WASHINGTON – The phrase “with 0%” was trending on Twitter Saturday, after multiple media outlets declared former Vice President Joe Biden the winner of the South Carolina primary solely based on exit polling that showed him the overwhelming victor.
The early call infuriated many supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders, who finished a distant second.
“Hey look, NYT says Joe Biden won South Carolina with 0% of precincts reporting!” tweeted actress Cynthia Nixon, a progressive and failed 2018 New York gubernatorial candidate who has endorsed Sanders.
Several Sanders’ supporters claimed the call indicated a news media conspiracy against the self-described democratic socialist from Vermont, implying the call was based on nothing but wishful thinking.
‘This campaign has taken off’: Biden’s blowout win in South Carolina could reshape nomination fight
Why are they calling the #SCprimary2020 with 0% reporting? Sounds like they’re desperate to give Biden a boost and manufacturing consent.
— Bloomberg Staff for Bernie (@DavidAgStone) March 1, 2020
Others cited the contrast between the early call in South Carolina with the longer wait following Sanders’ decisive win in the Nevada caucuses.
“Media waited for hours – and way after a meaningful amount of Nevada results had come in – before calling it for Bernie,” tweeted journalist Jordan Uhl. They then denigrated him with vicious anti-Semitic smears. Tonight, with 0% in, media not only calls it for Biden but gleefully declare him the front-runner.”
“This isn’t to say this is some deeply insidious plot but it’s important to acknowledge these stark differences,” Uhl added.
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Pollster Frank Luntz disputed those claims.
“Nevada was immediately called for @BernieSanders,” Luntz tweeted. “South Carolina was immediately called for @JoeBiden because it was numerically impossible for anyone to overtake him after the biggest precincts were counted.”
1.) Nevada was immediately called for @BernieSanders.
2.) South Carolina was immediately called for @JoeBiden because it was numerically impossible for anyone to overtake him after the biggest precincts were counted.#SCPrimary2020 🗳 https://t.co/rZSucTN8JL
— Frank Luntz (@FrankLuntz) March 1, 2020
News outlets made the call based on exit polls that showed Biden with an insurmountable lead. While such polls do have a high margin of error, the difference between Biden and Sanders’ was so dramatic that news organizations felt comfortable calling the race early based on those results.
But exit polls do occasionally get it wrong.
In the 2016 presidential election, exit polls appeared to indicate some battleground states were breaking for Hillary Clinton but they ended up being won by Donald Trump.
Similarly, in 2004, exit polling appeared to indicate that the Democratic challenger John Kerry was poised to defeat incumbent President George W. Bush, who went on to win reelection.
And in the 2008 New Hampshire Democratic primary, exit polls indicated Barack Obama was going to beat Clinton, who went on to win the state.
Exit polls are conducted by the National Election Pool. The Associated Press and Fox News, who were once part of that consortium no longer participate in that pool.
“No matter how good exit polling and other efforts, it’s irresponsible to call an election with 0% of results. Voters have endured enough election fiascos in recent years— wait for meaningful data before calling a race,” said Kristen Clarke, a member of the executive committee of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
No matter how good exit polling and other efforts, it’s irresponsible to call an election with 0% of results. Voters have endured enough election fiascos in recent years— wait for meaningful data before calling a race. https://t.co/Y9E08I7RyN
— Kristen Clarke (@KristenClarkeJD) March 1, 2020
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: South Carolina Primary: Biden called winner ‘with 0%’ of the vote