Every four years, viewers are forced to somehow interpret the Electoral College, exit polls and the inexact science of network calls.
Well, that’s what I’m here for. As you’re witnessing the results pore in, this guide will help prepare you for those excruciating final hours of this national marathon.
5:00 pm: The First Exit Polls Are Released
Ever since the early 2004 exit polls were leaked online (they showed a major Kerry victory), the networks all keep these numbers quarantined away from the public. Quite literally in fact. After five o’clock, though, you’ll begin to see the most basic and vague of stats.
Some of these revelations will be be self-evident: a vast majority of the country will say we’re on the wrong track, a plurality will cite the economy as the top issue, etc.
Not too much should be taken from these numbers, yet Twitter will not comply.
6:00 pm: First Results Posted
Polls in most of Indiana will close and the very, very first votes will come in. Remember not to freak out if your preferred presidential candidate trails 16 to 7 in the popular vote at this point.
7:00 pm: Polls Close in Georgia (16), Indiana (11), Kentucky (8), South Carolina (9), Virginia (13) and Vermont (3)
Electoral vote totals in parentheses.
This is where the fun begins.
At this moment, Kentucky will be called for Trump and Vermont for Clinton and the big boards will begin to fill with red and blue.
It’s important to note that the networks will make a number of different designations when it comes to their calls. In addition to calling a state for Clinton/Trump or saying it’s too close to call, there is another distinction. Too early to call is a phrase you’ll hear throughout the night. This usually means that exit polls/early vote suggest one candidate is ahead but out of an abundance of caution, the networks don’t want to call it yet.
It’s quite likely that Virginia and Indiana, homes of Tim Kaine and Mike Pence respectively, will be deemed too early to call. Should either one be called immediately that would be a good early sign for the beneficiary. Finally, while South Carolina will almost certainly go for Trump, don’t be surprised if people are hesitate to immediately give it to him. TV networks are generally nervous about making calls early in the night but then gradually get more comfortable as more votes come in.
Also, Georgia should be labeled too close to call. If it’s instead described as too early, that likely indicates Trump is on the right track.
Finally, most of the polls in Florida close at this hour. Since the panhandle is in the central standard time zone, however, everyone holds off on making any characterizations. Nonetheless, this all-important state counts its votes fast as many of them will have been cast early. It’s quite probable that the result in the Sunshine State will be obvious for quite awhile before anyone makes the leap. Blame the ghosts of 2000.
As always, keep at least one eye on Florida.
Senate: The contests in Georgia, Kentucky, South Carolina and Vermont are noncompetitive and will all be called right as the polls close.
The Indiana race, however, is important as former Sen. Evan Bayh tries to regain his seat. If the Dems can hold on there, the party’s odds of retaking the upper chamber go up dramatically. If this is too early instead of too close that’s a great turn of events for them.
7:30 pm: Polls Close in North Carolina (15), Ohio (18) and West Virginia (5)
West Virginia will undoubtedly go to Trump.
North Carolina should be deemed too close to call. If it’s characterized as too early, that’s a major victory for whichever candidate it’s leaning towards.
As for Ohio, the perennial battleground has shown signs that it is not the tipping point it once was. The Buckeye State has titled Trump’s way this year and it may well be called too early and trending towards him instead of too close. The longer this state goes without being called, the better for Clinton.
Senate: Democrats really wanted to challenge Ohio Senator Rob Portman but former Governor Ted Strickland just wasn’t up to the task. This contest may be over right away.
The North Carolina battle between incumbent GOP Sen. Richard Burr and Democratic nominee Deborah Ross will be close and one of the contests that will determine who controls the Senate.
8:00 pm: 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)
Clinton will win Connecticut, Delaware, D.C., Illinois, three of Maine’s electoral votes (along with Nebraska they inexplicably split their votes by congressional district), Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Rhode Island at precisely eight.
That Maine electoral vote is likely to be left twisting in the wind for some time as Trump has specifically targeted it. While Clinton wants it, she definitely doesn’t want to be in the position that she needs it.
Meanwhile, Trump will take Alabama, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Tennessee.
The million dollar question, of course, is what will happen in Pennsylvania? In 2008, the Keystone State was called as soon as the polls closed breaking John McCain’s heart. Four years later, it took an hour and change.
If PA goes to Clinton at 8 that’s a signal she’s liable to have a great night. More likely, it will be categorized as too early and leaning towards her. A too close to call label is Trump’s best-case scenario.
Missouri would be a nice score for Trump at 8 although it’s possible it’ll be called too early and he’ll have to wait a bit.
The toss-ups are Florida (obviously) and New Hampshire (less obviously). Expect both to be categorized as too close to call.
