There was a lot of time to fill during cable news broadcasts on Tuesday, with results from the few interesting races spread out over multiple hours. Some of that time was filled with other news stories. But a lot of it was spent talking about 2016 and the presidential race in 2016 and did you know that Chris Christie might run in 2016?
At one point, MSNBC's Chris Matthews brought on two panelists to discuss exit polls in the New Jersey gubernatorial race that showed Chris Christie trailing Hillary Clinton in the next presidential election. This is a question about a theoretical Republican candidate facing a theoretical Democratic candidate based on polling results from a small subset of voters three years in advance. This was half an hour before the network called the gubernatorial race for Christie, which it did shortly after the polls closed. Before Christie won his second term, MSNBC was holding a marginally useful poll up to the light, trying to see if he could win a race in three years. "The reason we're interested in Chris Christie," Matthews said, "is because he's considered to be a likely mainstream candidate." Well, and he's governor of a state of 8 million people.
But MSNBC couldn't hold a candle to CNN's enthusiasm for other races. We tracked each mention of 2016 on each network between 7 p.m. and midnight to get a sense of what the conversation looked like. At right, those mentions broken down by half hour. Fox News had a big spike in the 10:30 half hour — right after Christie finished his acceptance speech. (On Twitter, that's when 2016 mentions peaked before midnight as well, according to data from Topsy.com.) But CNN talked about 2016 more than the other two main networks combined over the five hours, mentioning it at least once every 10 minutes, on average.
The analysis wasn't strictly centered around 2016. MSNBC talked about 2014 as much as 2016 over the five hours. CNN also returned to 2012 regularly — how Tuesday night's turnout compared to it, and so on. Fox News brought up other elections the least; most of its commentary on future races came around the time of Christie's acceptance. (We've broken out all of the mentions by each network in 10-minute increments below.)
Part of the reason that CNN was so focused on future was that its coverage differed from Fox News'. Where the latter interspersed election results with its regular programming, CNN hosted a special edition of Crossfire after results were in, sprinkling its pundits throughout the night. When you focus on getting feedback from Newt Gingrich, he's going to tell you why McAuliffe's win in Virginia is bad news for Democrats next year. That's his role.
If you're curious, the periods with the longest lulls in mentions of other elections correspond to two things. First, when poll results came in. Second, when candidates were giving their acceptance or concession speeches. In other words, when news was happening.