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Many of us are wondering when we will know the results of the election tomorrow night. How long does it take for the networks to call the election for a state?

To study this matter I looked at the relationship between interval of time between when a poll in a state closed and when the state was called for a candidate as a function of the margin of victory.

Below the fold are the results and some predictions on timing of Election night.

The chart below shows the time between poll closing and when CBS news called a state in the 2000 (green circles) and 2004 (blue squares) elections vs. the margin of victory in the state.
The dotted or dashed red lines indicate the margin of victory currently (Monday AM) predicted by Nate Silver at

One thing that is immediately obvious is that the delay in calling states was much greater in 2004 (blue line) than in 2000 (green line). No doubt this was caused by the fiasco of Florida having been called for Gore, then retracted from Gore on Election night of 2000. The network decision desks got more careful.

Although the margin was only about 4%, Oregon was called fairly quickly in 2004, after about an hour: I am assuming that is because ballots are mail-in. New Jersey was the closest state in 2004 to be called as soon as the polls closed. In 2000 the closest "immediately called" state was Michigan.

Assuming that networks this year will be a bit less cautious than in 2004, but more cautious than 2000, we can expect the calls to come at (EST):

VA: 8:30-11:00 PM  
PA: 9:30-11:00 PM  
CO: 10:30-12:00 PM  
OH: 10 PM at the earliest, but possibly quite late
FL:  11:30 PM or later
NC: very late

All these states should go to Obama, but we may have to wait more than we’d like for the good news.

The effects of early voting on the timing of the calls is hard to predict. Telephone polls which probe early voting are used to supplement exit polls on Election Day; conceivably heavy early voting in CO, for example, will make it possible to call the state sooner.  

If current margin predictions hold, we could know the results in PA and VA by 9:30 and it may be pretty much a wrap at that point. Obviously greater margins will give quicker calls; and if things get close it’s likely we won’t know much until after 11 PM.

Originally posted to rilkas on Mon Nov 03, 2008 at 07:25 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  tip jar for an early night! (16+ / 0-)

    Virtues are lost in self-interest just as rivers are lost in the sea. -- François de la Rochefoucauld

    by rilkas on Mon Nov 03, 2008 at 07:26:17 AM PST

    •  Intersting graph & analysis. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Where did you get the data?
      Is the bottom axis the number of hours after the polls closed?
      I'll be happy if we have a clear Obama victory before the morning news shows on Wed. morning.

      We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them. Albert Einstein

      by BigVegan on Mon Nov 03, 2008 at 07:33:54 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  the data (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        fabacube, BigVegan

        is from David Leip's Election Atlas. I calculated the time difference between poll closing times and state calls. The time in hours is shown on the x-axis, while the margin of victory is on the y-axis.

        If I had the data I could do the same for all the networks, not just CBS, but I couldn't find a timeline for the others. I am assuming they call at about the same time ordinarily, though.

        Virtues are lost in self-interest just as rivers are lost in the sea. -- François de la Rochefoucauld

        by rilkas on Mon Nov 03, 2008 at 07:39:05 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  Thanks for the analysis (0+ / 0-)

      I've been wondering about this for a few days now. More specifically, wondering which state will tip it over.

      With California polls not closing until 11pm, it looks to me like it may be hard for the networks to not call things before then.

  •  Margins Aside We Don't Want it Called Too Early-- (8+ / 0-)

    We don't want thousands of Democratic line waiters giving up west of the Mississippi and costing us downticket races and issues.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Mon Nov 03, 2008 at 07:31:14 AM PST

    •  indeed (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      fabacube, mconvente, BigVegan, EDisney

      You're right, I didn't think of the downticket races. I am especially concerned about prop 8 in CA.

      In Canada it's not permitted to report anything until all polls are closed. As in so many ways, they are more sensible up there.

      Virtues are lost in self-interest just as rivers are lost in the sea. -- François de la Rochefoucauld

      by rilkas on Mon Nov 03, 2008 at 07:33:48 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Who Does an Early Call hurt? (0+ / 0-)

      I've been thinking about this and I wonder whether an early call hurts Democratic candidates  more than Republican ones. There's is a lot of early vote in the can already largely favoring Democrats. An early call might discourage McCain voters more since they tend to be more anti-Obama than pro McCain. I suspect this is not a question with an answer than is applicable everywhere, particularly those states with no early voting. What was the effect in 1996, for example, with a reasonably early call?

  •  What about polls having to stay open (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Tracker, Nebraskablue, BigVegan

    because of long lines? They can't call a state as long as people are in line can they? Is the delay because it may be close or because of the lines? IIRC at least one precinct in OH didn't close until after midnight in 2004.

    You fell victim to one of the classic blunders, the most famous of which is "Never get involved in a land war in Asia".

    by yellowdog on Mon Nov 03, 2008 at 07:33:31 AM PST

    •  yes (0+ / 0-)

      I think that could be a factor. Recently there's been some talk of real problems arising in VA because of too few machines. We may have to wait a lot longer than we expect.

      I am hoping OH won't be such a mess this time. But VA could be. They have one machine per 750 voters, way too few. And fewer in minority districts than in white-majority ones. As usual.

      Virtues are lost in self-interest just as rivers are lost in the sea. -- François de la Rochefoucauld

      by rilkas on Mon Nov 03, 2008 at 07:35:51 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Well they could (0+ / 0-)

      If Obama is up by 20 like is expected in CA, they could easily call it when polls closed if there weren't enough polling places held open to change the outcome.

