romney visited Poland this summer, Washington Post reporter Phil Rucker shouted a question to the candidate that revealed a lot about the media’s coverage of the campaign.

“What about your gaffes?” Rucker called out, as Gov. Romney walked to his car in Warsaw.

The governor didn’t answer, but the question highlighted the focus of much of the media’s day-to-day narrative. Journalists, bloggers, pundits — and sometimes the campaigns themselves — gleefully piled on after either candidate committed a perceived misstep or uttered an inelegant statement.

From President Obama’s declaration that “the private sector is doing fine” (labeled as an “economic gaffe” by ABC News) to Gov. Romney’s admission that “I’m not concerned about the very poor” (a possible “monster gaffe,” declared The Week), the campaign narrative often centered more on the candidates’ offhand ad libs than their platforms or policy records.

Many of the verbal miscues provided media fodder only for a couple of news cycles before being quickly forgotten. (Neither Obama’s August “spelling gaffe” nor Romney’s “CookieGate” comments got much attention outside of partisan media.)

But a handful of the unscripted statements had major roles in setting — or changing — the media narrative of the campaign. While it’s not clear whether any of the remarks had a lasting impact on voters, several received extensive attention in the mainstream media, on blogs, and in social media.

“The gaffes are easy to cover,” said Southern Methodist University Journalism Professor Tony Pederson. “They don’t require a lot of digging; they’re just a quick and dirty story.”

Among the candidate utterances that became campaign memes:

“Corporations are people, my friend”

Romney’s response to protesters at the Iowa State Fair came early in the campaign, long before he secured the Republican nomination. But almost immediately, pundits accurately predicted it would provide fodder for Democratic attack ads. While Romney seemed to be trying to say that corporate profits benefit shareholders, the retort helped form his public persona as a rich businessman who identified more with Wall Street than Main Street – an image he continued to foster through later comments including his out-of-context remark that, “I like being able to fire people,” his proposed $10,000 bet with Texas governor Rick Perry, and his secretly recorded dismissal of “47 percent of the people.

“One of Romney’s problems is that a number of these gaffes helped develop a storyline,” said Steve Frantzich, a U.S. Naval Academy political scientist and author of “OOPS: Observing Our Politicians Stumble.”

“There are 47 percent of the people … who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims”

About that secret video, originally obtained by Mother Jones: It led the evening newscasts on the broadcast networks, was reported on the front page of The New York Times, reverberated through social media, and even had the pro-Republican Wall Street Journal editorial page suggesting that Romney deserved to lose if he couldn’t express a more inclusive political vision.

The video had several elements that helped it break through the noise of a continuously-covered campaign. Not only did it tend to reinforce concerns from some voters about Romney’s ability to relate to them, it also had an element of “reality television” to it. Covertly recorded inside a high-dollar fund-raiser, it allowed Americans to see the candidate speaking frankly at a time he believed he was out of broad public view.

Romney briefly slipped in the polls after the release of the video, and his campaign was forced to spend time and resources on damage control. Still, “the 47%” remained a major theme of political coverage – and Obama’s campaign – until Election Day.

AP Caption: “Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney delivers his concession speech at his election night rally in Boston, Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012.” (Charles Dharapak/AP)

“You didn’t build that”

Obama’s campaign experienced its own diversion following a July speech in which he spoke about the role of schools, roads, bridges, and other public infrastructure. “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen,” the President said.

While the Obama campaign claimed his comment was taken out of context, the quote became a sensation. While Obama made TV commercials attempting to explain his remarks, Romney adopted a campaign theme of, “We Built It.”

There’s no evidence that Obama’s remarks affected his poll numbers. But a LexisNexis search found more than 800 news stories, interviews, and talk shows that referenced the controversial comments. Radio and television hosts Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Glenn Beck were among the first to mention them, and after Romney personally called out Obama for the speech, it exploded into the mainstream media.

“They brought us whole binders full of women”

Perhaps as much for its unusual imagery as its policy content, Romney’s anecdote at the second presidential debate sparked a sudden social media frenzy. Within hours after Romney used the phrase to describe his effort to recruit female cabinet secretaries in Massachusetts, the hashtag #bindersfullofwomen began trending on Twitter, while the phrase sparked a popular Tumblr account and became a top search term on Google.

