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.

483 Responses to “US Election Night”

1 2 3 10
  1. @Paul (from the last thread)

    The Telegraph article has a few major problems:

    1) It isn’t able to quote the internal Democrat poll
    2) The internal polls that it does quote are the Republicans who have an incentive to say they are doing better than expected
    3) Internal polls have been on average 6 points away from actual results*
    4) It quotes primary polls as a guide to presidential polls, when evidence shows that primary polls are far far less accurate

  2. Thanks Anthony.
    I can’t believe it’s 4 years since Mike “The Oracle” Richardson (anyone remember him and his POLLS comments?) posted on the equivalent thread and predicted those betting on a McCain victory were going to win a lot of money.

  3. It’s worth pointing out the order in which results come in. Traditionally it tends to be rural areas that report first, as the precincts are smaller and it doesn’t take as long to count the votes. Virginia is a case in point. In 2008, with 40% report, McCain lead by about 12, but then more urban areas came in and Obama finally pulled level with about 92% counted. Then the suburban DC counties in the north of the state came in and Obama won by about 6. Therefore if early returns in Virginia show Romney ahead, Obama supporters shouldn’t panic.

    In some states however, it’s the other way, Pennsylvania for example. Philly and Pittsburgh tend to report first, and ‘Pennsyltucky’ later on.

    I believe some states may also count the early and provisional ballots first, which complicates matters further.

    All in all, take early results with a pinch of salt.

  4. Another point:

    I was looking through the swing state polls on RealClearPolitics from 2008, and in every single swing state Obama outperformed his polls to varying degrees. In Ohio by 2, In Florida by 1, and in some cases by 3-4 points. In Nevada he blitzed his polls, winning by 12 when he was predicted to win by 6.

  5. Well, I put my money where my mouth is on the other thread. I’m confident of 303 for Obama but I think that 332 is a possibility and 347 not out of the question.

    I’ll go further: I think the only way that Romney can win in Ohio (and therefore the only way he can win the White House) is through dishonesty.

  6. I think I’ll get up about 5.30 and see how they are doing.

  7. Bringing it home for a moment, more bad news on the UK economy. Revised figures show a sharper fall in manufacturing and industrial output in August and a 1.7% fall in industrial output in September. This is apparently insufficient yet to lead to a downward revision in Q3 GDP, but it does clearly add further evidence pointing to a further contraction commencing in September and continuing since then.

    Capital Economics are already predicted GDP shrinkage in Q4. I think they tend to be quite pessimistic (in recent years at least) and it’s a little bit early to call the quarter yet, but I am beginning to suspect that the third week of January could well be a torrid one for Osborne when the stats come out and the Christmas lights have all been packed away.

  8. Mitz

    Are you referring to the ownership of the voting machines in Ohio, I hear that they are operated by a romney friendly company!

  9. Nate Silver’s numbers have been revised a couple of times since this morning. He now gives Obama’s victory probability as ‘only’ 90.9% (as opposed to 92%), and Florida is now given as an exact 50-50 tie. However, he still gives Obama a 91% chance of taking Ohio.

    It is no coincidence that the overall victory figure is very closely matching the Ohio figure.

  10. RiN,

    Amongst other things, yes.

  11. A triple trough wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest. If it does happen is could be politically toxic for the government, as I believe a triple trough is unprecedented.

    As for my final prediction for the election, I see no compelling reason to go against Nate Silver’s predictions, which is for Obama to sweep the swing states expect for North Carolina and the Nebraska 2nd district.

  12. So far in New Hampshire, Obama is beating Romney by 2 to 1!

  13. come on everybody obama is going to get a clear victory!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  14. Mitz – Dixville Notch is clearly running out of inhabitants! The reason they are able to do it is because an area can close their ballot if all eligible voters have already voted, so they all gather together at midnight, vote together and then close the polls a minute later.

    Four years ago they had 21 voters, now they’ve only got 10. What horror has set foot amongst them?

  15. Mitz

    If Romney takes Ohio, but fails to win Virginia say, then that would be a very large swing in that particular state compared to others which might be considered “suspicious”. There also might be perfectly valid reasons but I’m sure people will examine differential turnout in that state. Even in that scenario, Obama should be safely over the threshold so one weird result in Ohio alone wouldn’t be enough to alter the result of the election.

    If however he gets all of his targets on his list (He needs more than just Ohio from the marginals to win) I’d put that down to the pollsters being slightly out, currently even with margins of error the race isn’t certain, so one factor which the pollsters aren’t picking up and it could easily push things much tighter. One or two unexpected states won’t be enough for Romney to win, it’d take a consistent message that the pollsters were a few points out for Romney to win.

    I Imagine a lot of pollsters are nervous as their predictions are based on the polls being part of the 90% as opposed to the 10% chance they predict Romney has, if Romney squeaks into the White House, the story will be “the pollsters got it wrong”.

  16. Janet Daley in the Telegraph is tipping a Romney win, quoting psephologist Michael Barone in claiming that pollsters are systematically over sampling Democrats as they mistakenly believe there are more of them.

