"Certain readers may have a nervous reaction"

At the Times, Trump’s election engendered a period of soul-searching, and the centrality of the needle in the paper’s online coverage became a contentious issue. What did it mean that the needle, mathematically sound as it was, had ended up so far away from that original 85 percent? “In the minds of some people,” Times managing editor Joe Kahn told me, “everything is the needle. The poll of polls is the needle. The real-time results are the needle. But really, the model around the needle is based on intensive, precinct-by-precinct data.” The needle also appeared to signify a gap between a set of newer, next-generation Times employees who were visibly distressed over Trump’s win, and the journalistic stoicism of the paper’s old guard. “When the needle started twitching toward Trump, you could tell who was watching, because they were the ones who started getting distraught,” one editor recalled. “There were people crying in the newsroom that night.”

On Tuesday, the needle will be back for its biggest showing since 2016—but not without some rethinking. “We had many, many discussions,” said Kahn, who noted that he, executive editor Dean Baquet, and the political editors “all agreed that aggregating polls and then coming out with what looks like a New York Times-endorsed summary, and then placing that too prominently on the home page”—and making that probability the starting point for the needle—“was not the right thing to do, so we’re not going to repeat that.”