Tonight, you should hardly need telling, is US election night, so here’s a thread for overnight discussion and some things to look out for tonight.
First up a note about exit polls. Exit polls this year are only being conducted in 31 states rather than 50, they aren’t bothering with some of the safe states, including some of those states closing first (so no exit polls in Kentucky, Georgia, South Carolina and West Virginia – all safe Republican states). Exit polls are done in the same way as in the UK – people stand outside polling stations and get a proportion of people leaving after having voted to fill in surveys, although unlike in the UK they ask a full survey about their opinions and why they voted as they did, not just how they voted. Exit polls are supplemented with phone polls to take account of early voters.
Exit polls are not released until the polls in that state are closed, people will inevitably claim to have leaked exit poll data prior to that. Any claimed leaks before 10pm will be bollocks anyway – the polling data will still be under strict quarantine in a locked room. Any claimed leaks after that will probably be bollocks too, and should be ignored anyway as it won’t be probably weighted yet. Also bear in mind that in recent elections the initially released exit poll data has tended to be a bit skewed to the Democrats, becoming more accurate as actual votes come in. That may or may not be the case this time.
The initial exit polls are updated as actual votes are counted, and weighted based on the declared votes in the districts where the exit poll took place. Once the networks are certain that a party has won the seat they call it – obviously the closer a state is, the longer it takes for the networks to be certain who has won. Hence while we have a list of the time that states’ polls close and exit polls will be released, its it only the very safe states that will be called straight away. In 2008 states where the vote was relatively close (say, under 10 points) sometimes took a couple of hours after polls closed for the networks to call the race, states with the tightest races took much longer to call: Montana and Florida four hours, North Caroline a day, Missouri a week.
In a tight race, don’t expect a result in the early hours!
Looking at the timetable.
11pm. Most polls close in Indiana and Kentucky – some parts of both states are an hour behind, so the networks may not call them until the whole state has finished voting, but either way both will vote Romney.
12 midnight. Polls close in Georgia, South Carolina, Vermont & Virginia. Most polls close in Florida. Georgia and South Carolina will vote Romney, Vermont will vote Obama. Virginia and Florida are the first toss-up states. For Romney to win, he really needs to win both of these – if Obama wins either of them then it becomes difficult (but not impossible) for Romney to win. The polls in Florida are neck-and-neck, if they have been accurate it is not going to be called for many hours. Most recent polls in Virginia have shown Obama ahead, but it will probably be a few hours until it is called.
12:30 am. North Carolina, Ohio and West Virginia polls close. West Virginia will vote Romney. North Carolina and Ohio are another two key states. Recent polls have tended to show Romney ahead in North Carolina, again it is a state he really does need to win. Ohio is likely to be the key – if Romney wins Virginia, North Carolina and Florida he needs Ohio and another state (New Hampshire, Colorado, Iowa?) to win. If Obama holds Ohio he has won unless he loses something unexpected like Wisconsin or Pennsylvania. At 12:30 though this will be academic – if the race is at all close they aren’t going to be calling it yet.
1 am. A whole slew of states close: Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Alabama, Illinois, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee, most of Texas and Michigan and the remaining part of Florida close. Apart from Florida the only really interesting states amongst them all are New Hampshire and Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania should be solidly Democrat, Obama won it by 10 points last time, John Kerry won it, all but one of the recent polls have shown Obama ahead, often by good margins. It should be Obama. However, both campaigns have been targeting it so it must be seen as somewhat close. In the event that Romney does win it he would probably win unless Obama had won Virginia, North Carolina or Florida instead (though frankly, the idea of the Democrats winning one of those states and not Pennsylvania is somewhat bonkers)
1:30 am. Arkansas polls close.
2:00 am. New York, Kansas, Louisana, Minnesota, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, South Dakota, Wyoming polls close, the remainder of Texas and Michigan close. Again, these are mostly safe states – the two interesting ones are Wisconsin (which the polls suggest should go for Obama without too much difficulty) and Colorado, where the polls are closer, but are consistently showing Obama ahead. More interesting is that by now we’ve had a couple of hours for votes to be counted in the early-closing states, so with a bit of luck we should start to see competitive states being called. The broad picture of the night, whether Obama is probably home and dry, whether it is going to be close or whether there could be a Romney win will hopefully start to emerge around now.
3:00 am. Polls close in Iowa, Montana, Utah, Nevada and most of North Dakota. Iowa and Nevada are the last of the swing states. Nevada looks like it should go to Obama, Iowa’s polls have Obama ahead, but less convincingly.
4:00 am. California, Washington, Hawaii. Most of Idaho, Oregon. All safe states for one side or the other. The closer run states should be being called around now. Unless things have gone right down to the wire we should soon know who has won. If they have gone right down to a couple of states where the candidates are neck-and-neck it could take days. Go to bed.
5:00 am. Alaska. Go! Go to bed. Sheesh.