Enough Already

One of the more annoying conventions of political journalism is that on election night the TV networks conspire to pretend not to know what their exit polls are showing in states that haven’t closed the polls. Chatterbox hasn’t made an exhaustive search of the web, but based on what he’s seen tonight the Internet is playing this game too. The justification is that if people know who’s projected to win in their state, they won’t bother to go out and commit the civic sacrament of voting. Chatterbox has several things to say about this:

1.) It isn’t true of Chatterbox, who stopped in at the polls in Washington, D.C. about two hours ago to vote for a mayoral candidate–Anthony Williams–and a candidate for D.C.’s nonvoting representative in the House–Eleanor Holmes Norton–who are both mathematically certain to win. Even though he was very busy. In previous years, Chatterbox has voted for candidates who ran against departing D.C. Mayor Marion Barry, even though they were mathematically certain to lose.

2.) The networks may not say outright who’s projected to win in a given state where the polls haven’t closed, but through graphics and verbal tricks and various other ruses, they’re pretty good at communicating to all but the densest viewers what they know, hint hint, nudge nudge, say no more.

3.) Chatterbox thinks everybody should vote, but he also thinks it isn’t the news media’s business to think up creative reasons why it should withhold information from citizens that may affect how or whether they vote.

4.) If the media is so goddamned interested in bolstering our democratic system, its energies would be better directed toward improving coverage of how well or poorly government’s constituent parts address problems of national concern (for the full sermon, see James Fallows’s Breaking the News or anything ever written on this subject by Chatterbox’s guru, Washington Monthly editor Charles Peters).

5.) Everybody in Washington with the slightest interest in this stuff knows right now what the exit polls are saying. Doesn’t that piss you off?

With that preamble dispensed with, Chatterbox is pleased to report that he’s spoken to someone in a position to know what the network exit polls are saying about the west coast races, where the polls don’t close for several hours.


Assuming the late-afternoon exit polls are right (which they almost certainly are), Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) have won another term in the United States Senate. Also, Gray Davis has won the governorship of California.

Let the hate e-mail from the League of Women Voters commence.

Timothy Noah