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 FiveThirtyEight.com.
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.