Predicting the Winner


Predicting the Winner

The Untold Story of Election Night 1952 and the Dawn of Computer Forecasting

Ira Chinoy

384 pages
4 photographs, 15 illustrations, index


May 2024


$38.95 Add to Cart
eBook (EPUB)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

May 2024


$38.95 Add to Cart
eBook (PDF)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

May 2024


$38.95 Add to Cart

About the Book

The history of American elections changed profoundly on the night of November 4, 1952. An outside-the-box approach to predicting winners from early returns with new tools—computers—was launched live and untested on the newest medium for news: television. Like exhibits in a freak show, computers were referred to as “electronic brains” and “mechanical monsters.”

Yet this innovation would help fuel an obsession with numbers as a way of understanding and shaping politics. It would engender controversy down to our own time. And it would herald a future in which the public square would go digital. The gamble was fueled by a crisis of credibility stemming from faulty election-night forecasts four years earlier, in 1948, combined with a lackluster presentation of returns. What transpired in 1952 is a complex tale of responses to innovation, which Ira Chinoy makes understandable via a surprising history of election nights as venues for rolling out new technologies, refining methods of prediction, and providing opportunities for news organizations to shine.

In Predicting the Winner Chinoy tells in detail for the first time the story of the 1952 election night—a night with continuing implications for the way forward from the dramatic events of 2020–21 and for future election nights in the United States.

Author Bio

Ira Chinoy is an associate professor at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland, where he founded and directs the Future of Information Alliance. He is a former investigative reporter for the Washington Post, where he also served as director of computer-assisted reporting. Chinoy was part of two teams that won Pulitzer Prizes for reporting and has won the George Polk Award and other top journalism awards.


"An appealing deep dive into the intersecting history of journalism, technology, and electoral politics."—Publishers Weekly

"A new history of computer forecasting in national elections is a timely read as November approaches. . . . Chinoy's background as a journalist prepared him for the digging required of a historical researcher. . . . His research and writing skills are evident throughout the text. He is a first-class prose stylist who writes with the gravitas of a researcher who knows his subject inside and out."—Clayton Trutor,

“In Predicting the Winner, Pulitzer Prize–winning investigative-journalist-turned-historian Ira Chinoy tells the hair-raising story of the first widely televised U.S. presidential election, in 1952. But it wasn’t only televised. It was computerized. With predictions made by robots and whirring, blinking, flashing machines. Based on stunning archival research, the tale offers a vital parable for our times.”—Jill Lepore, author of These Truths: A History of the United States

“A fascinating, thoroughly researched account of how the electronic computer muscled its way into our consciousness during the 1952 presidential election, when both the computer and the medium of television were new. Some of the ways established veteran journalists wrestled with their relationship to the ‘giant brain’ are amusing, but in light of recent events, perhaps the joke is on us. You are guaranteed to have fun reading it.”—Paul Ceruzzi, coauthor of A New History of Modern Computing

“This well-researched book is a road map for practices that served as a foundation for election-night reporting up to our own time. And perhaps most important, it shows the challenges faced by pollsters and prognosticators when predicting how an election night will turn out, even in today’s world of AI and vastly more powerful predictive models than those first tried out decades ago.”—Jack Speer, newscaster, NPR

“The year 1952 was an inflection point in American culture—the introduction of computers, projections, and even TV news into our election nights. In this insightful and immensely readable telling of the tale, historian and journalist Ira Chinoy explains how the innovations came about and how they are relevant to our current times. This is a book for anyone who cares about politics, thinks about technology, and wants to know where we are going by understanding where we have been.”—Tom Rosenstiel, coauthor of The Elements of Journalism

“Election night in the United States is the most prominent and fraught intersection of politics, technology, and culture. Ira Chinoy’s deeply researched and beautifully narrated account of computers and television in their shared infancy explains how this came to be and why it is so important to understand.”—Robert Friedel, author of A Culture of Improvement: Technology and the Western Millennium

“Election night on television is dominated by touch-screen maps and other technological wizardry. Predicting The Winner takes us back to when computers made their infamous debut in forecasting the next president on national television. Ira Chinoy uses the researching and reporting skills that won him multiple Pulitzer Prizes to dig out this important but mostly untold moment.”—Mike Conway, author of Contested Ground: “The Tunnel” and the Struggle over Television News in Cold War America

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
1. Fearsome Contraptions
2. We Wanted to Do Something Unusual
3. Are Computers Newsworthy?
4. Project X versus Operation Monrobot
5. Stirred Up by the Roughest Campaign of Modern Times
6. This Is Not a Joke or a Trick
7. The Mechanical Genius
8. The Trouble with Machines Is People
9. A Hazard of Being Discredited in the Public’s Mind
10. Truly the Question of Our Time

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