In the period from the end of World War 2 onwards until 2016, what were the longest and shortest times that, based upon the unofficial results, people took to "call" the result of a United States presidential election?

I'm talking about the time between the polls closing on Election Day and the result — the presumed President Elect — being "called", not the formal publications of official results. This article talks, for examples, about "calls" at 21:00 on the day and 02:29 the next day (presumably EST):

What was the time of the earliest call? What was the time of the latest call? Correct calls only, please, of course.

(I am asking this before the 2020 election is "called", so I have excluded 2020. I am likewise only asking about after World War 2 to exclude elections where telecommunications were rather different to how they are nowadays.)

Also note that commentators have made the mistake of conflating "calling" a result with what government officials do. Election officials certify results; this question is not about that.

To repeat what was already stated by the "based upon the unofficial results" in the first paragraph, and also indicated by what is in the Harvard Magazine article: This is about "calling" by (yes) various organizations, news and other, that tally the unofficial results as they come up, excluding people making random decisions not "based upon the unofficial results" or making data-free guesses before the unofficial results even exist to base a "call" upon.

("calling an election" means something else in British English and Commonwealth English, by the way. I'm intending the U.S. English meaning.)

  • 8
    Called by who? Major news organizations? Government? Political parties? Candidates? Longest would probably be 2000, unless you allow the earliest call that gave it to Bush to count.
    – Peter
    Nov 4, 2020 at 13:22
  • 1
    Would pre-election claims that a particular candidate is certain to win qualify (assuming they were about the candidate that did win)?
    – yoozer8
    Nov 4, 2020 at 13:39
  • 2
    May I suggest that a consistent marker for when an election is "over" would be when the losing candidate concedes. Nov 4, 2020 at 15:14
  • The bounds would be pretty straight forward: The earliest is when the candidates announce their candidacy, and the latest is when they are sworn in. "People" call elections all the time. I second DJClayworth's position: rather than focusing on when "people" called the election, focusing on when the losing candidate conceded would be a useful metric. I would argue that is the point where the people with the most skin in the came "called" it. It's also answerable, because we can look at history to get individual dates for each election rather than a blur of opinions.
    – Cort Ammon
    Nov 4, 2020 at 15:47
  • "Time between the start of counting" -- Some states started counting mail in ballots back in late September (Kentucky for example allows for mail in ballots to be counted as early as September 21st, other states just base it off of when the first ballots come back.) (source), you might want to adjust that starting timeframe because it will be harder to figure out what that date was for each year. It would be much easier to put a hard-set "start of counting" value like 6pm EST election day.
    – Davy M
    Nov 4, 2020 at 16:42

1 Answer 1


Shortest 1980: Jimmy Carter called and conceded to Ronald Reagan shortly before 10 pm EST on election night. Note that this is before 7 pm PST, meaning polls were still open in California, etc. Let alone Alaska and Hawaii.

Jimmy Carter

Longest 2000: Al Gore did not use the word concede, but said that he accepts the decision and finality of the court's decision. On December 13, 2000. The election day was November 7.

Edit with notes: Walter Mondale got beaten even worse in 1984, but I think he waited a little longer. Maybe he was the shortest.

Al Gore called Bush at around 2 am after the election to concede, but then called back to retract the concession. It has to do with the AP calling Florida for him, then no one, then Bush, then no one. He gave the speech I referenced 36 days later. All goes to show that :

  1. Projections and calls on TV have no legal significance.
  2. The concession call or telegram or speech has no legal significance.

Al Gore

The official results are official when they are official, and the electoral college votes on a preset date, so any longest or shortest has to do with the variability of the calendar.

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