Posted in Behind the News

AP’s role in the US midterm elections

, by Nicole Meir

On Nov. 8 The Associated Press will count the vote, declare winners and cover the results of House, Senate and statewide races across the U.S. in a critical midterm election cycle.

Washington Bureau Chief Anna Johnson outlines AP’s coverage plans and explains the significance of the role AP plays in the American democracy:

What kind of coverage can we expect from AP in the run-up to the midterms? Any particular areas of focus?

From now until Nov. 8, The Associated Press will provide robust, fact-based reporting on races across all 50 states and the big issues around the country. We will have stories in all formats – in text, photo, video, audio and so much more.

A huge emphasis this year – which is different from what we’ve seen in previous years, especially in previous midterm elections – is on election administration. AP will produce stories on how races are run in various places and the role of election administrators at the state and local levels. There will also be an emphasis on coverage of candidates that have the potential to impact how elections are run if elected, particularly secretary of state offices. Beyond that, expect to see a lot of explanatory journalism from AP before, on and after Election Day, on everything from counting the vote to the process of certifying an election in various states and more. You’ll also see race-calling explainers detailing how AP declares the winner in any given race.

A voter fills out their ballot at an early voting location in Alexandria, Va., Sept. 26, 2022. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

AP has declared winners in elections since 1848. What should the public know about AP’s role in the election process?

AP plays a unique and crucial role in the elections because we declare winners. This year, we will call more than 7,000 races, from Senate and House races to gubernatorial contests and statewide races ranging from secretary of state to attorney general and more. AP has been doing this for more than a century. We base all our race calling decisions on facts, and importantly, we don’t project winners. We wait until there is a clear winner before we declare who has won a race.

How will AP use polling leading up to and on Election Day?

I want to highlight a few things about polling at the AP. First, we have our own AP-NORC polls that gauge Americans’ views on a range of key issues and look into their levels of confidence in the U.S. government. You will see AP stories written about these polls, which provide important insights into the opinions of Americans.

The other thing I’ll mention is horse race polling—the “who’s up, who’s down” type of polling. While AP sometimes uses horse race polling as a detail to explain the dynamic of a particular race or issue, you will never see this polling in the lead of an AP story or as a headline. A horse race poll is just a brief snapshot in time, and typically, the situation might have changed on the ground before the story is even published.

I also want to touch on AP VoteCast, AP’s comprehensive survey of the U.S. electorate. AP VoteCast is incredibly important because it doesn’t just show which candidate people voted for, but why they voted the way they did. AP VoteCast not only informs our race calling, but it also provides a detailed portrait of the American electorate that is really valuable for the stories that we produce on Election Day and beyond.

What are a few of the biggest challenges you expect to see this election cycle?

We anticipate long waits in counting the ballots, which is something we saw in the 2020 election. We may not know the winner on election night, specifically in close races in certain states. It may take a few days, or perhaps even longer in some races. In that time, misinformation about a particular race can flourish.

Counting ballots all comes down to a state’s own rules, which vary from state to state. Pennsylvania is a good example of a state where it may take longer to know who won, because counties are not allowed to start processing mail-in ballots until Election Day. In any close race — and we have some very competitive races in Pennsylvania this election cycle — it can take a while for all ballots to be counted. This is normal.

Johnson talks about AP’s role in the 2022 midterm elections in this video:

Follow AP's coverage of the 2022 midterm elections.