Construction Literary Magazine

Fall 2020

Previewing (and Predicting) Election Night

Previewing (and Predicting) Election Night

Image via the New Paltz Oracle

Author’s note: Print this article and have it with you tonight as an Election Night guide. If I’m wrong, you’ll want the hard evidence, as I’ll lobby our editors to take this column down as rapidly as possible. Have your own predictions? Post them in the comment section below!

It’s here. It’s finally here. I have the honor of Construction’s last pre-election word on Campaign 2012. Ben Hoffman, Stephen Kurczy, Anthony Resnick, Josh Lawson and I have been covering this election all year (here’s our final roundtable). And now it’s finally here. What can we expect tonight as the election unfolds? Here is my Election Night preview followed by my final predictions.

First, I must slightly expand the “Rock Hard Floor” from Friday’s Electoral Math edition. The Minnesota murmurs have grown too loud to ignore. On Sunday morning, notable conservative columnist George Will echoed FoxNews favorites Dick Morris and Michael Barone as saying Mitt Romney will win in a landslide; among other surprises, Will reasons that Minnesota will flip red due to its gay marriage ban referendum, which would attract evangelicals to the polls and send Romney to victory. One of the brighter pundits around, Will might be onto something. With a recent poll showing a 3-point Obama lead (and a sketchy report showing Romney up 1), I’ll remove Minnesota as a certain Obama state.

That leaves us with a “Rock Hard Floor” tie—I love it!—of 191 each. For those filling out electoral maps, start there. All you have to do is fill out the remaining 12 states.{{1}} Before we get to how I filled out mine, I thought the best way to go about a preview of Election Night would be to share with you a timeline of its events.{{2}} (Polls’ closing times found here.)

Election Night Timeline

7:00: Eight states close their polls, though two will still have a few precincts open.{{3}} Of course, those two states are each battlegrounds—Florida and New Hampshire—so we won’t get results from either for at least for another hour. The swing state of Virginia also closes here. One of the tightest states of the contest, Virginia must be closely monitored. The other five states will be called almost immediately, and we’ll have an electoral count of Romney 44, Obama 3. Moments later, uneducated Democrats will soil themselves. However, they shouldn’t be alarmed. Eyes should only be on Virginia as we await Florida and New Hampshire’s remaining precincts to close.{{4}}

7:30: Three more states close—North Carolina, West Virginia, and Ohio. West Virginia will quickly be called for Romney, and he’ll take a 49-3 lead. North Carolina will take perhaps an hour or two to call for Romney. If it takes longer than that, it’s a good omen for team Obama. Ohio needs no introduction. We won’t get its call until around midnight, if tonight at all.

8:00: The mother lode: 14 states and a district—comprising 174 electoral votes—close their polls.{{5}} Romney will quickly take six of them, including the second largest prize of the night—Texas—to bring him up to 130. Obama will win six of the states and the District of Columbia to bring him to 71. The other two—Pennsylvania and Michigan—won’t be called for a couple hours and, if Romney has anything to say about it, perhaps longer. Like Obama and North Carolina, these two states should be monitored for a Romney surprise indicating a big night for the Republican.{{6}}

8:30: Arkansas is the lone 8:30 state and will add six more electorals to Romney’s sum. It’ll then be 136-71 Romney as Democrats across the country start to research Canadian real estate. At this point, we should still be tracking updates in Florida, Virginia, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and, of course, Ohio. North Carolina is the most likely to be called by now (in favor of Romney).

[pullquote_right]If Minnesota and Wisconsin are looking tight after 10:00, watch out.[/pullquote_right]

9:00: The runner-up mother lode: 13 states, 104 electoral votes.{{7}} Romney will take six of these states and add 34 electoral votes to bring him to 170. Obama will take at least 41 electorals and probably 42, depending on Maine’s light blue second district and arrive at 113.{{8}} Colorado, Minnesota, and Wisconsin close here and should be monitored. The Obama Campaign wants relatively quick calls on Minnesota and Wisconsin. If they’re looking tight after 10:00, watch out.

10:00: Six more states close their polls.{{9}} Romney will immediately take four of them for 18 more electoral votes, reaching his largest lead of the night, 188-113. Democrats across the country, if no swing states have been called in their favor, continue their descent into madness. Iowa and Nevada also close at 10, and we’ll await their projections with bated breath until about midnight.

11:00: At 11, Obama will erase the Romney lead when four Pacific states close and all rule in his favor.{{10}} The President will add 78 electorals—including California’s 54—and rise up to a 191-188 lead. One hour later, Alaska, the final state to close its polls, will add 3 more to Romney, bringing the contest to 191-191.

And that’s your timeline for Election Night.{{11}} Of course, it probably won’t be 191-191 at midnight. At some point before then, many of the 12 swing states will be called. Those are the states that demand the most attention as the night evolves. Here’s when those states close:

7:00: Virginia

7:30: Ohio, North Carolina

8:00: Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan, New Hampshire

9:00: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Colorado

10:00: Iowa, Nevada

Keep these states in mind all night, and watch as their results come in.


All right, I’ve stalled long enough, but one last thing before the predictions. By far, my largest obstacle in making predictions was the poll dilemma I discussed last Monday. I saw trouble looming with some inconsistencies with the internal polling data, which worried me about the pollster’s general accuracy. There’s a sizeable camp that thinks the pollsters relied on poor premises, most notably the balance of Democrats and Republicans who will show up to vote on Election Day. They might be right.{{12}} Onto the picks!

The president will hold on (for dear life) to Pennsylvania, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. Each of the four voted Democratic for not only Obama four years ago, but Kerry and Gore as well. This is not the election they desert the party. The average poll lead for each is 3.8 and higher. While outlier polls might show it closer, the preponderance of polls suggests they will vote for the president. These 56 electoral votes bring him to 247.