It also led to more than 1,400 news stories and helped rekindle a wider discussion of women’s issues in the campaign, where Democrats had for months been accusing Republicans of waging a “war on women.” Romney already had repudiated Missouri Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin, whose comments about “legitimate rape” Romney termed “offensive.” He would later try to distance himself from Indiana GOP Senate hopeful Richard Mourdock, who said that if a woman becomes pregnant as a result of rape, “that is something God intended to happen.” Both Akin and Mourdock lost.

Though it’s again not clear whether the specific comments changed people’s votes, exit polls suggested that Romney struggled to connect with female voters. Obama attracted the support of 55 percent of women, while Romney won 44 percent.

“You said in the rose garden the day after the attack it was an act of terror?” Compared with most of the other narrative-changers, the candidates’ exchange over the Benghazi embassy attack in the same debate was neither as brief nor as easily edited into sound bites and political ads. But it was a leading topic of post-debate analysis, and it likely helped the President regain support after a weak performance in the previous debate.

Romney got tripped up while criticizing Obama’s immediate reaction to the attack, and moderator Candy Crowley – in a controversial interjection – largely supported the President’s version of events. The exchange was highlighted in much of the post-debate coverage, with the Denver Post calling it a “major gaffe” and CNN saying, “Romney left voters with the impression that he wasn’t familiar with all the facts.”

The Pew Center for Excellence in Journalism found that the media narrative of the race shifted following the debate. Coverage of Romney was largely balanced prior to the event, with 23 percent of news stories judged as “positive,” 23 percent “negative,” and the rest “mixed.” After the second debate, the positive number fell to 14 percent, with 45 percent negative. Obama’s positive/negative percentages improved slightly from 12/37 before the debate to 17/34 afterward.

Romney largely avoided the issue of the embassy attack in the final debate, sidestepping a topic that many pundits felt was among Obama’s greatest liabilities.

Throughout the campaign, media observers – and even Romney himself — expressed dismay about the degree to which so-called gaffes propelled the political coverage. At the same time, though, the campaigns, the mainstream media, and the social media community all had reasons to promote a gaffe-fueled narrative.

Candidates hoped that exploiting their opponent’s inarticulate ad-libs would motivate base voters, put the other side on the defensive, and allow the campaign to talk about something other than controversial policy issues.

TV networks and other traditional media organizations with 24-hour news cycles hoped to parlay each provocative utterance into hours of news stories and talking-head fodder.

And in an online environment where political punditry is dispensed 140 characters at a time, gaffes and tweets seemed made for each other.

“They’re just such appealing kinds of stories and so easy to jump on,” Frantzich said, predicting that this year’s election may provide a new model for campaigns and political coverage – one that’s driven less by big ideas and policy debates, and more by opportunistic scrutiny of each candidate’s misstatements.

“We can blame the media slightly, but the audience is really attracted to these kinds of stories,” Frantzich said. Read more

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Backgrounds become foreground in election night images

Elections provide journalists great lessons about the power of visual journalism, especially election nights.

When Mitt Romney delivered his concession speech, he was standing on a stage, alone, with flags and a big red, white and blue screen behind him. He accepted the loss alone. His running mate, Paul Ryan, is spared the damage of being photographed at a low moment. Romney spoke lovingly of his wife, but out there by himself, his statement — “She would have been a wonderful first lady” — took on a genuine pain that might have felt forced if she were standing there with him.

Image captured from CBS News coverage

Contrast that with Obama’s victory speech, when cheering throngs surrounded him and his family. In 2008, on election night, Obama stood outside in the Chicago cold with his family. Standing outside sent an “outsider” message that a decked out convention hall with high tech visuals cannot. It also sent a “connected” message: I am one of you. Especially in his first campaign, that feeling was vital to Obama’s victory. He was connecting with the disenfranchised. It is harder for an incumbent to pull off.

Election night 2012, Obama stood behind the seal of President of the United States. But the crowds that surrounded him sent the visual message that “although he is President, he still is a man of the people.” He hugged his daughters, while supporters in the background wept.

Image captured from NYT.com coverage

The old fashioned bunting is more quaint. The reason for using the bunting may be to include the flag colors without blocking anybody’s view with big flags on the stage.

For me, one of the most powerful images of election night was NBC’s Rockefeller Plaza set, lined with giant American flags snapping in the stiff breeze of a new Atlantic storm on the way.

NBC used Rockefeller Center for its election coverage.

