Brandon Finnigan and his Decision Desk have a goal to scoop the networks in the 2016 primary race. And they are going to do it.
Finnigan’s vision for Decision Desk (the newly launched service decisiondeskhq.com has moved away from the Ace of Spades blogging content as a separate product) has always been to free election coverage from the iron-shackled servitude of the Associated Press. In a 2014 interview with Buzzfeed, Finnigan said, “I want to fundamentally change how results are reported.”
And now, Decision Desk is ready to make its big debut on the national stage.
All the networks and news sources have for years gotten their data from the AP, so everyone shows the same vote counts, precinct reporting and the only difference is who calls a race first. DD turns that on its ear, focusing on fast, accurate results without the endless and breathless drama injected by the networks seeking ratings.
My disclosure: I’ve been part of this project for more than a year. Back in June 2014, I read a post by Neil Stevens on RedState, that Ace of Spades HQ was asking for volunteers for a project they called the AOSHQ Decision Desk. I fired off an email to Finnigan. And so I was one of the original twelve to help cover the Michigan Republican primary on August 5, where now-embattled Gov. Rick Snyder easily won his re-election slot, Rep. Justin Amash fought off Brian Ellis, and Rep. Dave Trott dumped incumbent Kerry Bentivolio for the 11th district.
It was fun. Finnigan’s attention to detail (he’s a truck dispatcher who can find a driver’s missing load a thousand miles away seemingly by telepathy—he actually demonstrated this during our recent phone conversation) and finely tuned data model beat the AP in every single race that night. It’s like having Carnac the Magnificent work with real election results in realtime.
In 2016, the early results are pointing to the long-term. The winner in Iowa will matter, but the second and third place may matter more—especially in New Hampshire. Finnigan said:
It’s not necessarily about getting the top name. What will matter in the long haul in a lot of these races, is figuring out who is number 2 and who is number 3. Because that’s the path for some of these candidates trying to go the long distance.
With incredibly detailed models based on 38 years of election data, fast and direct reporting, and “secret sauce” which Finnigan wouldn’t disclose, DD should be able to offer faster, more accurate insights on races than any other news source. Starting with the New Hampshire primary, the service is putting its two years of development and trials to the test. Having seen the operation, I’m confident they will rule the night.
Here’s why: New Hampshire’s “hangup” is the fact that between 12 and 18 precincts keep their polling locations open until 8 p.m., although most close at 7 p.m. Most news organizations won’t make close calls until those locations, which include larger communities like Nashua, close.
With an advanced statewide realtime exit polling system, DD will know first how the race between Rubio and Cruz is shaping up in the Granite State, and that’s huge. Early results will be available by subscription for those who sign up for DD’s daily newsletter. Do it and you’ll know first.
As for Iowa, the parties run the caucuses, so nobody is getting the data early, according to Finnigan. But we’ll know early on if party registrations at the door are up, and that will determine how Trump does in Iowa. “If there’s a large number of people who register to vote that day, Trump looks good,” Finnigan said. “But if that doesn’t come to light, he’s out of the count for first place. It will definitely go to Cruz unless there’s some surprise with Mr. Rubio.”