Five key indicators to watch out for on election night

US election nights tend to be long-drawn-out affairs involving complex electoral mathematics. FRANCE 24 boils it down to five key issues.


With 50 states across three time zones going to the polls, a complicated electoral college system and the news networks dishing out an extravaganza of statistics -- from exit polls to projections -- US presidential elections can be complex affairs.

Here are five high-stakes states and demographics to monitor as election day unfolds, which could determine whether it will be a long day’s journey into night before the next president of the USA is called -- or not.

Voter Turnout:
Voter turnout is considered the cornerstone of a truly fair election. In the 2012 presidential race, voter turnout is most likely to affect the popular vote, particularly after the ravages of superstorm Sandy.

Here’s how it works: Turnout in the particularly hard-hit states of New York and New Jersey is likely to be depressed. The worst affected counties are more strongly Democratic, which could affect the turnout for Barack Obama. But opinion polls show such strong support for Obama in the Sandy-struck states of New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and Pennsylvania that the depressed turnout is unlikely to affect the electoral votes.

It could, however, dent Obama’s popular vote, with experts predicting a worst-case scenario of the incumbent winning the electoral vote [see explanation below] but losing the popular vote.

That has happened just four times in US history -- in 1824, 1876, 1888, and, notably, 2000, when Al Gore won the popular vote but George W. Bush was the electoral college winner.

It may have happened before, but it casts a shadow over the winning candidate while opening the old, tricky questions about America’s archaic electoral college system.

Clocking the Electoral College:
The electoral college system was set up when the United States was founded, as a compromise between free and slave states. It has been much criticised over the years, but the system prevails and it’s a critical one to watch on election night.


There are 538 “electoral votes” divided between the 50 states on a population basis.

This means some states -- such as California, with 55 votes -- are worth more than others -- such as Montana, which has only three votes.

Presidential candidates are not required to win the popular vote, but they have to get the majority of electoral votes.

In other words, to win, a presidential candidate needs 270 electoral votes.

A worst-case scenario would be both candidates getting 269 votes each. In which case, the newly elected House of Representatives picks the president, with each state delegation casting one vote. The Senate votes for the vice-president.

The House is expected to remain Republican dominated -- unless there’s an unprecedented pro-Democratic wave in the polls. In the Senate, the Democrats are likely to hold the majority. That could throw up a Mitt Romney presidency with Joe Biden as vice-president -- a highly implausible scenario.

It Ain’t Over Till…
US election nights can be so long and experts are often called upon to predict at which point they can safely determine the winner.

In most cases, analysts maintain that it ain't over until the fat Ohio lady sings. It’s difficult to overemphasize the importance of the state which begins and ends with an “o”.

Historically, Ohio has gone with every winner since 1964 and no Republican has ever managed to capture the White House without winning this Midwestern state.

Ohio has 18 electoral votes. This year, the state is important because it seems very difficult for Romney to be elected president without winning Ohio. Analysts agree that if the Republican candidate loses Ohio, he can only afford to lose at best one or two swing states.

The Wall Street Journal is advising its readers to watch not just how the whole state votes, but to monitor three Ohio counties. These include Hamilton, home to the city of Cincinnati, which Obama captured in 2008 - the first time a Democrat had done so since 1964.

Other counties to watch are Wood and Ottawa, the two counties between the cities of Toledo and Cleveland that have gone with the state's winner in every presidential election since 1992, according to the Journal.

Virginia Slims Down the Margins…
While Ohio has dominated the airwaves and column space in the 2012 race, seasoned political analysts are advising voters to monitor Virginia closely.

According to NBC analysts Mark Murray and Brooke Brower, if Obama wins Virginia and Colorado, these two states coupled with his “safe” electoral votes would enable Obama to surpass 270 electoral votes without winning Florida, Iowa, Ohio, and Nevada.

But if Obama fails to take Virginia -- the results of which should be out early in the election night cycle -- the incumbent must win either Florida or Ohio, or both Iowa and Nevada.

Similarly, a Romney path to the White House would have to roll through Virginia, making the state “a good early test”, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Women v. Men: Knife-Edge at America’s Breakfast Tables
Opinion polls have consistently shown that women, who are more focused on social issues, favour Obama.

A recent New York Times-CBS News poll found that Obama is supported by 52 percent of women and 44 percent of men, while Romney is preferred by 51 percent of men and 44 percent of women.

As New York Times columnist Roger Cohen put it, the 2012 race is “poised on a knife-edge: the knives at the American breakfast tables where many husbands and wives are arguing”.

Cohen concludes that if Obama has to win, “feminine good sense” must prevail.

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