The network projected the electoral vote onto the side of the skyscraper. One media watcher wondered if the New Yorkers without electricity could see it.

CNN meanwhile used the Empire State Building to show the colorful results.

To truly appreciate the effect of backgrounds, consider what you would have seen watching NBC on election night in 1960. Black and white images, no waving flags, no patriotic drums and trumpets and moving graphics and interactive maps. Just white men delivering facts and figures.

Even while the networks and wire services declared winners and losers, even after the outcome was no longer in doubt, the images of Floridians standing in line waiting to vote will be an enduring reminder of another Florida election failure.

From WTVJ Miami

The Miami photo reminds me of the pictures we saw from Baghdad’s first election after Saddam Hussein or South Africa’s vote in 2009.

“People queue to cast their votes at a polling station in the Katlehong township, east of Johannesburg, South Africa, Wednesday, April 22, 2009. Voters lined up before sunrise Wednesday in an election that has generated an excitement not seen since South Africa’s first multiracial vote in 1994,” reports the AP. (Denis Farrell/AP)
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Why photo of the First Couple was Obama’s most retweeted ever

Images and graphics are often the things shared most by people after an event of last night’s magnitude.

Photos capture moments frozen in time.

Graphics can distill the complex.

Interactive graphics can allow people to peruse and discover at their own pace.

Illustration is striking—partly because it is used so infrequently—and because something drawn by hand can convey a very human aspect of mood and emotion.

There were some masterful examples of visual storytelling captured, created, experienced and shared in real-time around the world last night.

Here are a few things that caught our attention.

This image of President Obama and the first lady was tweeted out by his staff minutes after he was re-elected for a second term with the phrase: “Four more years.” Twitter reports it is his most re-tweeted tweet, ever.

“The Obama machine understood both the closeness of the race and the power of his image,” said Kenny Irby. The president and his staff took total control of his image throughout the day. Obama had not been seen or documented since early in the morning.

“I am struck by the fact that this image was clearly documented much earlier in the day and that the caption does not represent it as a reflection of a specific time during the counting of the ballots or some such event,” said Irby.

There is a controlled branding to this choice. “It was not about what the event was, but rather who was in the image,” said Irby. “Millions only cared to see the unity of the first couple and the victory associated with that.”

Photojournalism is changing the way photos are shared and exchanged. “It is no-longer only the pursuit of deeply passionate, highly skilled practitioners with an abiding zeal to shine light in dark places and offer a face to the faceless,” said Irby.

Captured four years apart, two key moments in the Obama family life show the president a little grayer and his daughters more mature. These “Today” show photos allow juxtaposition in ways that other story forms can’t touch.
Among the many great photos published during the campaign and election by White House photographer Pete Souza, this moment between running mates and their spouses is a visual surprise that few people would otherwise see.

Many interactive graphics had a game-like feel to them, coaxing users back again and again to play through the scenarios even before the election. Some incorporated elements of social media, so a stream of conversation happened alongside the graphic.

Countless people watched vote totals unfold graphically on multiple screens—perhaps with a laptop open to The New York Times’ 512 possible paths to the White House and NPR’s interactive that was created in fully responsive design so that it could be easily updated and used on virtually any device, platform or browser.

The U.S. interactive team of the Guardian used humor and illustration to create the hysterical “Action-packed journey to US election day in novel form.” Proof that visual storytelling can be both data-driven and highly entertaining, the interactive has been shared more than 10,000 times. Read more

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Karl Rove challenges Fox’s election-night data operation in ‘odd civil war’

Tampa Bay Times | The New York Times | Slate | The Washington Post | The Atlantic Wire
After Fox called Ohio for President Obama Tuesday night, Karl Rove challenged the network’s decision, leading to the unusual sight of anchor Megyn Kelly being filmed walking through Fox’s corridors to interview people at the network’s decision desk. I couldn’t find one clip of the whole episode, but here it is in three parts: Read more

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Screen Shot 2012-11-07 at 10.28.51 AM

Mistakes were made, but few on election night

The 2012 election will not be remembered for what the press got wrong.

News organizations made some mistakes on election night but quickly corrected them. That’s about as good a result as one can hope for on an evening where so many things can and often do go wrong.

The most notable election error was a rumor that spread on Twitter claiming NBC News had declared Elizabeth Warren the winner in her Massachusetts race for the Senate. (This was before she actually won.)