      They get golden parachutes. We get golden showers.

      by Eddie in ME on Mon Nov 03, 2008 at 08:04:31 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  VA + PA = Game over n/t (0+ / 0-)

    Obama = Mario, Biden = Luigi

    by acsguitar on Mon Nov 03, 2008 at 07:35:49 AM PST

  •  What happens if Obama wins >270 before (0+ / 0-)

    polls close on the West Coast?

    Do they call it then, or wait for all polls to close?

    Who was Bush_Horror2004, anyway?

    by Dartagnan on Mon Nov 03, 2008 at 07:39:43 AM PST

    •  not too likely (0+ / 0-)

      Usually it's CA and its 55 votes that make the difference in a Democratic victory. So even though it may be obvious who is the winner before the CA polls close, the networks will not say so until late.

      Virtues are lost in self-interest just as rivers are lost in the sea. -- François de la Rochefoucauld

      by rilkas on Mon Nov 03, 2008 at 07:41:26 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Some, perhaps over-optimistic (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        (or pessimistic, in the case of George Will, for example) are calling for 370-plus EV's for Obama.

        That would render the West Coast irrelevant, if it happened. Which would suck for downticket races there, and for Gregoire and Merkley, right?

        Who was Bush_Horror2004, anyway?

        by Dartagnan on Mon Nov 03, 2008 at 07:44:07 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  oops (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        Well, I guess Obama could go over 270 on the east coast and midwest, assuming he wins IA, OH, IN, VA, NC and FL, IA, plus all Kerry states (= 272 votes)

        Then CA, HI, OR, WA, NV, CO and NM would not be crucial.

        A long shot, but not totally out of the question. But even if this were to happen I doubt that all those states will be called early enough.

        Virtues are lost in self-interest just as rivers are lost in the sea. -- François de la Rochefoucauld

        by rilkas on Mon Nov 03, 2008 at 07:45:48 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Arrrghhh! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I'm still so angry that my dumb professor scheduled our midterm that night AND wants to have a lecture AFTER the test.  I'm so so pissed right now.

    But I have a question - is there anywhere I can register to get an email/text alert for when the states are called?

    Totally in the tank for Keith O'!

    by Staci on Mon Nov 03, 2008 at 07:42:05 AM PST

  •  Tough for ex pats. (0+ / 0-)

    My question is do I go to bed or just stay up and drink hard cider all night and morning.

    Good thing I do not plan on working the next day.

    Oh, for me I have to add five hours to those times.

    I am an ex pat lifelong Republican voting for Obama, dual nat member of New Labour, that works in The City.

    by Libertarian Friend on Mon Nov 03, 2008 at 07:45:24 AM PST

  •  McCain Concession (0+ / 0-)

    When do you think there will be a McCain Concession speech?

    When do you think one of the networks will declare a winner?

    Need times in EST.


    I am an ex pat lifelong Republican voting for Obama, dual nat member of New Labour, that works in The City.

    by Libertarian Friend on Mon Nov 03, 2008 at 07:46:24 AM PST

  •  You'll probably see a call before midnight (0+ / 0-)

    The broadcast & cable networks are going to want viewers for the whole 8-11 pm primetime period, and some will hang on until midnight.

    But if CNN calls Pennsylvania, MSNBC isn't going to want to be scooped, so will call it soon after CNN does...

    My guess is that the race is called somewhere around 11:30 Eastern.

    "It's embarrassing when you try to overthrow the government and you wind up on the best sellers list."--Abbie Hoffman

    by ekthesy on Mon Nov 03, 2008 at 08:17:45 AM PST

  •  How Election Night Unfolds, by the Hours (0+ / 0-)

    Newsweek has a good rundown of how Election Night unfolds, as each state closes. But their times are keyed to poll closings, not when the state is clearly won (or called by CBS).

    If PA and VA aren't known by 9:30PM/Eastern, but Ohio is counted for Obama, then Obama has probably won, because Indiana will probably be Obama's by then, too. However, that totals only 269 Electoral Votes, if FL/VA/WV/PA/MO/ND/CO/NM/NV all go WcCain (or just aren't counted yet) - but the Lakes (+IA) and West Coast states that all look safe are taken for granted.

    If Ohio (and Indiana) aren't Obama's, then probably neither are those other swing states I just itemized. It's going to be a long night from 9:30PM watching all hope for the future dissolve, even if Nevada is called within a couple hours of its polls closing, by 10PM/Eastern. Though if America gets really weird and we've got NV and Ohio+Indiana by 10:30PM/Eastern but those other swing states fall through, we're going to have a lot of time sweating out what's wrong there that is somehow right in Nevada.

    10:30PM/Eastern is therefore probably the time by which we'll know whether we're back on the road to freedom or not.

    "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro." - HST

    by DocGonzo on Mon Nov 03, 2008 at 08:18:56 AM PST

  •  Until ALL polls in ALL states are closed (0+ / 0-)

    I don't think the "networks" have any fucking right to CALL a thing! NOT ONE STATE. What about California and prop 8? What about initiatives and congressional races on the west coast, Hawaii, Alaska?
    I'm STILL pissed off over Carter conceding defeat before the polls had closed in CA.
    This is a very touchy subject to me and I'm not going to be a bit happy if egotistical talking heads deter ONE voter because they feel the NEED to announce winners ahead of ALL the votes being cast.  There's more at stake than the presidential race.
    Christ, what's the rush???? Instant gratification needs of folks on the east coast are incredibly selfish and short sighted.
    It angers me greatly. But that's just me.

    Here's to a LATE night.  No offense to those of you on the eastern side of the country eager for an early night but please, think about the rights of those of us out here in the west.


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