US Election Night

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.


I haven’t written anything about the US elections yet this cycle. This is for two reasons, first because there are vast amounts of US polling to get on top of in order to say anything sensible, secondly because there are already some very good US polling sites that I couldn’t hope to better. If you want to read wise and sensible analysis of US polling don’t hang around here, go and read Mark Blumenthal and Simon Jackman.

However, since we are now within a week of the election I thought I may as well put some threads up if only for discussion.

First, all things I complain about in coverage of UK polling are the same in US polling. Most notably warnings about cherry picking, comparing like to like and being aware of methodological differences and house effects from different pollsters. For example, I keep seeing people cherry picking out Rasmussen polls and Gallup polls to claim that Romney is doing better. Rasmussen are one of the most prolific polling outfits in the US, but also tend to produce some of the most Republican results. Gallup use a very tight screen for likely voters that also tends to produce favourable figures for the republicans. Look at most other polls and Obama is doing better.

Secondly, remember that the person who gets the most votes doesn’t necessarily win, it is who wins states with enough electoral votes to win a majority (270) of the electoral college. The average picture across all the national polls in the US has Romney and Obama very much neck and neck. However, polls from the key swing states, which themselves have become very regular as the election approaches, have Obama clearly ahead in terms of electoral votes.

There are various US websites (I’ve already mentioned Pollster.com, though fivethirtyeight tends to be the best known these days) that make projections based on state polling, and these all show Barack Obama with large leads in terms of electoral votes.

This has, in turn, produced some (generally pretty poorly informed) criticism of the projection sites, normally based around what sort of weights they give to different polls, what polls they include and so on. I don’t think these criticisms carry any weight, however even if one is sceptical about the weightings, filters, trends, house effect adjustments or whatever that the various projection sites make, the bottom line is that even if one takes just a crude average of state polls, Obama is still ahead.

As I write, Obama is almost undoubtedly ahead in states worth 243 votes. He needs to pick up another 27 electoral votes to win – looking at the recent polling in states that are in play:

  • In Wisconsin (10 votes) Rasmussen has the candidates equal in their last poll, but all three polls done in the last week have Obama significantly ahead
  • There have been four Iowa (6 votes) polls in the last week, three have had Obama ahead, the other had Romney one point ahead (but had a very small sample size)
  • In Ohio (18 votes), which is very likely to be the deciding state, there have been 11 polls in the last week, ten showed Obama ahead, one had Romney ahead
  • In New Hampshire (4 votes) there have been three polls in the last week, all showing Obama ahead.
  • In Colorado (9 votes) the four polls in the last week have been evenly split, 2 showing Obama ahead, 2 Romney ahead (though the Obama polls had bigger leads)
  • In Virginia (13 votes) there have been 9 polls in the last week, 2 showed Romney ahead, 1 a tie, 6 Obama ahead.
  • Florida (28 votes) is really neck-and-neck, the last week had three Romney leads, four Obama leads, two ties

Whatever you think of complicated projections, just on the raw averaged polling numbers Obama would get in excess of 290 electoral votes and win the Presidency. If the polls are correct, then Obama is on the way to winning, with very little time indeed to turn it around.


Full results for YouGov’s weekly Sunday Times poll are now up here, mostly concentrating on next week’s budget and Britain’s relationship with the USA. On the regular leadership trackers David Cameron’s approval rating is at minus 5 (up from minus 9 last week), Miliband’s at minus 45 (from minus 38), Clegg’s at minus 46 (from minus 44).

Looking at the budget questions, even when we prompt people to consider that rises in the personal tax allowance need to be paid for through tax increases, cuts or borrowing elsewhere there is still strong support for it. Only 18% think it should remain at the current level, 16% would support an increase to £9000, 34% to the Liberal Democrat’s proposed £10,000 and 20% higher than that.

On the 50p income tax rate, only 27% support it being abolished in this budget with 60% opposed. Amongst Conservative supporters the split is very even, 45% support, 46% oppose. Labour and Liberal Democrat voters are heavily against. Opposition for it being abolished is not much less to a pledge to abolish it in a later budget – 52% would oppose this, with 29% in support.

Unsurprisingly the overwhelming majority of people (77%) would support a decrease in the level of fuel duty. There is still a substantial majority in favour when YouGov asked people to balance the competing priorities of cutting the deficit or cutting fuel duty – 59% think it is more important to cut fuel duty compared to 20% who think it is more important to cut the deficit. Opinion on the higher rate of tax relief on pension contributions (even split) and the abolition of child benefit for higher rate taxpayers (majority support) remain the same.

Turning to the USA and the special relationship, 54% think the relationship between the US & UK is very or fairly close. 20% think it should be closer, 21% weaker and 49% think it is about right. Perceptions are now that the relationship has got a little closer since David Cameron became Prime Minister – 26% think it has got closer, 13% less close and 54% no difference. This is significantly better than when YouGov asked the same question in 2010, when the figures were 15% and 20% respectively.