ThinkProgress and New York Magazine each passed along the information and then tweeted corrections. (CAP deleted the tweet and I don’t see a correction in its timeline):

Journalists took note and helped debunk the rumor:

In a positive development, NBC realized the rumor was spreading and decided to get Brian Williams to debunk it live on air. NBC News also sent out a tweet:

NBC News’ Lou Dubois helped spread the correct information:

And he offered a reminder to journalists:

Some news sites did make errors. The New York Times reported on a mistake that The Wall Street Journal made:

This election night’s first award for making a wrong call goes to The Wall Street Journal.

At 9:04 p.m., the paper sent out an alert saying that Mitt Romney had won his native state of Michigan and credited The Associated Press with the story. At the same time, reporters were describing on Twitter the “dead silence” ringing through Romney headquarters that he had lost the state.

The Journal made a quick turnaround. By 9:10 p.m., it had corrected its error.

Digital First’s Adrienne LaFrance also tweeted about getting the mistaken alert:

The incorrect WSJ call may have been related to the fact that AP at one point also mistakenly called Michigan for Romney. It issued this correction alert:

WASHINGTON (AP) — CORRECTS: Obama wins NY, MI; Romney wins NE, WY, KS, LA, SD, TX, ND. (Corrects APNewsAlert )

Finally, as Jim Romenesko noted, the Cincinnati Enquirer mistakenly published a chart of voting data that was filled with dummy results rather than the real thing. It issued a correction:

A Cincinnati.com front-page link to a chart with dummy data, created as a design template for election results, was inadvertently posted early Tuesday morning.

It purported to show early voting totals in Ohio counties. However, no votes have been counted yet – by law counting doesn’t start until the polls close.

Cincinnati.com regrets the error.

It wasn’t a perfect night, but it’s encouraging that The Wall Street Journal and the Cincinnati Enquirer quickly issued corrections. And when NBC News was a victim of misinformation, it did a good job spreading the correct information on television and on Twitter.

Other mishaps: ABC had a brief blackout and Diane Sawyer was loopy.

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How the Tampa Bay Times covered Election Day

Covering a presidential election in a swing state like Florida is all about preparing for the unknown.

Adam Smith, political editor for Poynter’s Tampa Bay Times, had planned to write three stories on Election Day: an analysis about the race being undecided, another one about Barack Obama winning and another one about Mitt Romney winning.

But he only ended up writing one.

“As the results started coming in, I felt more comfortable writing the ‘Obama is winning’ story,” Smith told me just after Obama was re-elected. “I would have been screwed if suddenly Romney had launched a comeback. I could have adjusted, but I didn’t give myself a lot of time.” 

Preparing for a close election

Amy Hollyfield, assistant managing editor/politics, was the driving force behind the Times’ Election Day preparations. The paper spent weeks getting ready and making sure everyone knew what their roles would be, Hollyfield told me Tuesday, during the 10 hours I spent reporting in the Times newsroom.

Managing Editor Mike Wilson said he woke up Tuesday morning thinking of possible headlines for the next day’s paper: “It’s Mitt.” “Four More.” “No Change.” “Mitt Is it.” He talked about the power of one-word headlines and said the two-word headlines he thought of seemed too wordy. In 2000, the Times went with a simple choice: “Recount.”

Ron Brackett, assistant managing editor/editing and design, said Wednesday’s front page was designed several days in advance. He learned after the 2000 presidential election that this kind of prep work pays off. “The stuff you can get a handle on — get it done early and get it out of the way,” he said. “You want as much time left for that final story as possible.”

Brackett, who oversees the Times’ designers and copy editors, said the paper had six designers working on the A and B section pages, and 20 people editing copy. He talked with copy editors ahead of time about catching common election mistakes — making sure reporters correctly used terms like “percentage points,” “ratio” and “margin” when referring to election results.

@PoliticsTBTimes tweeted this photo, which shows Times editors preparing for election coverage.

Staffers from all of the Times’ bureaus contributed to the election coverage. Prior to the election, St. Petersburg City Editor Heather Urquides met with reporters in the Times’ main office to address the paper’s expectations for Election Day. She talked about meeting deadlines, writing background information early, and not reporting vote totals until final results came in.

Jennifer Orsi, deputy managing editor/metro and business, said Urquides also talked with reporters about what the Times editors look for in election stories.

