How CBS News Projects Elections

The CBS News Decision Desk is staffed by personnel from the CBS News Election Unit, as well as academics and political experts. We have a variety of tools to use to help us make projections.

The CBS News Decision Desk will be located in the Flash Studio on Election Night. It is staffed by personnel from the CBS News Election Unit, as well as academics and political experts. We have a variety of tools to use to help us make projections. Those tools include the information that is gathered jointly with ABC, CNN, FOX, NBC and the AP by NEP (our joint Election Day poll operation; the successor organization to VNS):


  • Day of election polls in all states and the District of Columbia

  • Telephone polls of absentee and early voters in 18 states and nationwide. These polls are conducted in the days leading up to the election, and are merged with the day of election exit polls

  • Samples of precinct results from nearly all states, from which reporters collect the actual vote totals as soon as possible after the polls close

  • The Associated Press tabulated vote as it is collected from all U.S. counties. We and the other networks receive an especially fast stream of the AP vote data into our election systems.


What is most important is what we do with the data. CBS News created its own election system, processing the information and adding to it when necessary. The exit polls and sample precincts - and the absentee voter polls - reflect representative samples of each state's voters. Their results go into a series of models that process this information, and look at it by geographic region, past vote, registration levels, and other precinct characteristics. New information (like the actual vote from sample precincts) overlays the exit poll results, so that the models are updated and refined all night long.

We add other information independently:


  • We have stringers in ten critical states tracking vote counting issues which may affect the accuracy (and the timing) of the vote count

  • We are collecting our own sample precinct information

  • We have created our own models


Projections made at poll closing can only use exit polls and absentee voter polls. Projections made after poll closing are also based on actual votes.

Projections are made when both the statistical models - and our experts - agree that we can confidently label a result a "CBS News Estimate" or a "CBS News Projection."