Mr. Tuesday Night
Casting a Ballot is Prelude. The Drama Starts When the Returns Roll In
by Carl Fillichio, Vice President, Weedmaps
The e-invitations, text messages, and phone calls started about a month ago: election night watch-the-returns events (mostly virtual, some in-person — with social distancing restrictions); themed Facebook “live” parties; R&R (Returns & Results) “activations” hosted by local candidates and organizations; friends, family, and colleagues asking: “What are you doing Tuesday night? And can I call you if it gets bad?”
Election Night is New Year's Eve for social study nerds like me.
It was in grade school when I first fell for staying up way past bedtime to watch the presidential election returns on television. I had my own special notebook to keep a tally of the Electoral College votes needed. And it was then that I developed the habit of “flipping a bird” at political pundits on television with whom I disagreed (the only time my mother allowed it and deemed acceptable). A habit I continue.
I remember when the passion sparked: Sixth Grade. Saint Joan of Arc School. Boca Raton, Florida. Mrs. Leah Davidson-the world’s greatest social studies teacher slipped the famous 1948 “Dewey Defeats Truman” photo under the opaque projector, grandly illuminating it onto the classroom wall. Mrs. Davidson who encouraged students to carve Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian columns out of Ivory soap to better understand the ancient architecture of Greece and Rome never met a Lewis & Clark diorama she didn’t like. So it was likely the simplicity of this lesson just her and the photo-that was so impactful.
Mrs. Davidson told the backstory — who Dewey was and how Truman previously and reluctantly became president before their match up. She explained that what voters tell pollsters doesn’t always reflect their actual vote; and how reporters, in their quest to “get it first” don’t always get it right.
With her legendary dramatic flair, (she headed/actually “was” the school’s Drama Department) she explained why it all mattered: “This is why you’ve got to start watching the returns on television. Every single election. For the rest of your life. Voting is the prelude. Calling the winner is prologue. The stuff in between? That’s the story. The drama. The race!”
“It’s the only time in a political sparring when someone is actually winning and someone is actually losing — in real-time,” she implored. “Everything is on the line and there is nothing more a candidate can do. The poles are closed. The chips just fall.”
She had me at “Dewey defeats Truman.”
And for more than 40 years since, if there were election returns to be watched, I watched election returns. I remember Barbara Walters anchoring election night for ABC News in 1980, calling returns in front of a huge multicolored lit map of the United States that looked more like pop art wall decor. The special election night newscast set was quintessentially 80s, from its conversation pit to shag carpet.
Other memories: The late Tim Russert, Washington Bureau Chief for NBC News, who eschewed newsroom bells and whistles and did his Electoral College math live, using a small handheld whiteboard and a black Magic Marker. The TV critics (yes, election night even gets reviewed) panned him, but American voters and return watchers loved it. Tim and his whiteboard became an election night staple. Not long after, cable outlets like CNN introduced the big board touch screens to enhance the election night experience. Watching news anchors desperate to master the big boards during the live broadcast was toe-curling.
When I went out and worked on presidential campaigns, my return watching venues and opportunities varied: listening to NPR’s election night coverage on a portable radio, with a dozen other campaign volunteers in an Ashtabula, Ohio barn, which also served as our temporary home, is a favorite memory. Or watching at the Miami mansion of a political party megadonner, with glittering celebrities, and giant television screens carrying Univision and Telemundo’s election night coverage was a night I won’t soon forget.
Most years, I went to bed knowing with about 98% accuracy, who won the race. But never 100 percent sure. A graduate of Mrs. Davidson’s civics class knew that final results are often weeks away. It’s not possible to count every vote on election night. It never has been.
But I am 100 percent sure where I will be tonight. And it looks like I’ll have plenty of company.
According to the Pew Research Center, Election Day doesn’t end at the ballot box for most Americans (Mrs. Davidson would be proud). People will certainly be paying close attention as results roll in. Almost half of U.S. adults (48%) say they will follow Election Day results very closely. Another 32% will do so fairly closely. Only 6% (Pew characterized it “a mere”) plan to follow “not at all closely.”
More than 60% of Biden supporters and nearly 60% of Trump supporters say they will be following the results very closely. (FYI: PRC has an excellent guide to what happens after the polls close on election night. It’s the civics lesson you never knew you needed.)
But when it comes to where we plan to follow and watch the returns, the opportunities are many. And just like the most popular and in-demand New Year’s Eve party guests, one venue isn’t enough — -multiple channels provide a wide range of analysis, opinion, and the most up-to-the-minute results.
Sixty percent of U.S. adults (the largest segment) say they’ll get post-poll information from the national TV networks (ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS). Cable TV (at 55%) and news websites/apps (at 54%) are nearly tied for second place. Just over 40 percent of Americans will rely on social media to get their election result fix, while nearly 30% will turn to a candidate or campaign for the results. Almost 80% of Biden supporters will rely on network TV or as President Trump calls it, “fake news” for election results, compared to just 49% of Trump supporters... Biden supporters are also more likely to enlist news websites/apps (63% vs. 51%). And not surprising, but nonetheless fascinating: in large measure, Trump supporters will look to the candidate or the campaign for tallies. Thirty-seven percent of Trump supporters will follow results this way. Only, 26% of Biden supporters will do the same.
About three-quarters of U.S. adults say they’ll rely on two or more sources to get their election results — with a higher share of Biden supporters (84%) than Trump supporters (74%) saying they will do so.
I’m one of those adults relying on multiple venues. But I always have the same basic game plan: keep C-SPAN on the one television that is always easily in your line of sight. The station is my go-to when I need to stay-in-the-know while coming down from a CNN/FOX/MSNBC sensory overload.
This year, since cannabis legalization has become a passion and purpose in my life, I’ll also be celebrating “high” voter turnout at the National Cannabis Festival’s Election Night Viewing Party. One of the things I love most about election night is sharing “the thrill of victory” or “the agony of defeat” with like minded people, who share my values, hopes, and expectations. I’ve found that community in the cannabis legalization movement. Gathering virtually as a result of Covid-19 doesn’t dampen my spirit. Besides watching the returns for five states and dozens of cities across the country that have cannabis legalization on their ballot, there will be other fun and educational activities planned for the discerning tastes of the high minded. Yours truly is even being put to work. I’ll be giving a West Coast election result recap.
I know who I’ll be thinking a lot about this evening. While I’m in California, she’ll be watching the returns from her home clear across the country in Florida.
I often wonder if Mrs. Davidson had any idea what the world would be for the civics geek she inspired and prepared for battle. Legal cannabis? Virtual Election Night Viewing Parties? Both a teacher and student of history, I doubt anything surprises her.
So from the roof of my apartment in downtown Los Angeles, I’ll raise a glass to her from the boy she so ably taught. And I’ll raise a joint to her from the man he gratefully became.
Carl Fillichio is a Vice President in the Government Relations Department at Weedmaps. Previously, he served in senior executive positions in the administrations of Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.