Romney will benefit from the typically strong finish of a challenger and hold onto his Florida and North Carolina leads and their 44 electoral votes, bringing him to 235. Six states remain: Ohio (18), Virginia (13), Colorado (9), Nevada (6), Iowa (6), and New Hampshire (4).{{13}}

Of the six, only one is on the easier side to call. The president will win Nevada. The Associated Press notes Romney’s last-minute decision to cancel a trip to Nevada in order to focus on other states further east. The Romney Campaign probably saw some numbers they didn’t like and sent surrogates instead. Every poll revealed by RealClearPolitics shows either an Obama lead or, in the case of only two of its last thirty polls, a tie. FoxNews, too, recognizes Obama’s clear advantage there. These 6 electorals put the President at 253.

[pullquote_right]I don’t know if you’ve heard, but Ohio is probably picking our next president.[/pullquote_right]

Of the five remaining states, I’m most confident in Iowa’s result. It will also send six electoral votes to President Obama. The final Des Moines Register poll came out and showed the president with a 5-point lead. Business Insider reported that the Romney Campaign was “devastated” by this poll. They loved their momentum in Iowa, but it looks like they’ll come up a bit short. Of the last seven major polls there, Romney leads two of them by a single point, while Obama leads the other five by 2, 2, 4, 5, and 6. Obama arrives at 259. Four states remain.

My next most confident call (and, mind you, we’re getting into the relative “lack of confidence” area with these final four) is New Hampshire, which will keep New England fully blue. Like Nevada, Romney is close in many polls, but doesn’t lead any of them. Of the last 11 polls, Obama leads 9 of them and there’s a tie in the other 2. Should be a slim Obama win in the Granite State. That makes it 263-235 in favor of the president.

And then there were three. Colorado has been nip and tuck throughout this election. Along with Virginia, it’s one of two states that go back and forth with nearly every new poll. Obama’s current slim lead means nothing. Expect Romney to close well and take the state. Similarly, Virginia will break toward Romney and return to the party it had supported for so long before Obama caught lightning in a bottle in 2008. Their combined 22 electoral votes bring Romney to 257, trailing the President by 4. Obama is 9 short of victory, Romney 13 short.

Only Ohio’s 22 electoral votes remain. I don’t know if you’ve heard, but Ohio is probably picking our next president.

Or, should I say, it’s re-electing our current one. Obama 281, Romney 257.

[[1]]Florida (29 electoral votes), Pennsylvania (20), Ohio (18), Michigan (16), North Carolina (15), Virginia (13), Wisconsin (10), Minnesota (10), Colorado (9), Iowa (6), Nevada (6), and New Hampshire (4).[[1]]

[[2]]We’ll want to see when each of the dozen swing states is called, but we’ll also want to see how fast states are called. For example, if a swing state calls for one candidate relatively quickly, that might mean that the polls were underrepresenting that candidate’s support across the country. Likewise, if a safe state like Connecticut or Georgia is not called within 15 minutes of closing, that shows that the state’s underdog is doing better than expected for similar reasons.[[2]]

[[3]] Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, South Carolina, Vermont, and Virginia close fully. Florida and New Hampshire are still partially open.[[3]]

[[4]]A note on Florida: if Obama wins it, that’s the ballgame. Note #2 on Florida: Expect Romney to take an early lead in the percentage, as Democratic areas of the state take a bit longer to report, then Obama to slim the lead.[[4]]

[[5]]Alabama, Connecticut, Delaware, D.C., Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Texas.[[5]]

[[6]]If Romney wins either, it’s a sign that Romney will be president-elect by midnight.[[6]]

[[7]]Kansas, North Dakota, South Dakota (most parts of those states closed at 8 but won’t be fully closed until 9), Arizona, Colorado, Louisiana, Maine, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.[[7]]

[[8]]Maine and Nebraska allocate their electoral votes based on congressional district, not winner-take-all. I’m sure I speak for all electoral mathematicians when I say, “Thanks a lot, guys.”[[8]]

[[9]]Nebraska (most of it closed at 9), Idaho, Iowa, Montana, Nevada, and Utah.[[9]]

[[10]]California, Hawaii, Oregon (the most likely to be competitive), and Washington.[[10]]

[[11]]Actually, there’s more to the timeline. If we know who wins by midnight, we still can enjoy the following:

Overnight: The losing side splits into several sects. A) Those who think the election was stolen. They’ll blame polling irregularities and other mischief. B) Those that make excuses. Democrats will blame a false sense of security from the polls and voter suppression. Republicans blame Hurricane Sandy, Christie’s presidential adoration, and, their favorite target, the conspiratorial Mainstream Media. C) Those that start to influence their party and what it needs to do for a 2016 win. And D) Those who partake in a combination of the above.[[11]]

[[12]]Moreover, the latest conservative drumbeat is that the GOP ticket is turning out larger crowds. Meanwhile, liberals point to a superior ground game (with vastly more campaign offices in key swing states), micro-targeting, and more online activity like tweets. (Both crowds and tweets are signs of enthusiasm in this day and age, right? One is the established way, one the possible way of the future.) The point is that all of this extra stuff evens out. I suspect that all the small stuff on which each base is counting amounted to overconfidence then and negation now. Both sides think they have the inside edge, but they see what they want to see in the numbers while giving little credence to what the other side is saying. In other news, dog bites man.[[12]]

[[13]]It’s worth noting that, at 247-235 with six states remaining, if Obama wins Ohio and New Hampshire while Romney takes Virginia, Colorado, Nevada, and Iowa, we have the 269-269 tie.[[13]]