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Five to eight / US election result: What if they counted the other way around?

One of the cheapest journalistic exercises is the know-it-all afterwards. Now, a week after election day, Joe Biden's victory is obvious - and obviously clear - with 306 electors and four million votes ahead. The excitement and shock of the first few hours when Trump was ahead, they seem now refuted and erased by the final numbers. But is that really them?

It depends not only on the formal election result, but also on the way to get there. The hundred-hour Tuesday, the eternal election night - it has left no one who followed it without a trace. Its course has influenced the public's impression of this election and the subsequent political lessons to be drawn from it.

The order in which they are counted creates its own reality, it has produced its own stories. Philadelphia celebrated itself over the weekend as the city that overthrew Trump. The votes there were just as important as those elsewhere, and it just happened that they were the ones that gave Biden the necessary majority.

Just a snapshot

Imagine if the ballot papers had been counted the other way round: First those of the postal voters, with whom the Democrats dominated, then the votes cast on election day, in which Trump did better. The course would have been completely different. Instead of the shock of Trump's quick victory in Florida and the leadership in many major states, early leadership for Biden would have calmed the spirits of Democrats and their supporters around the world. Trump spectacularly strong, possibly on course to win the election? This first impression, with which many Germans woke up on Wednesday morning, was just a coincidental snapshot.

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But it's hard to get rid of a first impression. This is due to the way the human brain works: Once experiences have been made, they cannot be reversed, they are deposited in us and shape us and our worldview - no matter how accidentally they came about. On Wednesday morning, the information (Trump leads!) Also met a particularly receptive and excited audience, which reacted with strong feelings: surprised, worried, shocked. These feelings made the experience particularly memorable. The first journalistic comments and analyzes gave them expression, even if they disclosed the provisional nature of the interim results. They now have to be overwritten again by newer, more balanced interpretations.

The two speeds

One can complain about that and wish that the interpretation of elections only starts on the solid basis of the official final result. That in general, live blogs and special programs do not constantly blow preliminary information about ongoing events into the world. But it would be better to recognize both: The human need to know immediately and to want to get an idea, no matter how hasty it is. And the relative inertia of institutional procedures, for which thoroughness is so much more important than speed.

A good example is CNN's election coverage. The station played two time regimes in parallel for days: On the one hand, the hectic real-time of the Key Race Alerts, the supposedly changing situation every second, Things are moving on our watch. On the other hand, the moderators kept reminding them that it would take hours, days until the end result. Just be patient, they warned again and again. CNN accelerated and braked at the same time.

Now that the result is clear, we experience a brief moment of seldom calm and clarity. The people have spoken, their opinion is shown in the red and blue colored US maps, it can be precisely quantified, analyzed and interpreted based on the vote of the voter. But tomorrow everything can be different again, new events, surveys and scandals can throw everything into disorder. Election results are also only snapshots. We therefore have no choice but to constantly create a new picture of reality.