Voting for the US presidential elections begins at 10pm tomorrow (AEDT), so get a bowl of popcorn, pull up your deck chair and settle in for this final act of memorably tasteless political drama. It will be an overnighter, but all you political junkies won’t be able to sleep anyway so you may as well settle in for a long one.
Exit polling should start to indicate general tendencies in the small hours. With this election telling the world whether Americans just have poor taste or are completely crackers, many of us will want to understand the results as soon they come in.
Based on latest polling, Hillary Clinton will go into the election with a nominal lead of 216 votes to Trump’s 164. But there will be 158 votes undecided across 13 states.
Polling in these states has shifted back and forth and remains too close to call. The latest polling averages do give some indication, but mostly within polling margins of error.
In the race to achieve 270 votes to secure the presidency, electors on the east coast will be first to cast their votes. Of the undecided states, starting in otherwise safe Clinton country, New Hampshire’s four electoral college votes are edging towards Donald Trump.
Florida will be a make or break state for Trump, with 29 electoral college votes. After recently trending towards Trump, latest polling in Florida gives a lead of just 0.2%. This is too small a margin to be statistically reliable.
Trump has to win Florida to be in the race. If he wins, Clinton can still take the presidency, but it will be difficult. Just to Florida’s north, Georgia, with 16 votes, looks to be safely heading towards Trump.
Pennsylvania, with 20 votes, appears to be falling towards the Clinton camp with a 3.4% average advantage and is a “must-win” state for Clinton. North Carolina, with 18 votes, was offering Trump a less than 1% average lead, and this is another state he needs to win to remain competitive.
Ohio, with 18 votes, also looks to be heading towards Trump but is likely to be balanced by pro-Clinton Michigan, with 16 votes. An hour later, Indiana will go to the polls and, with six votes, is trending towards Trump.
It is pretty much Trump territory all the way to Colorado and New Mexico, with nine and five votes respectively. Polls showed Clinton just ahead in both states, but not so in neighboring Arizona, with 11 votes.
The last swing state is Nevada, with just six votes, which again favors Trump by just 0.2%, which cannot be taken as having any clear meaning other than it is an unknown. The west coast is ear-marked as safe for Clinton.
If the 13 swing states break as indicated above and Clinton can take Florida, she will win the presidency with 297 to 241 votes. If, however, Trump wins Florida and there is no other change, he will win the presidency with the minimum 270 to 268 majority.
It is worth remembering that, in 2000, George W. Bush won the presidency from Al Gore by winning Florida by just 537 votes, in controversial circumstances.
While this conclusion is enough to have budding psephologists sputtering over their popcorn, other assessments are slightly less tentative, employing more detailed, longer-term and trending data. Nate Silver’s sophisticated Fivethirtyeight analysis just keeps New Hampshire in the Clinton camp and offers some other minor variations, predicting a Clinton win, with 291 to 246 electoral college votes and a 3% majority of the popular vote.
The major qualification offered by Silver is, however, that while he thinks a Clinton victory is most likely, “uncertainty remains high” and Trump being elected president remains “entirely plausible”.
So get a grip on the deck chair and steady the popcorn for this last crazy act of the 2016 elections. We may be in for a long night.
*Damien Kingsbury is Professor of International Politics at Deakin University