The 2000 presidential election was an historic, unprecedented moment in U.S. history — a virtual tie on election night followed by 36 days of limbo, ballot recounts in Florida and ultimately a Supreme Court decision to declare a winner.
It was a mess for the country and also for the major news organizations who create complex mathematical models to match vote results and exit polls to determine the inevitable winner. But in 2000, the result was anything but inevitable. Each of the three television networks incorrectly declared Al Gore the winner of Florida initially, only to withdraw that decision, later giving the state to George W. Bush — and finally withdrawing that decision as well.
"We managed to make two mistakes that night like everyone else did, but it was shocking," said David Westin, who was president of ABC News on that historic night.
In his new memoir, "Exit Interview," Westin explains, "We believed that our 'decision desk' was better than anybody, and that we got it right every single time and we got it right earlier than just about anybody did."
Westin said the election night fumbles led to a series of changes at ABC News and the other networks. The network increased the margin of error for polls, began paying more attention to absentee ballots, and, says Westin, "repopulated the decision desk."
But are all protections in place to protect against incorrect projections in tight races? Fast forward 12 years, to Wisconsin's recall election last week, in which networks and cable channels reported raw exit poll numbers showing the race between Governor Scott Walker and Tom Barrett would be a very close, 50-50 race. Those candidates ultimately were divided by a much larger, seven-point margin.
And with polls showing President Obama and Mitt Romney in a tight race across key battleground states, could the Florida fiasco of 2000 happen again?
Check out this week's Top Line for David Westin's answer.