The US presidential election is taking a long time to complete. The postal ballot counting process required by the pandemic has tested Americans' patience since Tuesday night when we would normally expect to know the winner.
While Adweek relies on established Newswires like Associated Press and Reuters before we report on the election results, several media outlets, including Vox and Business Insider, called the race for Joe Biden this morning (albeit with initial posts "projected").
The steps taken by the news agencies to make the first calls for Biden were not strictly arbitrary. Step into Decision Desk HQ, a lesser-known player that big-name media companies like The Economist, BuzzFeed, Vox and Business Insider rely on for election data.
The impartial voting site is a startup founded by Brandon Finnigan in 2012. At the time, Finnigan was a professional truck dispatcher who stood in the moonlight writing for the conservative blog Ace of Spades. Decision Desk is now his full-time job. The brand may not be as flashy or as well known as Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight, the analytics and forecasting site licensed as the New York Times blog before it is sold to the Disney media. That contrast works for the brand, however, as Decision Desk can brag that bottom line data collection is a critical alternative to AP.
Decision Desk's headquarters was established in 2016. According to LinkedIn, the company has around 10 employees, despite representatives declining to provide the official number of full-time employees. Either way, Decision Desk's work is further rounded off by hundreds of contractors during busy election periods.
The company is still independent and generates revenue by providing its data to media companies. Decision Desk more than doubled sales between the 2017-2018 cycle and the 2019-2020 cycle, the company's president Drew McCoy told Adweek. The company works with a separate company called Øptimus Consulting on its election forecast, whose congress forecasts for the 2018 mid-term elections were about 95% correct.
Finnigan's operation scrapes election results from public websites and uses old-fashioned reporting techniques to get data on key races. Decision Desk has a number of deals with The Economist, The Atlantic, Axios, and even Silver's FiveThirtyEight, according to its website. Speed and accuracy are decisive factors for its popularity: For one, Decision Desk first mentioned the shocking main defeat of Eric Cantor in 2014. The company stated it was the 2016 election too.
Vox has been working with Decision Desk since 2017 and praises the company for its fast, gold-standard reporting methods. Only one race had to be completed in recent years – a Congressional race in California in 2018. (For what it's worth, the AP made the same mistake.)
When Pennsylvania tipped toward Biden early Friday morning when mail-in votes were coming from blue counties across the Commonwealth, Decision Desk made the crucial call. When that happened, popular digital news sites Vox and Business Insider took the Decision Desk call and reported that Biden had won.
"The numbers the Trump campaign would have to put together just don't seem to be there," McCoy told Business Insider, to get a behind-the-scenes look at why his organization made the call. "I can't tell you why others haven't called, but you can see what they're saying," We'll look at the numbers. "And listen, these men and women are professionals too."