When the Polls Close

Jeff Alworth

It will only be 4 pm Oregon time when the polls start closing tomorrow, and everyone will be watching to see what kind of barometer they represent.  I'll be watching, too, and here are some thoughts about what these states might tell us as the waves of poll closings sweep west.  (Note: all times Pacific, all poll numbers from Pollster's trend.)

4 pm Close
The key swing states closing at four are Virginia (+6.1%) and Ohio (+5.6%).  These are two Bush states that have been leaning Obama in the polls throughout the year. If there is a Bradley effect in play, it should express itself in these states.  If for some reason Obama is underperforming here, it's time to get concerned.  If, on the other hand, he's winning by something similar to the poll margins (4-7%), it's evidence that Obama's in for a good night. If they're too close to call, or if Obama's trailing, it is a bad sign.  As states within the Appalachian belt Obama struggled with, they may not be indicative of how the country will go, but may cause worry about his prospects in Pennsylvania.

The canary-in-a-coalmine states for Obama are Indiana (-.9%) and Georgia (-2.2%).  If he's not only looking good in Virginia and Ohio, but staying competitive or scoring an early win in one of these states, break out the Talisker.

4:30 Close
The only key state here is  North Carolina (+.5%), a real tweener.  If things are looking mixed in the first batch, NC may clarify things ... or further throw them into confusion.  Obama doesn't need NC nor do I expect him to get it, but either a win or a big loss would tell us something about where the night's headed.

5:00 Close
Most of the rest of the East Coast states close at five, as well as an important Midwest state.  Those Obama needs are New Hampshire (+11.9%) and Pennsylvania (+7.7%).  Although McCain has made a push in these states, there's no reason to think they're competitive.  McCain had to make a push somewhere, after all.  If they look bad for Obama, we'll probably already know that something's wrong from the earlier states.  In McCain's path to 270, Pennsylvania is a must-win, and NH is a safety state if Obama's picking up erstwhile Bush states.  I will breathe a sigh of relief if PA comes in early and strongly for Obama.

Florida (+2.6)closes at five, and it could be an important bellwether, not only for Obama, but Congress.   Watch to see if the Diaz-Balart brothers (CD 21 and 25)  are holding onto their seats.  Florida's not really important numerically this year, but it's such a symbolic state, that to win it would be sweet indeed.  And, if Obama's racking up a landslide, look to see Missouri (+2.0%) go blue. 

6:00 Close
By this time, we should really be seeing some things. The early states will have been closed two hours and the number of reporting precincts should be pretty high.  The only way this batch will matter is if the election is a nail-biter.  In that case, there are two key states here: New Mexico (+8.6%) and Colorado (+6.9%).  If Obama holds all of the Kerry states (NH and PA are the only two at risk), then these two states, along with Iowa, will give Obama the win.  If the results are murky and unclear coming west, these may be hopeful states for Obama.  Once we cross the Mississippi and exit Appalachia, the tenor of the election changes.

7:00 Close
Only four states close at seven, but three of them are important.  Obama should easily pick up Iowa (+12.9%).  Two other states will tell us a lot about shifting US voting demographics.  Obama leads surprisingly strongly in Nevada (+6.8%) and has a long-shot chance to pick up Montana (-1.9%).  If Obama could pick up these states, it might finally re-orient politics so that they don't hinge on the North/South axis.

8:00 Close
This is when the West Coast closes, and the implications in Oregon are the concern of another post.  But many of us are keenly interested in California's Prop 8, so that's something to keep your eye on.

Happy watching!

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    It's actually worth noting that some precincts in Indiana close at 3pm, though not all (same with meaningless Kentucky). I advise caution in interpreting these results if they're released--most of the state is in the eastern time zone, but not Lake County, home of Gary and a great many of the Obama voters. Obama will be getting killed in the early returns until Lake results come in.

