Election night: what to watch, hour by hour

All times are Eastern Standard

7:00pm: Polls close in Florida and begin to close in New Hampshire.

Florida is a critical win for Mr. Trump to maintain his narrow path to 270 electoral votes. Secretary Clinton will need high voter turnout in the greater Miami area, particularly among its Hispanic population. Early voting in the state is already running high, particularly among Hispanics, to Mrs. Clinton’s benefit.  Turnout will need to look promising in the 7:00 to 8:00pm hour as polls in Florida’s panhandle, a critical area for Mr. Trump, will close at 8:00pm.

Also pay attention to Florida’s Senate race.  Senator Marco Rubio is trying to fend off a strong challenge from Democrat Patrick Murphy.  While Senator Rubio is currently ahead in the polls, a close Florida Senate election or, certainly, a Murphy win would be an early, ominous sign for Republicans in their bit to retain control of the Senate.  This race will also provide an early look at whether Republican voters are willing to split their votes between a highly polarizing Donald Trump at the top of the ticket and a down-ballot slate of Republicans.

Many, but not all polling places in the state of New Hampshire will begin to close at 7pm and will provide an early indication of turnout strength for both Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton. It is unlikely the state will be called for either candidate until all polls are closed at 8pm. New Hampshire is also home to one of the key Senate races of the evening between Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte and challenger, Governor Maggie Hassan.  Should Governor Hassan pick up this seat, it will provide Democrats one of the four or five seats (depending upon the party of the Vice President) required for Democrats to gain control of the Senate. Like Florida, turnout for Senator Ayotte will also indicate Republicans’ willingness to split their votes between Mr. Trump and down-ballot Republican candidates.

7:30pm: Polls close in North Carolina and Ohio.

In North Carolina, Secretary Clinton will need to realize a strong turnout in the Charlotte area as well as the research triangle of Raleigh-Durham.  North Carolina will provide some insight into the turnout levels among millennials in Raleigh-Durham area, home to the University of North Carolina and Duke University, as well as African Americans who appear to be voting in lower numbers as indicated by early voting levels. Turnout of these two demographics, described as the Obama electorate, will be key to a Clinton victory, and low turnout indicators in North Carolina will be a significant concern for Democrats up and down the ballot. North Carolina may also provide insight into the validity of the claim of a hidden Trump vote who, while unwilling to publically proclaim support for him, will nevertheless materialize at the polls. If this claim holds water, it will be revealed in higher than expected Trump support among college-educated white voters.

Another possible Democratic pick-up in the Senate can be found in North Carolina. Here, Republican Senator Richard Burr is running slightly ahead of Democratic challenger Deborah Ross in the polls. This will be a key Senate seat for Republicans to retain early in the evening.  A Republican loss here would significantly reduce their likelihood of retaining Senate control given more competitive races to be decided later in the evening.

Ohio seems to be trending in Mr. Trump’s favor, and will prove a must-win for his election.  While both North Carolina and Ohio will prove essential for Mr. Trump, a loss in Ohio would likely signal an early end to the election evening. This state will also provide an indication of Mr. Trump’s ability to turnout base voters in what it called a Get-Out-The-Vote (GOTV) operation. Mr. Trump will have to run very high in driving his core support among middle class and working class white voters to the polls. A higher-than expected turnout in Ohio for this voting demographic would demonstrate a stronger than expected Trump GOTV operation and prove a good, early omen for the candidate moving forward.

8:00pm: Polls close in Pennsylvania, Michigan, New Hampshire, and Illinois.

Secretary Clinton currently leads in polls in both Pennsylvania and Michigan, however the high numbers of blue collar and working class white voters in each state make them competitive for Mr. Trump.

