Election Night Hour By Hour

Election night in a presidential year is the greatest show politics offers. Countless characters have been spinning their individual stories for months or even years, and now all their separate yarns meet here to end in victory or defeat.

Even if you think your candidate is going to win, you worry like a fan watching the football arc downfield towards a wide-open receiver in the end zone. Just yesterday, you overheard strangers having the most bizarre conversation about the election, full of misinformation and craziness. Your aunt thinks like that, but you believed she was the only one. What if people everywhere are changing their minds in some insane way, at the last minute, too late for the polls to pick up?

Information comes in little by little through the evening, as each state closes its polls and then the precincts report whenever they get done counting. I’ve already given you my best guesses about how the presidency and the Senate are going to go, and it makes no difference if you spend Tuesday night at the movies and then pull the bedcovers over your head until it’s all decided Wednesday morning. But that’s like skipping to the last page of a suspense novel. How is it going to play out?

Before the polls close. The most accurate polls are exit polls, put together by interviewing folks right after they vote. Exit pollsters don’t have to make guesses about who’s going to vote, there are no undecideds, and intensity no longer matters. They voted, and a vote is a vote.

Exit poll results start coming in around noon, but news organizations have pledged not to release them until poll-closing time. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t get some information out of them.

First, turnout. There’s no embargo against reporting turnout, and a big vote is good for the Democrats — especially big turnout of non-white voters, who often are more erratic in their voting habits. (That’s why Republicans have tried so hard to make voting difficult in swing states like Florida and Ohio.) The two big demographic questions in the election are whether blacks are as motivated to vote for Obama as they were in 2008, and whether the Hispanic vote is going to keep increasing.

All day, reporters will be saying whether turnout is light or heavy and maybe a little about who’s voting. Those are your first clues about what kind of night it will be.

Second, maybe the TV talking heads can’t tell you the exit poll results, but they’ve seen them, and they’re not obliged to make fools of themselves. So if conservative or liberal pundits start laying the groundwork for the what-went-wrong spin they’ll want to elaborate later, you can guess they know something.

7 p.m. The first real results come in, as polls close in Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, South Carolina, Vermont,  and Virginia. Obama is immediately projected as the winner in Vermont (3), and Romney quickly grabs Georgia (16), Indiana (11), Kentucky (8), and South Carolina (9).

But Virginia is the one to watch, because it’s Obama’s first chance at a knock-out punch. Romney can’t win without Virginia, and polling guru Nate Silver gives Obama a 73% chance of taking it. Mostly likely, Virginia won’t be called for a few hours, but if it is called for Romney quickly, that’s a very good sign for him.

Also watch for more detailed information about the turnout in these states and the race/gender composition of the electorate. Exit polls of Indiana in particular will assess what price Richard Mourdock paid for his outrageous statements about rape. That could signal whether the Democratic war-on-women message is working nationally.

Other than Indiana’s Donnelly/Mourdock Senate race, also watch Kaine/Allen in Virginia, which is supposed to be close, but Nate Silver expects Kaine to win. Sanders should win easily in Vermont.

Likely running total: Romney 44, Obama 3 with Virginia still out. This is a pattern that will continue for several hours: Obama is counting on west-coast states like California to put him over the top, so his electoral vote totals will run behind Romney’s most of the night even if he’s doing well. For example, Obama has essentially won already if Virginia gets called for him, but at this point he’d still be behind 44-16.

7:30. Polls close in North Carolina (15), Ohio (18), and West Virginia (5). Romney takes West Virginia. North Carolina is another possible Obama knock-out punch, but probably it’s a bridge too far. Ohio is the state everything hangs on, so I’d be amazed if it were called early.

The Senate races in Ohio and West Virginia should go to the Democrats, probably fairly quickly

Running total: Romney 49, Obama 3 with Virginia, North Carolina, and Ohio still out.

8:00. Major results start coming in. (You might even want to save yourself some aggravation by eating dinner peacefully and not turning on the TV until 8.) Alabama (9), Connecticut (7), Delaware (3), District of Columbia (3), Florida (29), Illinois (20), Maine (4), Maryland (10), Massachusetts (11), Mississippi (6), Missouri (10), New Hampshire (4), New Jersey (14), Oklahoma (7), Pennsylvania (20), Rhode Island (4), and Tennessee (11) start reporting results.

Easy wins for Romney in Alabama, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Tennessee, and for Obama in Connecticut, Delaware, D.C., Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Rhode Island.

Pennsylvania is Romney’s first shot at a knock-out; it’s hard to see Obama winning without it. But probably Obama carries it in another hour. New Jersey might have some vote-counting delays due to the storm. New Hampshire and Florida are honest-to-God toss-ups that should take a while to call. Florida is another potential knock-out; Romney can’t win without it.

The first clear sign of a good night for the Democrats in the Senate will come when Warren beats Brown in Massachusetts. It will take a little longer for Murphy to beat McMahon in Connecticut, but that will happen too.

Running total: Romney 92, Obama 82 with Virginia, North Carolina, Ohio, Florida, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania out.

8:30. Arkansas (6) goes to Romney. 98-79.

9:00. Another big moment. First results from Arizona (11), Colorado (9), Louisiana (8), Michigan (16), Minnesota (10), Nebraska (5), New Mexico (5), New York (29), South Dakota (3), Texas (38), Wisconsin (10), and Wyoming (3).

Romney quickly takes Arizona, Louisiana, Nebraska, South Dakota, Texas, and Wyoming. Obama gets Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, and New York.

Also, Pennsylvania comes in for Obama and North Carolina for Romney. It might also be time to call Virginia or New Hampshire, probably for Obama, but I’m not counting on them.

