Dennis Mersereau | @wxdam
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What time did networks call the presidential election?

Even though a presidential candidate doesn't officially win the election until the electoral college casts its votes in December and Congress certifies the results the following January, we typically know who won the election before we go to bed on election day.

The call doesn't always come quick, though, and sometimes networks never project a winner. Below are the times that networks called the winner in every presidential election dating back to 1948, including (when possible) the state that pushed the winner over the electoral vote threshold needed to win.

Year Winner Margin of Victory Electoral Votes State That Clinched Victory What time did networks call the election? (Eastern Time)
2020 Joe Biden 4.46%a 306 Pennsylvania All major networks declared Biden the winner just before 11:30 AM on November 7th, four days after the election. Many votes were cast by mail due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It took a long time to count them all, dragging out election night to election week.
2016 Donald Trump -2.09%b 304c Wisconsin Network coverage before midnight indicated that Trump would likely prevail. The Associated Press called the election for Trump at 2:31 AM. The networks would follow suit in the hours after.
2012 Barack Obama 3.86% 332 Ohio Networks called the election around 11:15 PM, give or take a few minutes.d
2008 Barack Obama 7.28% 365 Multiple
(CA/OR/WA/HI Poll Closing)
All networks called the election when polls closed on the west coast at 11:00 PM.
2004 George W. Bush 2.46% 286 Ohio The election was close enough that there was no projected winner.e John Kerry conceded to Bush the afternoon after the election.
2000 George W. Bush -0.51%f 271 Florida Networks infamously screwed up calling the election due to the extremely close race in Florida. The Supreme Court ended the recount there 36 days later on December 12, giving Bush the win.g
1996 Bill Clinton 8.53% 379 Kentucky The networks called the election fairly early in the night, likely around 10:00 PM. Kentucky put Clinton over the top in CNN's count.h
1992 Bill Clinton 5.56% 370 Ohio Most networks called the election before 11:00 PM. ABC called the race "a couple of minutes" before 11:00 PM.
1988 George H. W. Bush 7.72% 426 Michigan NBC News called the election for Bush sometime around 10:00 PM.
1984 Ronald Reagan 18.21% 525 Michigan ABC News called the election for Reagan shortly before 9:00 PM.
1980 Ronald Reagan 9.74% 489 Multiple
(NH, VT, DE, SC)
NBC News called the election for Reagan at 8:15 PM. This was the earliest election call in modern American history.
1976 Jimmy Carter 2.06% 297 Hawaii ABC News called the race for Carter at 3:30 AM.
1972 Richard Nixon 23.15% 520 Multiple CBS News called Nixon's re-election around 9:10 PM. NBC called it before 9:00 PM, while ABC called it after 10:00 PM. Nixon won so many states that no one state led to a network putting him over 270 electoral votes.
1968 Richard Nixon 0.70% 301 Illinois The election was close enough (and the count slow enough) that the networks didn't project Nixon the winner until the morning after the election.
1964 Lyndon B. Johnson 22.58% 486 Unknown Little archive footage is freely available from election night 1964. Networks likely called the election early in the night given the lopsided results.
1960 John F. Kennedy 0.17% 303 Unknown The election was razor thin, with a margin of just 100,000 votes separating Kennedy and Nixon out of 64,000,000 total. The networks projected Kennedy the winner late in the night on election day, but the result wasn't official until after noon the following day when Nixon conceded. Networks incorrectly projected the winner of several states (most notably Californiai).
1956 Dwight Eisenhower 15.40% 457 Unknown Little archive footage is freely available from election night 1956.
1952 Dwight Eisenhower 10.85% 442 Unknown CBS News called the election for Eisenhower sometime between 10:00 PM and 12:00 AM, likely around 11:00 PM. The network reported at 12:45 AM that Stevenson would concede.
1948 Harry Truman 4.48% 303 Ohio Media outlets were so convinced that Dewey would defeat Trumanj that they predicted Truman's defeat all night until it was obvious that Truman had won. Dewey conceded at 11:12 AM the following day after learning of his loss in Ohio, according to NBC.
a Joe Biden won nearly 81.3 million votes, the largest total ever won by a single candidate in one election. This breaks Barack Obama's record of 69.5 million votes set in 2008—when Biden was elected vice president.

b Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by more than 2,800,000 votes even though Donald Trump won more electoral votes. This is the largest victorious popular vote loss in American history.

c Donald Trump would have won 306 electoral votes, but two faithless electors in Texas voted for John Kasich and Ron Paul instead.

d Though it turned out to be correct, this call was not accepted by everyone as Romney led Obama in Ohio when the networks called the state for the latter.

e If there was an official projection from a news network that Bush won re-election, I can't find it. All accounts seem to indicate that it was considered "too close to call" in Ohio right up until John Kerry conceded the following morning.

f Bush won Florida by 537 votes after the recount was forced to an end by the U.S. Supreme Court.

g Al Gore won the nationwide popular vote by more than 500,000 votes even though Bush won more electoral votes.

h CNN's map showed Clinton at 267 EVs in one shot, and then a few minutes later in the video he had 284 EVs once Louisiana (9 EVs) was called. The only other state that was called in the between those two maps was Kentucky (8 EVs), which put him over the 270 mark in their count.

i NBC incorrectly called California for Kennedy—where he was ahead on election night—but Nixon came out on top once the absentee votes were counted in the days after the election.

j Oops.

I didn't stick to the weather.