In the summer of 1952, Remington Rand, the manufacturer of he Univac, approached CBS News with the idea of using Univac to predict the results of the election that fall. Sig Mickelson and Walter Cronkite, the news chief and anchor, respectively, thought it would be interesting and “at least be entertaining to use an ‘electronic brain'” in their analysis of the election. When election time came, however, they disregarded Univac’s predictions of the election’s outcome.
To prepare for the election, Eckert and Mauchly worked with a former colleague from Penn college to write a program that compared the results from previous elections to the results of the 1952 election as they came in. Interestingly, they had to work at Mauchly’s house because he wasn’t allowed to work at the company anymore, due to his blacklisting as pro-Communist. The plan was to connect Univac technicians to the CBS studios via teletype machine, and as the results came in the data would be transferred to Univac by copying the data onto paper tape.
Polls conducted before the election had indicated that the Democrat, Illinois Gov. Adlai Stevenson, would be anywhere between a landslide and barely ahead of the Republican, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower. Because of this, Mickelson scoffed when Univac predicted that Eisenhower would win with 438 electoral votes and a 100-1 chance that Eisenhower would gain the 266 electoral votes needed win. He actually refused to air the results. A second calculation with more data backed up this prediction, after a short miscalculation involving an extra zero in Stevenson’s totals.
The final results of the election? An Eisenhower landslide: 442 to 89 votes, only 1 percent off of Univac’s prediction. After the final results, CBS confessed that Univac had made an accurate prediction hours earlier that they hadn’t aired. In the 1956 election, the three major networks all used computer analysis in their results in their newscasts.