The most divisive American election in living memory is almost over. By the end of the day an estimated 130 million people will have cast their ballots and we will be well on the way to knowing which candidate has done enough to win the necessary 270 electoral college votes. Here are the key things to watch today and through the night:
Polling conduct – the first test will be whether or not voting is trouble free. It might be tempting to assume American democracy is the sort of well-developed exercise that has banished fraud. Not so. Democrats have complained of intimidation during early polling, both sides have filed complaints accusing the other of illegal practices and Trump has repeatedly warned his supporters that the election is rigged against him. Expect social media to document problems as they occur.
First exit polls – pollsters will be collecting data throughout the day, covering everything from turnout and demographics to the issues that were important to voters. The first results will reach the TV networks at 5pm EST (10pm GMT) but they are duty bound not to report anything that might influence those still to vote. But there will be clues. Discussion of voters selecting candidates based on their experience will be good for Clinton, while Trump benefits if the talk is of toughness being the deciding factor. As more details are released, the turnout among Hispanic voters may give some insight into whether Trump or Clinton prevails.
Florida – the first states to finish voting are Indiana and Kentucky, both likely to plump for Trump. Florida is the first battle ground to feature, with polls in parts of the state shutting at 7pm EST (midnight GMT). Voting continues for another hour in the panhandle. TV networks could call the state for one candidate or the other soon after, although counting is more likely to drag on for several hours.
Ohio – polls shut at 7.30pm ET (00:30 GMT) in this key state, but it could take four hours before its results are known, unless it’s a landslide. Ohio is known as a bellwether state and Trump has held a narrow lead there in the final days of campaigning. A win would suggest his populist economics are hitting home in the Rust Belt. And if he is to have any realistic chance of a path to those 270 electoral votes, he needs to win both Ohio and Florida.
Michigan – Trump surprised many by adding a last-minute visit to this dependable Democrat state. If he wins, like Ohio, it suggests his gamble of relying on less-educated white voters at the expense of almost everyone else is paying off. If he wins Michigan, he is having a very good night. Polls are due to close at 8pm EST (1am GMT).
Utah – Utah is normally as red as they come. However, a conservative third-party candidate – and a Mormon to boot – Evan McMullin has spiced things up, eating into Trump’s lead. Although he may not have done enough to win, a solid showing from a mainstream conservative, with orthodox free trade, small government credentials, might offer Republicans a glimpse of a plausible post-Trump future. Polls close at 10pm EST (2am GMT).
The election is called – results will be coming in thick and fast from about 9pm (2am GMT). Last time around the TV networks, aided by their exit polls, began calling the race for Obama a little after 11pm (4am GMT). If the polls are right, and Clinton is four or five points up with a clear path to those 270 electoral votes, then expect something similar this time. But with so many people telling the pollsters they were undecided right up to the last minute then it could still be a long night. Arizona, Colorado, North Carolina and Pennsylvania are among the other states that will have an impact.
Concession – even with the election called for one side or the other, this time around the loser’s concession may not be a done deal. In any other year you might expect a concession speech from about 11pm (4am GMT) onwards, depending on how tight the race is. This year, of course, is far from normal. Trump has refused repeatedly to say he will accept defeat. All of which makes the concession and victory speeches all the more important. How will winner and loser begin the process of healing such a divided country? Their words could set the tone for the next four years.
After the American people have voted, what next for the US and the rest of the world? Join panellists including Sir Christopher Meyer, KCMG, former British ambassador to the US, for a discussion chaired by Andrew Neil on 30 November at RIBA, London. Tickets include a drinks reception. In association with Seven Investment Management. Book now.