How data is reshaping elections coverage

By Brian Scanlon

Our director of elections services describes the changes he’s seen in the industry, and why data is so important for storytellers moving forward.

We see people everywhere using big data to analyze things, to predict things. Nowhere is this true more than elections, where we’re receiving requests for granular data on past races, turnout numbers and other related statistics — the more expansive a dataset, the better.

“Data has become essential to the 21st-century newsroom,” my colleague Brian Carovillano said. “The volume of data available grows exponentially each year, but this comes as many news organizations are grappling with challenges that make retraining staff and allocating resources more difficult than ever. Our goal is to help them be part of this revolution.”

The benefits of more data include the ability to sort it in ways that reveal leads for investigative and other types of stories targeted to audiences’ interests. We’ve seen this around AP when working with our member news organizations across the country on such data-driven projects as community flood insurance rates, commuting times in U.S. metro areas and oil and gas drilling on tribal lands.

That’s why I’m excited AP will be increasing the number of these reports with new funding from the Knight Foundation. So if you have a research project you’re working on, reach out to us. We may have some information that can really assist you in what you’re looking to do.

Developers want to be able to really look at very detailed, thin slices of information so they can cut down on processing time.

Another trend we’re noticing is that as deadlines tighten – let’s say it’s election night – programmers and developers no longer want us to just give them everything and then sift through it. They want to be able to really look at very detailed, thin slices of information so they can cut down on processing time. So you have in one sense members wanting all the data we can provide, and in another wanting access to APIs to receive our race calls as soon as we enter them into our editorial system.

One of the biggest challenges we face in elections and at AP is making sure the approaches to innovation are wise ones. We want to direct the advances in data science to a place that values increased accuracy and ease of access rather than just being about the latest technology. We want to make sure that we insert journalistic discipline into the process and publish verified information to the world.

Brian Scanlon

Brian oversees the operations of AP's elections services team and evaluates market trends to develop new content strategies for presenting elections results. He has more than 25 years of experience in polling and elections.

insights, data, politics