In Pennsylvania Mrs. Clinton will need strong turnout in the Philadelphia area.  Turnout here will provide perhaps the strongest indicator yet of whether African American turnout will be lower as indicated by early voting levels. Mrs. Clinton will also need to perform well in the “collar counties” surrounding Philadelphia. This area is home to a large percentage of college-educated, affluent whites and married, white women, two key swing demographics historically open to voting Republican.  If Mrs. Clinton sweeps this area, it will indicate that, despite his late outreach, Mr. Trump has been unable to attract educated whites and married women. For his part, Mr. Trump will need a strong turnout in central and western Pennsylvania, areas dominated by working class white voters.

Another key race in the bid for Senate control is found in Pennsylvania between Republican Senator Pat Toomey and Democratic challenger Katie McGinty.  This is currently a tossup race and will likely be decided by strength of turnout, whether in the Philadelphia metropolitan area for Democrats or in western Pennsylvania for Republicans.

Like Pennsylvania, Michigan is also trending for Mrs. Clinton. Both states have historically seemed like tight races in Presidential election cycles only to support the Democratic candidate. It is clear Mrs. Clinton is concerned about Michigan as she has recently deployed surrogates and critical resources to shoring up the state, part of Mrs. Clinton’s blue firewall. Mr. Trump must pick-off one state currently trending in Mrs. Clinton’s favor, and Michigan, with its high level of working class white voters seems like a possible contender. An outside win here for Mr. Trump would greatly improve his path to 270 electoral votes.

While not competitive in the Presidential race, the Senate race in Illinois between Republican Senator Mark Kirk and his challenger, Democratic Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth, seems like a guaranteed pick-up for the Democrats bid for the Senate.

9:00pm: Polls close in Arizona, Colorado, and Wisconsin.

As of mid-October, polls in both Arizona and Colorado were tight.  Since the FBI’s announcement that it had re-opened its investigation into the Clinton emails, Arizona, an historically Republican state, has trended strongly in Mr. Trump’s direction.  He must win this state to maintain a path to 270 electoral votes.

Colorado was trending in Mrs. Clinton’s favor, but polls have tightened considerably since the FBI announcement.  While this is not a must-win for the Secretary, like Colorado, this is a must-win for Mr. Trump.

While Wisconsin is not competitive at the Presidential level, the Senate race between Republican Senator Ron Johnson and his challenger, the former Democratic Senator Russ Feingold appears likely to flip to the Democrats. This, along with the Senate race in Illinois, should provide a second pick-up for Democrats in their bid to retake the Senate.

10:00pm: Polls close in Nevada, Iowa, and Utah.

Polls in Nevada and Iowa both currently show Mr. Trump leading Secretary Clinton by 3 points, barely within the margin of error. Both of these states are a must-win for Mr. Trump.  Of the two, Iowa is the more likely to vote in Trump’s favor.  In Nevada, Mr. Trump will need strong voter turnout in Reno as well as a lower than expected turnout among the state’s high Hispanic population.

Utah is a deep red state, but a strong challenge from Independent candidate Evan McMullin is giving Mr. Trump heartburn. In a normal election year, Utah would vote solidly for the Republican, but the state’s Republicans have not “come home” to the divisive Republican candidate choosing instead Mr. McMullin’s independent candidacy as a protest vote. Mr. McMullin’s Mormon faith is a strong draw to Utah’s population, however Mr. Trump’s poll numbers have improved here recently. He must win the state if he has any hope of winning the Presidency.

Nevada’s Senate race also provides Republicans their best hope for a pick-up. Election for the seat being vacated by retiring Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid is currently too close to call between Republican candidate Joe Heck and Democratic candidate Catherine Cortez Masto.  Should Republicans be able to flip this seat, it would significantly reduce the likelihood that the Democrats will gain control of the Senate, even with a possible swing vote from a Vice President Tim Kaine.

Categories: North America, Politics

About Author

Jon Lang

Mr. Lang is a Principal at Key Global Advisory, a geo-political and economic risk consultancy. His prior professional experience ranges from strategy consulting at Deloitte to national US policy development for the White House. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Government from Georgetown University, a master’s degree in European Political Economics from the London School of Economics, and is currently completing a global executive MBA at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business.