    I haven’t dug into this at all, but it sounds like they are saying (wishing?) that there is inaccurate post sample weighting being applied.

    Just wondering if anyone has anything to add to this?

  17. alec

    We’ll worry about it tomorrow if they are right.

    (they’re probably not)

  18. Alan,

    You’re right of course that one state being more out of line with the polls than the others would be more suspicious than all of the swing states belying the polls.

    But I am extremely confident of Obama carrying PA, WI, NV, IA, NH, CO and VA. As you say that would be enough for him without Ohio – he would be on 285. All well and good. And while the optimist in me still puts 303 as the most likely outcome, I can’t help but think that if one state is to be subtracted from that number it will be Ohio, and it won’t be because the polls got it wrong, or that the people of Ohio bucked the trend in a way that those of Pennsylvania and Wisconsin did not.

  19. Alec

    That’s how I read it, and is the sort of systematic error that could mean all the pollsters are out by the same amount.

    I’m not sure where the evidence is to support this claim and it sounds like it’s a case of clutching at straws “they all are wrong and I’m right…. I hope”

    Weighting is the thing that separates pollsters from “my mates down the pub think x will win” (that and sample sizes), I find it hard to believe they would all get something so fundamental wrong, and all in the same way and by the same amount.

  20. Alec,

    Yes, I’ve got something to add: it’s nonsense. A classic example of a Conservative pundit saying anything to try and keep the narrative positive for the Republicans. Barone is famous for this kind of thing:

    He examines his navel, feels his guts, checks the wind, and then says that the Republican is winning. No reference to any factual polls or statistical analysis, because he has no need for such fripperies: he is a pundit and he has spoken.

  21. I think it will hinge on turnout, there ain’t much reason for democrats to be enthusiastic about voting, despite the spin and the fiddled numbers the American economy at ground level is pretty horrible, while democrat voters probably don’t blame Obama(republican ones do) it hardly makes the trip to the polling station exciting. Bottom line is that republicans will turn out anyway but democrats might stay at home, if the early results show a lower turnout then we might get a shock

  22. OT joke for tomorrow morning:

    Knock Knock!
    Who’s there?
    Mitt Romney!
    Mitt Romney who?

    That’s politics!

    I’ll get my coat!

  23. @Allan

    “come on everybody obama is going to get a clear victory!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

    Can anyone explain what the fascination is with Obama for some in the UK?


  24. Indiana will be the first opportunity to check the Rasmussen method…
    They have Romney leading by +16%, +13% and +9% (Aug/Oct/Nov polls).

    In Florida Rasmussen showed Obama leading +2% (Sept)
    Romney leading +2% (Aug), +2%, +4%, +5% (Oct), +2% (Nov).

  25. I don’t think Romney is going to rig the ballot in Ohio people.

    Like I said I’m betting on an Obama win, I’ve put money on it, and expect to make 20 quid off of it, but I wouldn’t say Obama’s 91% certain to win, I think Nate’s a bit far off on that assumption.

    The 5 states it will come down to are:

    Iowa, Colorado, New Hampshire, Ohio, Virginia. they have a total of exactly 50 votes. Romney needs to win exactly 35 of these to take him to exactly 270. In other words 70%, unlikely, for sure, but if you’re saying something is 91% certain that means there is no doubt whatsoever almost, and I think there is still a lot of doubt.

    I wanted to get Anthony’s opinion on something I hear from the Republicans. They say that the polls are skewed to the Democrats because pollsters weight according to a 2008 turnout which is unlikely to happen in 2012, is this true?

  26. I think if you stayed up all night watching it would be pretty boring. You will get one breaking news alert after another about exit polls in the different states and provisional results. Even with electronic voting, you won’t get the provisional results until a few hours after polls have closed. So I am thinking about getting up about 5am and seeing what results are in, if any.

  27. @ManintheMiddle

    “…but if you’re saying something is 91% certain that means there is no doubt whatsoever almost, and I think there is still a lot of doubt. ”

    No, you’re saying that there is pretty much a 1 in 10 chance of something happening.


    My fasination is I have always followed US politics since Bill Clinton. What happens in the US really effects us. Take 2000 as an example if Gore had won there would have been no Iraq war, Tony Blairs reputation would have been intact and possibly we would have a Labour government now.

    If Romney wins his economic plans will have a knock on effect in Europe. More worrying is the possibility of a trade war with China and a real war with Iran. Obama is steadier – he is clearly far less gung-ho regarding war and already have the US economy on sounder footing (yes I know there is the fiscal cliff but that will be resolved post election).

    So after a UK election politically a US election is the most important because of the effect it has on the UK.

  29. MitM,

    A fine illustration of just how important Ohio is to Romney – as it is worth 18, your assertion about the 5 states totalling 50 (which is a good one) shows he can’t win without it. Looking at it the other way, however, there are many combinations not involving Ohio that would be good enough for Obama.

