The student blog for Drake University first year seminar entitled Visual Politics

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Election Night

Ben Wildner

CNN: Politics Election Night in America coverage made a strong effort to cover the 2010 midterm elections heralded as the "red wave" or as one of the most important midterm elections in modern American history. CNN's mission statement is to inform, involve, and empower the public. On election night, CNN expects itself to be able to do this with hundreds of House, Senate , and Gubernatorial elections. They also are expected to provide impartial analysis of the results so the American people can understand the likely effects on Washington (and by extension Iowa, West Virgina, Alabama, or California). In order to maintain viewership (to fulfill their actual mission of providing audience members to their advertisers) CNN does not have the luxury of waiting until the official poll results are all in, or even until it becomes statistically impossible for the best contender to claim victory.  If they did that, the broadcast would run too long and become uninteresting losing viewers. Therefore CNN performs exit polls at many voting stations. These are typically strategically placed in counties with histories of voting purple. They see no need to poll Dane County Wisconsin to use a familiar example to me: it will always vote democratic. 

Because so many elections are happening at the same time full attention can be paid to none. The closest I saw this election was the Nevada Senate race between Harry Reid and Sharon Angle. This race garnered a great deal of attention pre-election because each candidate had managed to make him/herself wholly unlikable and got more coverage on election night not least because being out west it was called last and when the results were coming in there was less left to speculate on. Despite having several tables of political "experts" (I hesitate to call anyone an expert in field where the facts and rules are in constant flux) I felt the analysis was lacking in depth. The presentation's that accompanied the hosts were extremely simple too though in that case I approve as their location demands limited information to avoid overload.

The banner underneath the primary screen was also rather perplexing. It featured a central gragh depicting how many seats remained to be taken by each party until they had control of the house or senate yet these did not fully match up with the numbers posted at the same time on the same subject. Perhaps it was viewer error, but I never figured that part of the banner out. More conveniently the percentages of individual races would scroll down there as well. This was the part of the screen I watched the most during the broadcast, as it provides hard data that lets the viewer determine their own opinions about the election and it also provided me with information about the races I was most concerned with when the experts were talking about other races.

Overall CNN was professional in their presentation. They were faced with handling literally hundreds of independent news stories at the same time and performed well. Certainly there were flaws, but if there weren't any I would go back and look again because there's no plausible explanation for a perfect broadcast on a subject that complicated.

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