People still, however, don’t think we have much influence over the USA – only 11% think we have a lot or some influence, 44% think we have not a lot of influence, 39% think we have no influence at all, not much changed from 2010. On the specifics of David Cameron’s trip to the USA, 28% think the reception was over the top, but 46% think it got the balance about right.


I had a brief look at the race for the Republican nomination in the US Presidential election in November – back then it had been something of a series of Conservatives emerging as the “not-Romney” before fading away again to be replaced by a new “not-Romney”. At the time we’d seen Bachmann surge and fade to be replaced by Perry, who surged and faded to be replaced by Cain, who was at the time fading and being replaced by Gingrich. Since then Gingrich has faded under an assault of attacks on his political baggage, and recent polls have seen advances for the liberatarian Ron Paul and, then, in the last few days Rick Santorum.

Tonight we have the first proper votes cast in the Iowa Caucus. The final few polls of the state are:

PPP (31st Dec – 1st Jan): Paul 20%, Romney 19%, Santorum 18%, Gingrich 14%, Perry 10%, Bachmann 8%, Huntsman 4%
Insider Advantage (1st Jan): Romney 23%, Paul 22%, Santorum 18%, Gingrich 16%, Perry 10%, Bachmann 6%, Huntsman 2%
American Research Group (29th Dec-1st Jan): Romney 22%, Paul 17%, Santorum 16%, Gingrich 15%. Perry 9%, Bachmann 8%, Huntsman 4%
Selzer & Co (27th Dec – 30th Jan): Romney 24%, Paul 22%, Santorum 15%, Gingrich 12%, Perry 11%, Bachmann 7%, Huntsman 2%

Overall we have Romney and Ron Paul competing closely with Santorum in third place, but making strong advances from his position a few weeks ago. The Selzer & Co poll for the Des Moines Register has the oldest fieldwork of those above, but is the most respected and has a reputation for having the best record of predicting the Iowa caucus. When releasing their findings they also noted that in the last two days of their fieldwork they were showing Rick Santorum overtaking Ron Paul to take second place.

Averages from 538 and RealClearPolitics both have Romney leading Paul with Santorum in third… but with only a few percentage points between them. The expectation seems to be that with Santorum enjoying a late surge any of the three could win. Gingrich is expected to come fourth, ahead of Perry and Bachmann. Jon Huntsman is not actively contesting the caucus and concentrating on New Hampshire, he’ll almost certainly come last. Caucuses are hard to predict because they are low turnout events that require people to attend meetings in local halls in the middle of winter and listen to prepared speeches before casting a ballot – here Selzer runs through some different scenarios depending on who actually turns up to caucas tonight.

The results today matter more for their effect on campaign momentum and weeding out no-hopers than it does for actual delegates (Iowa has only a small number of delegates and technically no delegates are elected today anyway, only delegates to county conventions who in turn elect delegates to an Iowa State Convention).

Romney wasn’t expected to win in Iowa, so a victory will be a nice plus and could put him on track for tying up the nomination quickly, but isn’t essential. It will be embarrassing for him if he comes third or worse (and would be a boost for Huntsman, the other moderate candidate remaining in the race) but Romney is off to New Hampshire expecting an easy win there anyway. More important is how it weeds out the race to be the Conservative alternative to Romney – whether it will lead to some of the weaker Conservative candidates dropping out and whether it will give any of them the momentum to be clearly identified as the “not-Romney”.


I don’t typically write much about US polls and elections, mostly because there are many American polling blogs that can do it far better and more thoroughly than I could ever hope to do. I did want to share the chart below though, from Mark Blumenthal’s Pollster (now part of Huffington Post), showing support for candidates in the Republican primary race so far.

The Republican Primary race has been a rather fascinating battle to be the “not-Romney” – Mitt Romney’s support has remained relatively consistent across the last six months, with various right-wing alternatives coming to the fray, consolidating the support of those Republicans who want someone other than Romney to be the candidate, before fading again. Looking at the graph above you can see Michelle Bachman peakig in July, before being overshadowed by Rick Perry’s entry to the race. Perry himself faded after poor performances in debates, to be replaced in turn by the pizza magnate Herman Cain. Cain peaked in October, but has started to fall since becoming embroiled in allegations of sexual harrassment.

The latest couple of polls show Newt Gingrich becoming the latest non-Romney – a poll from ORC has Gingrich at 22% to Romney’s 24% (with Cain down to 14%), PPP has Gingrich at 28% to Cain’s 25% and Romney’s 18%. Another seven November polls have shown Gingrich on the rise. It remains to be seen whether it will last, or whether he’ll crash and burn like all the other non-Romney’s before him.