What to Expect From Election Night TV Coverage

CBS’ John Dickerson on what the networks will—and won’t—do.

A TV studio set up for election night coverage, with pundits sitting behind a desk
Fox’s New York studio on election night 2016. Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images

On this week’s Political Gabfest, panelist John Dickerson, who will be part of CBS’ election night team, advised viewers on how to get the most out of Tuesday night’s TV coverage. This partial transcript has been edited and condensed for clarity.

David Plotz: John, as viewers we’re very accustomed to “NBC calls the state of Ohio for Donald Trump,” and then we see the electoral vote count. Are we going to see that same thing next Tuesday night? What should people be listening for as the results start to come in?


John Dickerson: You’re going to see some of that stuff, because you want to give people a sense of the pace of things to come. You want to give them a sense of control of the information flow. If you tell people about complex and potentially confusing information ahead of time, they will be able to process it a little bit better, rather than feeling like there’s just calamity and confusion coming from every direction.


There is going to be a lot of opportunity for calamity and confusion, because you’ve got countries like Iran and Russia trying to destabilize things, you’ve got the president of the United States calling the voting process into question—including this week, when he said there must be a final vote on Nov. 3, as if to suggest that if there weren’t, there would be something wrong with the election. There is never a final vote on Election Day—that’s an attempt to deceive voters.


When you have one of the participants in the election and the most well-known voice in politics in America saying things to undermine the election, that means there’s going to be a lot of destabilization on election night. So you want to try to limit that. You say, look, the night is going to be winding. There are going to be shifting storylines.

Eventually, though, there will be the same kind of call. Hopefully there will be less pretending. If you go back and watch some of the election night coverage in 2000 and a couple of years after that, anchors would announce the results in Massachusetts as if it were leading toward the great illumination of the night’s results. You know which way Massachusetts is going to go, and it comes in too early in the night for it to matter relative to whether a candidate is going to get to 270. But people were always speaking breathlessly about early results because they were trying to get everybody all hopped up. We need no hopping up this year. Everything is plenty hopped up on its own. So hopefully there won’t be a lot of that.


For the president, you should look at rural voters, you should look at non-college white voters, and see if he can increase his share of the vote in those two crucial areas.

For Joe Biden, you want to look at Black and Hispanic voters in particular states. Has he been able to increase his share of the vote in those states? Really interesting are Georgia, Texas, and Arizona, where, if there’s a large turnout among those minority groups, it could represent a connection between Biden and what has been a bit of a mirage for Democrats in the past, which is a turnout of the emerging American majority, the more diverse electorate that we know is in our future. Do they actually come out to vote?

Then you want to look at seniors and suburban voters, particularly suburban women. How do those groups play out in those East Coast states? We know that voters in one place tend to vote like voters in other places. So your suburban voters in the East Coast states are going to vote kind of like suburban voters in the Midwest and in the Sunbelt.

For the full episode of the Political Gabfest, in which Dickerson, Plotz, and Emily Bazelon also discuss voting accessibility and life-changing individuals, subscribe on Apple Podcasts or listen below.