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Decision Desk HQ calls the presidential race for Joe Biden

The upstart election data firm is the first to call Pennsylvania, and therefore the presidency, for Joe Biden.

Decision Desk HQ calls the presidential race for Joe Biden
[Photo: Getty]
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The four-year old election data firm Decision Desk HQ, which competes with the Associated Press and network news desks to call races on election night (and beyond), has beat its better-known rivals to make the call for Joe Biden as the 46th president of the United States.

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It made the call at 8:50 a.m. EST Friday morning after DDHQ projected that Biden would win Pennsylvania and its 20 electoral votes, putting the candidate past the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency.

None of the major networks like CNN, NBC, MSNBC, or Fox have yet made the call.  The AP is considered to be the gold standard, but DDHQ has sometimes made calls faster, using a proprietary system for gathering and analyzing race data. NBC indicated on air that its decision desk was not yet comfortable calling the race for Biden because it is not 99.5% sure that Biden will win Pennsylvania, where vote count results are still coming in from Pittsburgh’s Allegheny County.

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DDHQ looks at the likely proportions of Democrat versus Republican votes in those counties and determines whether or not enough likely Trump votes remain to put Trump back in the lead. It also models the number of provisional ballots likely to be outstanding based on past races. To understand more about the science of calling races and how DDHQ approaches it, read Fast Company‘s recent feature on the company. Decision Desk HQ’s projection models are used by publications like The EconomistBuzzFeed, and Vox.

Scott Tranter, who leads the call team at DDHQ, says they were waiting for a final data drop from the state of Pennsylvania about a tranche of votes cast in Philadelphia. It came in early Friday morning.

“We knew that as long as Biden came out ahead on that Philly drop that that was enough and Biden was not going to relinquish his lead,” Tranter says. “He’s going to increase his lead throughout the day, based on the trending and the modeling we have.” (While I was on the phone with Tranter, Biden’s lead did in fact increase by a few hundred more votes.)

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Tranter says his team could see that Biden was outperforming Hillary Clinton’s vote totals in most Pennsylvania counties. Where Clinton won counties by a half a percentage point, he said, Biden was winning them by two or three points.

“We had these benchmarks and we were getting good data from the state on what was outstanding; we had good pre-election night models,” Tranter says. “We just had a lot of good data points that we could check off the box to know that once Biden was ahead we knew he wasn’t gonna give it away.”

The poll analyst Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight tweeted favorably of DDHQ’s decision early Friday. “Good for them. The outcome has been apparent for a while. No reason other sources shouldn’t follow,” Silver said. “There’s some doubt about the outcome of Georgia and Arizona, still, but Biden doesn’t need those states to be elected.”

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If the company’s call holds up—and it likely will—it could dramatically raise the company’s name recognition and credibility in future elections.

About the author

Fast Company Senior Writer Mark Sullivan covers emerging technology, politics, artificial intelligence, large tech companies, and misinformation. An award-winning San Francisco-based journalist, Sullivan's work has appeared in Wired, Al Jazeera, CNN, ABC News, CNET, and many others.

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