Poll vultures

By , Arthur Unger is the Monitor's television critic.

What ever happened to election returns on TV?

Remember the good old pre-computer election days when one tuned in to radio or television to get the actual figures on who was winning where? Gone are the days when you could tune in to an exciting flow of election figures on the evening of election day.

All that has now been superseded by what seems to be a three-network TV special called ''The Battle of the Network Projections.''

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On CBS and ABC, instead of early returns from various cities and states this year, we got network projections of winners based upon, not actual votes, but post-voting polls of voters as they left the polling places and were approached by waiting network poll vultures.

For the most part, the good stuff - the actual tabulated votes - was kept secret from viewers so that network pundits could project winners based either upon the post-voting questionnaires or upon detailed figures which if shown to the viewer would allow him to judge for himself who the eventual winners would be. For instance, in New York state, it is traditional that New York City gives large Democratic majorities to Democrats, while upstate gives large Republican majorities to Republicans. If we know that an unrepresen-tative proportion of the votes come from one place or another, it is possible to guess what the outcome will be. On CBS, while the actual figures (usually in percentages) were being shown on the air, the pundits for the most part kept to themselves the fact that the returns from New York City were lagging behind. Therefore, while the figures showed Lehrman ahead for a good part of the night, those who had access to the figures could wisely predict that Cuomo would be the winner.

So, CBS, in its apparent great wisdom, was able to do just that. Since most TV viewers were not aware of the breakdown, they were allowed to remain in awe of CBS projections, which, of course, proved to be correct.

I don't care who makes the first correct projection. I don't care if ABC, NBC , or CBS news covers itself with prognosticatory glory. All I want to know is what the official figures are.

That is something called news. Remember?

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