  30. Anthony

    I am offended by the bad language in your article. If I can’t slag off the Tories or Cameron, then words like bollocks should not be acceptable. ( lol)

  31. Anthony

    Funny re the post in mod. Which word required moderation. Slag, b*llocks or Cameron.

    [I have gross double standards, I let myself swear like a trouper in my own comments, and moderate all yours. Isn’t life a bitch. Except you can’t even say that without triggering moderation (evil laugh). Ah, I’m in happy election night mood. I may order pizza – AW]

  32. R Huckle,

    US Election Night is great fun on TV. Especially on Fox News when a Democrat is winning.


    My thoughts precisely.

  33. I agree Mitz, if Obama wins Ohio we might as well go to bed then as it will be all over. The Reps argue that there is another combination involving Wisconsin and 2 others from that 5, but if he can’t crack Ohio there’s no way he can crack Wisconsin.

  34. @R Huckle – dead right – TV coverage of the presidentials is excruciatingly boring. The problem is they’ve only really got 50 states to call, with most of these foregone conclusions. When states are called, all you get is a TV announcer calling a state – you don’t even get an announcement on the stage with the candidates happy/crushed faces and the speeches.

    By contrast, we’ve got 650 seats, meaning that once you get past the first hour or so of counting, things really feel like the night is moving. In the US, all you get is interminably filler interviews with talking heads, interspersed with a few results.

    The only election more boring are the Northern Irish parliamentary results, where nothing happens until someone sticks some impenetrable numbers on a bored, someone loses and they start counting all over again.

    Contain yourselves!

  35. I do find it a little funny though how some people who doubted RCP’s unbiased credentials, are predicting the same 303 figure for Obama that they are. They haven’t changed their methodology since last week :P

    RCP is incredibly accurage and got 49 states correct last time. They over estimated Obama by 0.4% nationally, but underestimated him a little in Indiana.

    Now RCP is saying that Obama has 303, even if they got 1 of those wrong, say Ohio or Virginia (currently both Obama), that would still not be enough for Romney to win.

  36. Couper

    I’m not 100% sure that gore winning would have meant no Iraq war, less likely yes, war in irak was a certainty when bush won cos they were already planning it. But gore might have had no choice about war in Iraq considering that Iraq had decided to sell its oil in euros rather than dollars and other countries were considering doing the same

  37. RCP’s forecast has converged on 538’s forecast as Rasmussen’s polls have suddenly become more favourable towards Obama, right at the last minute. It wasn’t RCP changing their methodology, it was Ras falling into line.

  38. MinM

    “Romney wouldn’t cheat in Ohio”

    No, probably not ‘cos that ain’t how it works. Other people do that “on your behalf”.

    Ta for the continued advice on my bedtime but I reiterate I shall not be going to bed early just because you say so but will stay up till my normal 8-30 and then retire with a cup of cocoa and nurse.

    By the way, am I right you’ve placed a bet on Obama?

  39. Mitz

    Rasmussen haven’t changed their methodology either :P I think Obama’s gained in this past week because of two reasons

    a) Romney’s debate boost is starting to wear off
    b) Obama’s handing of Hurricance Sandy

    I think these 2 are factors that have pushed Obama to reach this higher number, basically it’s turned Virginia which was partially hit, not pollsters changing their results to be more accurate.

  40. Yes Paul you are right, I have placed £60 on Obama to win at 1/3

  41. Alex

    I’m guessing that the northern Ireland parliament is elected by stv but I’m not sure. Watching the last Irish election was fascinating and much more enjoyable than any other election I have ever seen even though I had no personal interest in the result. That election was stv and it made me into a big fan of stv, before I was always a bit sceptical preferring the mixed member system

  42. The fact remains that if RCP took their data from a wider selection of pollsters all along, then there would have been less difference between their forecast and those of Silver, Wang, Linzer etc.

  43. MinM

    The drinks are on you then. Mine’s a cocoa.

  44. I don’t think RCP should change their selection. Their method is extremely accurate. Does Nate have a final sold prediction on numbers? I’m curious to compare numbers. RCP clearly say which states they predict will be won by whom and the exact final score. I want to see if Nate does, so that we can then compare. I don’t want ranges I want exact results.

    Then we have a map for both websites predictions, we can compare tomorrow with the real result and see who was more accurate :)

  45. Never had a Vodka Cocoa, is that nice? ;)

  46. @Statgeek

    In no order

    His colour
    His links with Islam
    He’s a university professor
    He doesn’t like white working class people
    He loves immigrants

  47. nate seems to be predicting Obama wins 313 EC votes, with no indication of where this extra 10 has come from. Missouri???

    Unfortunately he’s not willing to make an actual state by state map prediction and put his neck on the line like RCP.

  48. Ok I found one map, and he seems to be predicting the same states as RCP, but they add up to 303 not 313, maybe the 1 was a typo?

  49. Wait, on Nate’s Map he has Florida going to Obama, still don’t see how that makes 313

1 2 3 10