Media outlets are defending their decisions to call the Iowa caucuses for former President Trump a little more than a half-hour after caucusing began — and while before the caucuses concluded.
The Associated Press, CNN, MSNBC and Fox News all called the race at 8:31 p.m., citing projections from exit polling and early voting totals in a handful of precincts across the state.
The projections were the earliest in some time for the Iowa caucuses, and they immediately triggered criticism from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s campaign.
“It is absolutely outrageous that the media would participate in election interference by calling the race before tens of thousands of Iowans even had a chance to vote,” said Andrew Romeo, a representative for DeSantis, late Monday night. “The media is in the tank for Trump, and this is the most egregious example yet.”
CNN’s Jake Tapper remarked live on air that it was the earliest he could remember the network making a race call.
CNN told The Hill it had enough information from entrance polls to make a projection as early as 8 p.m., once it was clear the race was going to have an overwhelming winner.
The AP said it does not declare a winner in traditional primaries until the last polls are scheduled to close in the contest.
But the Iowa caucuses are different, the AP explained, noting there is no fixed time when all voting ends and some caucus sites might complete their business in a few minutes, while others can take longer to determine the outcome.
“For that reason, AP followed its past practice and did not make a ‘poll close” declaration of the winner on Monday night. Instead, AP reviewed returns from caucus sites across Iowa and declared Trump the winner only after those results, along with VoteCast and other evidence, made it unquestionably clear he had won,” the AP explained.
Decision Desk HQ, an organization that feeds real-time election results and race calls multiple media outlets, including The Hill, called the race at 8:46 p.m. on what it said was “the basis of having votes showing Trump exceeding his benchmarks in several counties across the state.”
“Decision Desk HQ, like all other responsible race-calling organizations, does not call races in elections with defined poll closing times while voters are still voting,” the company said. “Caucuses are different from primaries in that caucuses have start times but no defined ending times. At no point were we asked to withhold our race call — in fact, we were advised by [Iowa] GOP officials on a pre-Caucus media call that they would not be making any announcement declaring a winner.”
NewsNation, the relatively new cable news network that, like The Hill, is owned by Nexstar Media Group, did not call the race for Trump until 8:47 p.m.
Anchor Chris Cuomo on-air said the real news of the caucuses, given projections that Trump would win, was who would finish second between DeSantis and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley. DeSantis prevailed in that battle, with both finishing well behind Trump.
“Now, if you’re flipping around, you will see that other organizations are calling the caucuses already,” Cuomo said. “That makes sense. However, it is not about who wins. That would have been a shocker if it were going any other way. It’s about what is the margin.”
Those criticizing the early calls emphasized that the decisions could have led some caucusgoers to change their votes or leave the caucuses.
A spokesperson for a pro-DeSantis super PAC told The Hill they were at a precinct in Pella, Iowa, where Casey DeSantis, the governor’s wife, was giving a speech. Attendees started to receive push notifications that Trump had won the caucuses.
“You can’t taint the process like that, having a victory declared before people have even voted before arguments have been heard. That’s not right,” DeSantis campaign manager James Uthmeier said during a subsequent interview with NBC News.
Longtime political pundit Brit Hume, on Fox News, argued the projections likely had little impact.
“We are talking here about people who come out on a cold night together at a caucus site, the doors are closed, and nobody can get in, so the opportunity to vote remains,” Hume said. “It’s hard to believe very many people would say, oh, my goodness, the race has been called, I’m going home. I don’t think so. The impact of it seems that the premise is doubtful.”
But Andrew Smith, director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center, described the projects as an “unforced error” on the part of the media.
“It didn’t do anything to make any difference in the campaign, and I really don’t think it made any difference in the outcome,” Smith said. “But it was just dumb. It now created controversy when there didn’t need to be any controversy.”
Julia Manchester and Caroline Vakil contributed.