What to watch for on Election Day
Political junkies will be on edge Tuesday looking for any signs that might tell them if Republican Donald Trump or Democrat Hillary Clinton will become the 45th president of the United States.
Here’s what to watch for as the election unfolds.
What do the exit polls show?
The first batch of voter data will come after 5 p.m., when the major networks will release early exit polls.
While the polls have limitations, they provide an early look at the demographics of the electorate.
Clinton has performed best among women, the college educated, minorities and young voters, so her campaign will be hoping for strong numbers among those groups. Trump, meanwhile, is strongest with men, white voters and older voters.
Election analysts will be focused most intently on Hispanic turnout in states like Arizona, Nevada and Florida. Democrats have talked up the early-vote totals among the group, arguing they point to a “surge” among that demographic that could doom Trump.
But Democrats have also long worried about turnout among African-Americans and young voters, particularly in states like Ohio and North Carolina, and have leaned on President Obama to try to energize them.
Still, exit polls should be viewed with a healthy amount of skepticism. They are often wrong and could miss out on voting surges in the final hours.
The first battlegrounds
Results will start coming in after 7 p.m. in several states that could decide the election.
Polls close in Virginia and New Hampshire at 7 p.m., followed by North Carolina and Ohio at 7:30 p.m. While most of Florida will close at 7 p.m., the small portion of the Panhandle on Central time closes at 8 p.m., along with Pennsylvania.
Trump has to win North Carolina and Florida. If early returns are poor for him in either state or if a projection is made quickly, then it will be a short night for Republicans and people will not have to stay up into Wednesday morning for results.
“Trump has zero path if he loses both North Carolina and Florida. Losing either might be the ballgame for him too,” University of Virginia political analyst Geoffrey Skelley told The Hill.
Skelley noted that both North Carolina and Florida had robust early voting, so the first returns from both states will include large portions of the vote. In the past, candidates with the edge in early voting often triumph.
In North Carolina, Trump’s goal is to drive up his numbers among white voters near Appalachia and the eastern part of the state and avoid a blowout in the more urban areas that make up the “Research Triangle” around Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill.
Clinton also needs to avoid a major drop in black turnout, which could put North Carolina out of reach.
In Pennsylvania, the outcome is likely to be decided in the “Collar Counties” surrounding Philadelphia. Trump has to perform well there and has sent surrogates like Ivanka and Melania Trump to campaign for him in hopes of winning over suburban women.
Can Trump score in the Upper Midwest?
If Trump holds his own in the early battlegrounds, he’ll be looking to pull off an upset in a blue-leaning state like Michigan, Wisconsin or Minnesota.
Michigan has been a focus of both campaigns in the closing days of the race, with Trump claiming momentum in the state and holding a flurry of campaign appearances. Democrats made a late effort to hold the state, sending Obama to Ann Arbor on the final day of the campaign.
Polls close in Michigan at 8 p.m., with early results likely showing whether Trump has a chance at pulling off an upset win.
Trump will also be looking at the results in Wisconsin and Minnesota, where polls close at 9 p.m., to see whether the Upper Midwest could propel him to victory.
In battleground Colorado, where the vote is conducted exclusively by mail, the results could come quickly after 9 p.m. Clinton is favored heavily in the state.
Then there’s Arizona, a state Republicans are confident of winning despite active campaigning by Clinton and her surrogates. One Republican strategist in the state told The Hill to watch the Hispanic vote as a percentage of the total — if it stays close to 12 percent, the level it was in 2012, Trump should be safe.
Democrats are bullish on holding Nevada, where the final polls close at 10 p.m., after strong turnout in early voting among Hispanics. Analysts will be keeping a close eye on Washoe County, seen as one of the best predictors of the state’s overall result.
Then there’s Iowa and Utah, two red-leaning states that Trump hopes and needs to win. Polls in both states close at 10 p.m., with independent candidate Evan McMullin hoping to pull off an improbable win in Utah.
If the race is close, it could be a long night
The Western states, including California, close late. News networks generally wait until the polls close in a state before projecting a winner.
If the race is close, a winner might not be declared until the very early hours of the morning on the East Coast.
Most news networks didn’t call the 2012 race for President Obama until around 11:30 p.m. despite his healthy margin of victory.