Major news outlets like the Associated Press and Fox News have not yet called Pennsylvania – the state that would give Joe Biden the 270 votes he needs to win the presidency – as of 10:50 p.m. Eastern.
Biden took the helm from President Trump in the Pennsylvania Census Friday morning, and soon after that Vox's constituent decision desk called the state on behalf of Biden. But the other big campaign outfits – NBC News, CBS News, NBC News, Fox News, CNN, Associated Press, Reuters, and the New York Times – haven't done so yet.
As I wrote on Friday morning, Decision Desk called Pennsylvania for Biden because it is evaluating the votes that have yet to be counted – how many there are, where they come from, what kind of votes they are, and how similar votes have collapsed before that the remaining votes will greatly favor Biden. Decision Desk assumes that Biden's current lead of around 28,800 votes, which corresponds to a margin of 0.43 percent, will increase in the further course. (In fact, it already expanded significantly over the course of Friday – it was around 6,500 votes when Decision Desk called the race.)
Many election campaigners share this expectation. FiveThirtyEight's Nate Silver tweeted that the Pennsylvania outcome was "obvious," Cook Political Report's Dave Wasserman tweeted Friday that there was "little reason" to believe Biden's Pennsylvania leadership would fail, and Nate Cohn of the New York Times wrote that "it" seems like only a matter of time before the Pennsylvania race is out of reach, "said Trump. None of the news outlets these analysts work with – ABC for Silver, NBC for Wasserman, and the New York Times for Cohn – have called Pennsylvania yet.
The Kornacki scenario
It is possible that most or all of these branches will be about to call Pennsylvania, but Biden's head start is a little too small at this point for you to feel comfortable doing it. They may be waiting for Biden's 0.43 percent lead to climb above 0.5 percent – the threshold that would mean no more mandatory recount – before calling the race. The Pennsylvania vote count has been excruciatingly slow, so it may be a while before we get there.
A more general problem here is that it would be particularly embarrassing to mistakenly call the state that decides on the presidential race, so that even minor remaining uncertainties can make the networks gun-shy. And the quick calls from Fox News and Associated Press in Arizona for Biden may have made some a little more cautious (it currently looks like Biden will hold his lead there, but Trump has since regained significant ground in the count).
However, MSNBC host Steve Kornacki set out a more elaborate case that there was real uncertainty as of Friday afternoon. (We should note that Kornacki isn't actually responsible for these calls – NBC's Decision Desk is – but he did provide the most detailed public explanation for that mindset.)
Kornacki's argument is as follows:
Biden's lead is currently slim – when he spoke it was 14,000 votes, a profit margin of just 0.21 percent, although it has doubled since then – and the count is still ongoing.
The remaining tens of thousands of postal ballot papers to be counted will greatly favor Biden. However, there is some uncertainty about exactly how many of them will be counted. some could be rejected. So it may not replenish its guidance as much as some would expect.
Most notably, Kornacki said, there are reportedly around 100,000 preliminary ballot papers in Pennsylvania, adding to the uncertainty in this whole situation.
Provisional ballot papers are ballot papers if there are questions about whether someone is really entitled to vote or if there is a problem with the voting paper itself. Most of them have not yet been counted and election officials will eventually have to decide whether to accept or reject them.
The traditional assumption was that tentative ballots were more likely to favor Democrats. But, Kornacki asked, what if not this time, due to various technical aspects associated with the party-political polarization of postal voting? Kornacki pointed out that some Republican-friendly places have already counted their tentative ballots and that they favored Trump.
Note that Kornacki did not say that he believed the larger universe of 100,000 tentative ballots will favor Trump. He just says that he would prefer to have more of them counted so as to feel absolutely sure what is wrong with them.
What's wrong with these preliminary ballot papers?
However, other analysts think it unlikely that the Pennsylvania preliminary ballot papers will restore Trump's leadership for several reasons.
First of all, tentative ballots are tentative – some are counted and some are not. Only those that actually count matter, and that is less than the total number that was cast.
Second, Kornacki stressed that Trump did well in preliminary votes in Trump-friendly counties. But, as Wasserman points out, Trump's performance in these preliminary votes was not much different from his overall performance in those countries.
So far, in the seven heavily red PA districts where preliminary votes have been reported, they have represented only 0.9% of all ballots and only broken Trump 3.7% more than his share of the other votes (76.1% versus 72.4%).
Here's why that's probably not good enough for Trump …
– Dave Wasserman (@Redistrict) November 6, 2020
This is important because Democracy-friendly areas have also had many preliminary ballots – we don't have a full record of all counties yet, but Philadelphia, Allegheny County, and other areas where Biden performed very well will make up a large portion of the grand total . If the preliminary voting is broadly similar to the rest of the voting in these areas, Biden will be collecting votes here – many of them.
To make up his current deficit of 28,800 votes, Trump would have to easily win the entire universe of approved tentative ballots across the state. And remember, Biden's lead is expected to increase as tens of thousands more mail votes are counted in democratic areas. The more Biden's lead grows, the better Trump would have to do in approved preliminary votes to close the gap.
Those pushing for a faster call think the scenario of Trump dominating preliminary ballot papers across the state is fanciful. But Kornacki is essentially saying it's been a strange year, it's a little wiggle room, and with so many potential ballots outstanding, it can't hurt to wait a bit longer and get a bit more information. And we'll see how long the wait will be.
Are you helping keep Vox free for everyone?
Millions of people rely on Vox to understand how Washington policy choices, from health care to unemployment to housing, can affect their lives. Our work is well-sourced, research-oriented, and thorough. And that kind of work requires resources. Even after the economy recovers, advertising alone will never be enough to support it. If you've already contributed to Vox, thank you. If you don't, you are helping us keep our journalism free for everyone by contributing as little as $ 3 today.