  • backbeat (unverified)

    As states within the Appalachian belt Obama struggled with, they may not be indicative of how the country will go, but may cause worry about his prospects in Pennsylvania.

    Will you quit pushing this silly meme? So Hillary did BETTER than Obama did in that area. It does not in any way mean he struggles against MCCRAZY in those areas.

    Here is what Atrios said about it: It's 13 days before the election, and apparently I still have to explain to the people whose job it is to cover it that results in party primaries really have little to no predictive power for the results in the general. Yesterday someone was suggesting that Obama would have troubles in PA because he didn't win the primary, and today someone suggested that McCain could do well in NH because he won the primary there.

    Please stop with the silly stuff. Thank you.

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    Well, backbeat, I don't suppose it qualifies as a myth or an inaccuracy. It's a political judgment that you and Atrios are welcome to disagree with, but it's not an outrageous one.

    If one assumes that Democrats in Appalachia voted against Obama in the primary because they're racists, then it's reasonable to assume that they'll vote against him now.

    I don't happen to agree with that judgment (if we learned anything from Doug Wilder's win as Governor of Virginia in 1989, it's that whites in the "hill country" can be convinced to vote for a black candidate if the economic conditions are right)... but it's not an unreasonable argument.

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    For what it's worth, I agree with Backbeat's central point. How Democrats voted in Appalachia tells us less than all we need to know about how Appalachians in toto will vote in the general. It's actually a point I've made a number of times.

    However, that's not what I wrote. I don't think there's any dispute that Obama underperformed in Appalachian states among Dems in the primary. It is that to which I referred when I wrote: "As states within the Appalachian belt Obama struggled with,..." He did struggle with them.

    My point is that if we see him underperforming in these states in the general, we may be able to make larger arguments about the Bradley effect as it relates to Appalachia (or some other, as yet un-defined effect). That's especially the case if they are outliers for performance vs. pre-election polling. We won't know anything that early in the evening, though, and my point was to say that these states should have an asterisk next to them--they do have interesting characteristics that distinguish them.

    What I expected to get tagged on was my characterization of Virginia as being in the Appalachian belt, which is it, but just barely. And Obama killed there in the primaries. If you wish to take the wood to me on that one, fair enough.

  • Eric Ramon (unverified)

    ok...there never was a Bradley Effect. I was in the room as that specific exit poll was tabulated. The guy running the poll decided he didn't like the turnout numbers he was seeing in South Central Los Angeles and told us (the number crunchers) to weight the data, to essentially count more Democrats than were showing up in the poll.

    He went on TV, called the race for Bradley, then hours later had to backtrack and made up the Bradley Effect. What was he gonna do? Say on TV that his own poll showed Deukmejian the winner and that he'd mucked with the data? For the sake of his reputation and future employment he lied through his teeth.

    I can't say anything about the Wilder Effect because I wasn't there and if Obama loses maybe it'll be from an Obama Effect, but there was no Bradley Effect!

  • valkraider (unverified)

    Isn't it illegal to announce results from any state until polls have closed in all states?

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    ok...there never was a Bradley Effect.

    Actually, according to Harvard, there was a Bradley effect. It appears to have vanished since the mid-90s. The definition applies to a phenomenon, whether its titular instance is a case of it or not: "the 'Bradley effect' occurs when a non-white (usually black) candidate falls short of opinion polls on Election Day when he/she runs against a white candidate."

    In my comments, I refer to a phenomenon which, unlike a disease, can't necessarily be permenently eradicated. In the samples of presidential elections run between white and nonwhite candidates we have exactly ... zero other cases. So it remains to be seen what will happen.

    I understand what your point is, Eric, and I appreciate the history. There are various refutations that credibly argue that the Deukmejian/Bradley race was not, in fact, a good example of the Bradley effect.

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    Isn't it illegal to announce results from any state until polls have closed in all states?

    If only that were true, but sadly, no.

    <h2>We've always known the winner long before the polls closed in Hawaii.</h2>

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