The interesting Senate race is Baldwin/Thompson in Wisconsin. Democrats want to believe that Kerry in Nebraska and Carmona in Arizona have a chance, but they really don’t.

Running total: Romney 181, Obama 159. Ohio, Florida, Colorado, and Wisconsin out. New Hampshire and Virginia in, but unpredictable.

10:00. New results in Iowa (6), Kansas (6), Montana (3), Nevada (6), and Utah (6). Of all Romney’s home states, Utah is the only one that likes him. He also picks up Kansas and Montana.

Between 10 and 11 is when it will become clear that the Obama firewall is holding. Ohio will turn blue, and they’ll call Nevada and Wisconsin by the end of the hour. Florida might come in, but who knows?

The Montana Senate race is a real cliff-hanger.

Running total: Romney 196, Obama 193. Florida, Colorado, and Iowa out. New Hampshire and Virginia in, but unpredictable.

11:00. California (55), Hawaii (4), Idaho (4), North Dakota (3), Oregon (7), and Washington (12) are all called immediately. Obama takes all of them but Idaho and North Dakota. Iowa also comes in for Obama. Florida is definitely in, but I can’t predict for who.

Running total: Obama 277, Romney 203. New Hampshire, Virginia, Florida in but unpredictable. Colorado still out. Obama is over the top.

1:00. Alaska (3) goes for Romney and they call Colorado, but no one cares. Obama 277, Romney 206. Unpredictable: 55.

So Obama wins by midnight.

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  • tahiya  On November 5, 2012 at 1:26 pm

    Do you think more people would vote if we were allowed to bet on the elections like they are in England?

    “An invasion of armies can be resisted, but not an idea whose time has come.” Victor Hugo


    • weeklysift  On November 8, 2012 at 8:42 am

      Or maybe we should have a million-dollar lottery that you enter by voting. Or each polling place draws a random number and that voter gets a big prize. (“Congratulations! You’re the 512th voter at Jefferson Elementary School!”)

  • margyly  On November 7, 2012 at 3:52 pm

    We used this as our script last night, watching the election returns! It was so helpful, especially predicting how long it would take for the popular vote to catch up with the electoral vote.

    • Dmitry  On February 3, 2013 at 6:41 am

      Petulant,You bring up a point I have been pondering.Is it relaly the public that wants every detail of the boys life, etc? It seems to me the media run under their own power on these kinds of things. It seems they actually create the market with their breathless and horrified theatrics. They repeat it all over and over, they set up cliff hanger after cliff hanger. They interview every misquito or fly that every flew in his airspace.Sure, we all have some level of curiosity, and I suppose there is a large audience who have been trained to love this sort of thing well, I know I have my own perspective. I have watched 15 30 seconds or less each time I channel surf through fox and cnn.I’m just not that interested in what one crazy person does on one day, when we have a whole bunch of crazies so far worse everyday.The good news is there won’t be a trial. I guess that is bad news for fox, court tv, etc.I need to go back and read my Orwell. Then I will take my pulse again and see how I feel.

  • Allan Tate  On November 7, 2012 at 10:26 pm

    This post, plus your others this week, were helpful while watching the election. I really like the way that you consolidated and organized the information. Other sites had data, but not the same analysis. I’d be interested in seeing a post election scorecard to document your actual level of accuracy, just for future reference.

    • weeklysift  On November 8, 2012 at 8:38 am

      I should have kept track of when states came in, just for reference, but I didn’t. In general, I got the states right — because Nate Silver did — but I expected some of them to come in sooner than they did, especially Virginia and Pennsylvania.

      • Pedro  On January 30, 2014 at 4:31 am

        Well, anyhow. I want to buzz through a scenario that could have made Romney the winner. So Romney comes out about a day after the last debate and proposes that something be done about the filibuster. The filibuster or threat of filibuster will endanger his legislative program, and he will need to get on with governing. He is acting Presidential now by planning for the future. He will stop watching the polls and go for it. The filibuster will become the national campaign issue that it has never been before. He will ask the American People to get after their Senators and push them to change Senate Rule 22. This way he is asserting personal leadership of the people. It also validates his assertion that Washington will not change from the inside but must be forced to change from the outside.Amazingly this program will not cost the American People anything except for what each wants to spend in raising hell with the Senate. I bet there is not one American in ten who has any regard for the filibuster, so the response would be electric. It would also be bipartisan since so many are fed up with the disfunction of Congress. Some old grouchy Senators will complain that it is not the President’s (ie. Romney’s) business to interfere with the Senate citing seperation of powers doctrine. All he need reply is that it may not be his business, but it sure as hell is the People’s business to interfere with the Senate. As any objectrive history of the Senate will tell you, the Senators tend to think that the Senate belongs to them. The six year terms and many other perks make them impervious to change. Now Mr. Romney will refer to it as the People’s Senate and the people will lead themselves in a crusade to change the cloture rule.In his first announcement, Romney would also call on the Republican Senatorial candidates to support him in the effort. By in large I think this would help their campaigns also and possibly create a Republican majority in the Senate. Alright, lets back up a minute. Yes, ground work would have to be done. The Romney campaign would most secretly have to contact each of the Senate candidates and get some kind of commitment from them before hand. They would probably have to send an ambassador to each of the 33 campaigns and negotiate in secrecy. Could there be leaks? Yes, that is why it must be done quickly so as to avoid leaks and then spring it into the campaign as a surprise. Yes, very risky. Some candidates might feel threatened by the idea as some of their consitutients or backers may favor the filibuster. They would not have to support it directly. If they oppose it, then that is the nature of a bipartisan world. The bipartisan nature of this proposal cannot be kept out of it. But the Republicans have to jump on it first. It should not affect Romney’s success unless things get crazy. Kind of messy? Maybe that is a subject for another time.


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