US TV networks tell staff: watch what you tweet on Election Day

Mon Nov 5, 2012 6:10pm EST
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By Lisa Richwine

LOS ANGELES Nov 5 (Reuters) - U.S. television networks face a new challenge in covering this year's excruciatingly close presidential election: prevent closely guarded exit poll results from leaking onto Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms.

The major TV news networks agreed to shield early exit poll data suggesting who is leading in a state until the state's polls close. That means no tweeting exit polls, posting on Facebook, or re-tweeting figures reported by others.

"We will not either project or characterize a race until all the polls are scheduled to have closed in that state," said Sheldon Gawiser, director of elections for NBC News.

Election officials worry that leaks could discourage people from voting i f they think the race in their state is already decided, depressing the vote count and distorting the results. In 1985, Congress extracted a promise from the major TV networks to refrain from using exit polls to project a winner in a particular state, or to characterize who is leading, while voting continues in that area.

The closeness of this year's election between President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney has focused attention on key battleground states - such as Ohio, Virginia and Florida - and what their exit polls might signal about who will win the White House. It has resurrected memories of the disputed 2000 election between Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore - some media outlets projected a Gore victory in Florida while polls in the western part of the state remained open. The networks later pulled back, leaving doubt about who won and leading to a month of r e counts and court battles.

If early results become public, "it can be a real problem," said Jeff Berkowitz, a Republican strategist who runs Berkowitz Public Affairs. "For somebody who's got seven things on their list to do that day, and if they're already being told the election is over, are they really going to prioritize voting over the other six?"

Exit poll data is collected by New Jersey-based Edison Media Research on behalf of the National Election Pool, a consortium of Walt Disney Co's ABC, News Corp's Fox, Time Warner Inc's CNN, Comcast Corp's NBC, CBS Corp's CBS and the Associated Press. The media companies use the findings to help them call results in each state, and to inform post-election analysis.

Reuters is not a member of the consortium and collects exit data with market research firm Ipsos. The news organization will not share any exit data before polls close, a Thomson Reuters Corp sp o keswoman said.   Continued...