The Financial Times and others have it Obama 237, Romney 191 in the race to 270 “electoral votes” on election day itself. So how do we determine through the night (as it is in Europe) who is likely to reach the target?
The toss-ups not included in the above total, from east to west, are New Hampshire (4), Virginia (13), North Carolina (15), Florida (29), Ohio (18), Wisconsin (10), Iowa (6), Colorado (9) and Nevada (6).
Let’s cheat a bit – I think we can give Wisconsin, Iowa and Nevada to Obama too, giving him another 22 for 259 – for viewers, the only point of interest is whether the networks “call” them immediately (based on exit polls) or wait for a significant proportion of the count to be complete before placing them definitively in the incumbent’s column. If it is the latter, it is good news for Romney as it means he is probably at the upper end of the margin of error in the polls, but I would not read too much into it either way.
This all means victory in both of Colorado and New Hampshire or in any other single state puts Obama over the magic number.
In other words, to win, I reckon Romney needs all four of Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, Ohio; plus one of New Hampshire or Colorado.
(That said, there is usually at least one total freak state which threatens to throw the maths somewhat – let us assume that threat does not turn into reality!)
So when will viewers in the UK and Ireland need to be watching (links are to analysis of each state over on Slugger by Gerry Lynch of Belfast-based polling firm LucidTalk)?
23.00 GMT: Polls begin to close in some eastern states. We should have little indication of the outcome, however, as networks are barred from making any projections for another hour.
Midnight GMT: Virginia polls close. If it is called immediately for either candidate, that means that candidate has won comfortably and obviously that is extremely good news for the winner – I would go so far to say that if it is called immediately, the winner will win the election (if Obama wins, it’s over anyway as per the above maths; if Romney wins comfortably, the polls are obviously terribly wrong at least in Virginia and quite possibly elsewhere, with even the “toss-up” states I have discounted above coming back into play). But I don’t think it will be called!
At this time, each of Georgia, Kentucky and South Carolina should be called for Romney, and Vermont for Obama - if any of that does not happen, it is good news for the opponent. Indiana should also be called for Romney, though some networks may not risk it immediately.
If Romney is leading 44-3 at this stage, it’s in line with expectations – so probably worth staying up!
00.30 GMT: Ohio and North Carolina polls close. As with Virginia, if Ohio is called immediately, it is extremely good news for the winner. If North Carolina is not called immediately, it is bad news for Romney. Again, I suspect neither will be called (the networks have been very wary since the 2000 debacle), but the winner may swiftly become apparent on “precincts reporting” – by 1am it may already be clear that Obama is going to win Ohio and, notwithstanding what happened 12 years ago, bed becomes a serious option!
West Virginia should also by now be called for Romney.
If Virginia has not been called, look for any returns for Prince William County (which is more Democratic than the nation overall, but if it is much over 55% for Obama, his challenger is in trouble) and Henrico County (historically a reliable bellwether).
If Romney is leading 49-3 at this stage, it’s in line with expectations; if he is leading 64-3, it is definitely worth staying up!
01.00 GMT: Polls close in New Hampshire, and most polls close in Florida. Again, if New Hampshire is called, it is good news for the winner, although probably not decisive given the small number of electoral votes in play and fairly unrepresentative nature of the state (Romney has a residence there). Florida will not be called at this stage (that was the fundamental mistake made in 2000), but we may get some indication of Obama‘s lead outside the “Panhandle” and expect strong views on Twitter as to the likely winner at this point (remembering, again, Romney must win to have any realistic chance).
Pennsylvania also closes at this time - Obama is highly likely to win, but if it is not called, this is good news (or consolation, depending on how others have gone) for Romney.
Alabama, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma and Tennessee should be called for Romney at this time; and Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Rhode Island for Obama.
One of Maine’s congressional districts may not be called at this stage (which would be good news for Romney if matched by similar outcomes elsewhere, but mathematically cannot make any difference if my above assumptions are correct).
If Ohio has not yet been called, look out for Cuyahoga County (essentially Cleveland), which Obama should win by 2:1 – much more than that, and he’s safe; much less, and Romney is in with a chance. Conversely, Romney would really need to win Hamilton County (Cincinnati) to have any chance of taking the state.
Polls also close in the District of Columbia - we can already safely “call” it for Obama!
In Florida, if still not yet called, look out for returns from Hillsborough County (Tampa), a reliable bellwether which has gone with the state’s overall winner for the past half century. Romney will also want to hold on to a long-standing Republican advantage in Duval County (Jacksonville), to get a buffer for poorer returns from Miami-Dade.
If Obama has taken the lead at this point (he should be on anywhere from 97 to 117, with Romney on 92 to 107), he is the likely winner – but if it is still within that range, it is probably worth keeping at least one eye open, and if he is not yet ahead, keep wide awake!
02.00 GMT: Polls close in Colorado. It is highly unlikely it will be “called” immediately – however, a lot of its votes have already been cast, so it shouldn’t take long to get a clear idea who has won unless it is incredibly close.
By now, Arkansas, Arizona, Kansas, Louisiana, Nebraska (including its congressional districts), South Dakota, Texas and Wyoming should have been called for Romney.
New York will be called for Obama immediately; polls also close at this time in New Mexico, Minnesota and Michigan and Obama will win all of these – but if any of them are not called upon polls closing, and Romney is still in contention overall, we are in for a long night!
By now, the key states of Florida, Ohio and Virginia should have been “called” on the basis of on-going counts even if they were not immediately after polls closed. If none of them has been called for Obama by now, Romney is at least still in the race.
If Obama is on 180+ at this stage, he is the winner – and it’s time for bed.
If Romney is on 250+ at this stage, he is the winner – and the pollsters are all out of business!
If neither of the above applies, Obama is much below 175, and Romney is above 195, it is close – time for a strong coffee!
03.00 GMT: Presumably, if we are still watching, none of Florida, Ohio, Virginia or Colorado is yet absolutely clear (at least not in favour of Obama), and Romney has won North Carolina.
At this stage, Montana and Utah should be called for Romney; polls close in Iowa and Nevada; if either of these is not immediately called for Obama and he remains 20-30 behind, it’s time for another strong coffee!
04.00 GMT: Polls close in California, whose 55 electoral votes should take Obama past 270 at this stage and confirm his election, particularly if combined with the 19 he should receive from the Pacific North West states of Oregon and Washington and 4 from his native Hawaii.
Romney should be confirmed winner in Idaho and North Dakota at this point – if this is anything more than consolation, we are either in for litigation or the challenger has pulled off an upset victory (with 4 further votes from Alaska to come an hour later).
05.00 GMT: All polls have closed – why are you still awake?!