Senate: The Republicans will retain in Alabama and Oklahoma while Dems cruise in Connecticut and Maryland.
Tammy Duckworth is heavily favored to defeat GOP incumbent Sen. Mark Kirk, representing the first pick-up for the Dems (they’ll need four or five depending on how the presidential race goes).
Democrats badly wanted to take out Marco Rubio in Florida but it doesn’t look like it’s gonna happen.
The PA race between McGinty and Toomey has been trending towards the Dems but it’s still definitely too close to call. The New Hampshire contest between Sen. Kelly Ayotte and Gov. Maggie Hassan could be razor-thin. Democrats are hoping to compete in Missouri against Sen. Roy Blunt and would welcome a too close to call classification.
These three races are liable to decide the majority. The trio would give the Senate to the victors, two should be enough, one probably won’t.
8:30 pm: Arkansas (6)
Bill Clinton’s home state is going to let him down. Their former First Lady doesn’t stand a chance.
Senate: Republican John Boozman will cruise to re-election.
9:00 pm: Arizona (11), Colorado (9), Kansas (6), Louisiana (8), Michigan (16), Minnesota (10), Nebraska (5), New Mexico (5), New York (29), North Dakota (3), South Dakota (3), Texas (38), Wisconsin (10) and Wyoming (3)
New York will go to Clinton. She’s favored in Minnesota, Wisconsin and New Mexico but those might get too early designations. If they get called right away, that’s a good sign for Hillary.
The biggest state to watch here, though, is Michigan. In 2008 and 2012, McCain and Romney each made last-minute pushes to snag Pennsylvania away. In 2016, it looks like Trump is targeting Michigan instead. If he can’t at least get a too close to call here, it will be a sign that Clinton’s Democratic firewall is holding.
Speaking of that firewall, it contains Colorado which will probably be too early to call with a Clinton lead. Clinton will aim for that and a too close to call in Arizona, the one place she’s had success expanding the map.
On the other side of the aisle, Trump will get a boost from Texas as well as Kansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming.
Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District won’t be called right away though and Trump can’t afford to have Clinton steal it away as Pres. Obama did in 2008.
Senate: Republicans will take the seats in Arizona, Kansas, Louisiana, North Dakota and South Dakota. Dems will emerge victorious in Colorado and New York.
The Wisconsin re-match between Ron Johnson and Russ Feingold looked like another Democratic slam dunk but it’s tightened in recent days. If Feingold can take it at 9 or even avoid that dreaded too close to call classification, it’ll be good news for Dems’ hopes of taking the chamber.
10:00 pm: Iowa (6), Montana (3), Nevada (6) and Utah (6)
Montana is a solidly red state while Iowa has somewhat surprisingly titled toward Trump. Watch whether it gets the too early or too close categorization.
Nevada will be one of the biggest states to watch Tuesday night. If New Hampshire gets away from Clinton, Nevada could repair the hole in her firewall. Furthermore, the dean of Nevada politics Jon Ralston has pointed to early voting statistics that put Clinton way ahead here.
Senate: Iowa and Utah will see GOP holds.
The Nevada contest is critical for control as it is the one seat where Democrats are playing defense. If it’s somehow not too close to call at first then the Dems really are setting new records with Latinos.
11:00 pm: California (55), Hawaii (4), Idaho (4), Oregon (7) and Washington (12)
This is the moment Hillary Clinton hopes she becomes the President-Elect of the United States.
That’s what happened in 2008 and four years later it took less than 15 minutes more to confirm the results.
At the very least, Clinton needs to be at the doorstep after California, Hawaii, Oregon and Washington all fall into her column.
This is a critical point to hold onto through the night, Clinton will have 78 electoral votes banked away in the west. So if she surpasses 192 electoral votes before 11:00, starting drinking either in anticipation of celebration or despair.
Idaho, by the way, will go to Trump. The state has the second-highest percentage of Mormons, though, so if the call is too early that means McMullin outperformed his expectations and could have a real shot in Utah.
Senate: All five states have Senate races and like the presidential contest none are in doubt. Idaho will go GOP, the rest Dem.
1:00 am: Alaska (3)
If Hillary Clinton hasn’t given her acceptance speech by this point she might not her get the chance. The longer the night goes on the better the odds for Trump, who is heavily favored to win Alaska. A too early designation is possible only if Clinton wins in a landslide.
Senate: Republicans will hold this seat.
November 9th and Beyond: Don’t forget, the 1960 and 2004 elections weren’t decided until the morning after. Not to mention the chaotic recount in 2000. Will 2016 take its place among those nail-biters? Well, if you follow this guide at least you’ll be the first to know.