“We are covering so many elections that space is at a premium, so ideally we look for a tightly written story that conveys the results — or the lack of results — and includes comments and reactions from all the candidates in a race,” Orsi said. “We sometimes find the losing candidates like to disappear when we’re calling for quotes and sometimes we don’t get them, but ideally we have everyone represented who campaigned.”

Other departments also spent the past week talking about how they would cover Election Day and night. Boyzell Hosey, director of photography/multimedia, said the paper’s photojournalists started taking voting-related photos at 6:30 a.m. Tuesday morning.

“We knew we were going to flip the switch on the election edition of the website at 7 a.m., so we took a look at everything that needed to be covered and looked at it with a sense of urgency,” Hosey said. “We made sure we had photos at 6:45 a.m. — even if it was a dark, low light photo — so people would know we were out hitting the streets. I asked the photographers to shoot and send liberally, so we [could] constantly update our photo galleries.”

Visuals were a critical part of the Times’ coverage. On the interactive side, Darla Cameron and William M. Higgins created a Florida election results map that showed preliminary results by county. The map relied on Associated Press data and automatically updated every five minutes thanks to a Python script.

Utilizing social media

Times staffers were also encouraged to take video and use social media while reporting. Prior to the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Digital Audience Specialist Amber McDonald offered one-on-one training to staffers who wanted to improve their social media skills. During the week of the RNC, social media referral traffic to tampabay.com quadrupled, McDonald said.

Digital Content Editor Anne Glover said that since then, Times staffers have integrated social media into their workflow. “It got us thinking about engaging people and doing calls to action,” Glover said. “We’re still getting good at it, but it’s more of a routine than a challenge.”

During election night, the Times utilized Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to find story ideas, share their work and interact with readers. A Storify showcases the Times’ social media efforts.

Making last-minute decisions

Just after 9 p.m., approximately 1,000 votes separated Romney and Obama in Florida.

“With 6.86 million votes counted in Florida, it’s Obama 49.58, Romney 49.58!” tweeted Alex Leary, who wrote about Obama’s victory.

Some editors, including Ron Brackett, kept track of the election results by coloring in this map. “I let someone else use my red and blue crayons,” Brackett wrote on Facebook. “I had to go with orange and a lighter blue.”

Wilson and Brown talked with other editors about the coverage. Hollyfield was corresponding with reporters in Tallahassee, where the Times shares a bureau with the Miami Herald. Around 9:30 p.m., she posted a story by Marc Caputo that addressed an important question: What happens if there’s a recount in Florida?

By 11:30 p.m., it was clear that Obama was going to be re-elected. The Times decided on an “Obama Again” headline for the first edition of Wednesday’s paper. Editor Neil Brown said the Times also considered “A Second Act” and “Rehired,” and was planning to change the headline for the second and third editions. The tone of the “Obama Again” headline, he said, seemed a bit off.

The Times didn’t have a photo of Obama accepting his win, so instead it ran an AP photo of Obama leaving the campaign office Tuesday morning.

“Later, we’ll get an acceptance photo,” Brown said just before midnight. “For the first edition, you’ve got to go with the best you can. We’re lucky; there was clarity before the first edition. Rarely does that happen.”

The first edition of the paper appears courtesy of the Tampa Bay Times.
The first edition of the paper appears courtesy of the Tampa Bay Times.
The third edition of the front page appears courtesy of the Newseum.
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Networks call election for President Obama before 11:30 p.m.

It turns out it wasn’t such a long night after all. By 11:18 p.m. — without final numbers from Florida or Virginia — President Obama was declared the winner, re-elected for a second term with Ohio carrying him over 270 electoral votes. NBC and Fox News called the election earliest, followed by CNN. The Associated Press called the race a bit later, around 11:38 p.m. Read more

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5 really cool things we saw on election night

News organizations are pulling out some special efforts for election night. Here’s a handful of the coolest projects we’ve seen.

The WNYC map

“We knew that The New York Times, L.A. Times, The Chicago Tribune — everybody would be doing the red-blue map,” John Keefe, Senior Editor for Data News & Journalism Technology at WNYC, told me Tuesday night. “We thought, what can we offer that would be different?”

The result was this map, which categorizes the vote results by the “community types” designated by the Patchwork Nation project. So at a glance you can see how communities with labels like “military bastions,” “monied ‘burbs,” and “tractor country” are voting. Read more

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