Succession Season 4: How could ATN call the election?

Cameron Frew
Jeryd Mencken in Succession

In Succession Season 4 Episode 8, Kendall, Roman, and Tom call the US presidential election before everyone else – if you’re a bit confused about the process, here’s how it works.

Politics have been woven into the fabric of Succession from the very beginning. In the early seasons, Logan repeatedly referred to his conversations with “the raisin”, and in Season 3, we saw the Roys gather with a cabal of conservative elites and influencers to choose the next Republican president.

Episode 8 unfolds over the course of an eventful, tense, firebomb-filled Election Night, with the far-right fascist Jeryd Mencken duking it out with the Democrats’ Daniel Jiménez at the polls.

In the end, ATN is the first news outlet to stake its claim on the winner of the race, and Tom is quickly blasted by other broadcasters for “premature projection” – but how does it work? Here’s what you need to know. Spoilers to follow…

Succession: Election Night and ATN calling the winner, explained

ATN called Jeryd Mencken as the winner of the presidential election based on its wonky estimates coming out of the polls. They took a dangerous leap by handing Wisconsin to the Republican, despite hundreds of thousands of votes being lost, and “boxed themselves in” when it came to calling Arizona, because its 11 electoral votes would push Mencken over their line, not the line, necessarily.

Some viewers may find this a bit confusing: surely a news channel can’t be responsible for deciding who won the election? Shouldn’t it be the results of the counts and only the counts that determine the winner? The system is a bit strange, but we’ll break it down as simply as we can.

So, in order to win the US election, a president must win at least 270 electoral college votes. These are amassed on a state-by-state basis, rather than being centralized in a single federal system.

As you can imagine, it takes a while to count and finalize the results from each state. In the 2020 election, states were given until December 8 to reach “safe harbor”, the deadline for results to be certified. Congress then meets to officially declare the winner of the election.

On the night of an election, news organizations like AP, CNN, and NBC rely on their “decision desks” to follow individual polls and collect raw vote counts to get a fairly accurate picture of which way the state will swing. A call is then made when the figures indicate a majority for a candidate or show that the other candidate can’t make up enough votes to catch up.

These calls are almost always correct – they’re not biased projections, unlike what ATN did – bar a few limited occasions. Most famously, the vast majority of the media called Florida for Al Gore in the 2000 election, only for George W. Bush to win on the recount.

The Associated Press explains: “Only when AP is fully confident a race has been won – defined most simply as the moment a trailing candidate no longer has a path to victory – will we make a call. Many races are won on election night, but it’s not uncommon for it to take a few days – an in rare instances, a few weeks – to reach that point.”

Succession Season 4 Episodes 1-8 are streaming on HBO and Sky now. Episode 9 will be available to watch on May 21 in the US and May 22 in the UK. Check out our other coverage below:

Season 4 cast | Season 4 release schedule | Season 4 runtimes | Is Succession based on a real family? | Who will succeed Logan Roy? | What time does Succession drop?

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