Every four years, foreign viewers are forced to somehow grasp the complexities of the Electoral College, exit polls and the inexact science of American democracy in action.
This year is especially confusing (and exciting) — not only because the result is uncertain, but because an unusually large number of states will potentially have a say in the outcome.
Here’s how to stay on top of events, and avoid missing any of the drama as it unfolds:
10pm UK time (5pm EST): The first exit polls are released
Some of these revelations will be be self-evident: a vast majority of the country will say that America is on the wrong track, a plurality will cite the economy as the top issue, etc.
Not too much should be taken from these numbers, but that probably won’t stop Twitter doing exactly that.
11pm (6pm): First results posted
Polls in most of Indiana will close and the very first votes will come in.
Midnight (7pm): Polls close in Georgia (16 electoral votes), Indiana (11), Kentucky (8), South Carolina (9), Virginia (13) and Vermont (3)
Kentucky will be called for Trump and Vermont for Clinton and the big boards will begin to fill with red and blue.
It’s quite likely that Virginia and Indiana, homes of Tim Kaine and Mike Pence respectively, will be deemed “too early to call”. Should either one be called immediately, that would be a good early sign for the beneficiary. (Clinton is a 75 per cent favourite in Virginia, according to Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight, whose numbers we’re using throughout this piece.)
South Carolina will almost certainly go for Trump, but don’t be surprised if the TV networks hesitate to immediately give it to him: as Silver says, TV networks are generally nervous about making calls early in the night, but get more comfortable as more votes come in.
Georgia should be labelled “too close to call”. If it’s instead described as too early, that likely indicates Trump is on the right track.
As always, keep at least one eye on Florida, which Trump almost certainly has to win to get to a majority of 270 votes in the Electoral College.
12.30am (7.30pm): Polls close in North Carolina (15), Ohio (18) and West Virginia (5)
West Virginia will undoubtedly go to Trump. North Carolina should be deemed too close to call – as above, if it isn’t, then that’s very good news for whichever candidate is ahead there.
Ohio has long been the key bellweather, alongside Florida – but the Buckeye State has tilted Trump’s way this year. The longer this state goes without being confirmed as a Trump gain, the better for Clinton.
1am (8pm): Alabama (9), Connecticut (7), Delaware (3), District of Columbia (3), Florida (29), Illinois (20), Maine (4), Maryland (10), Massachusetts (11), Mississippi (6), Missouri (10), New Hampshire (4), New Jersey (14), Oklahoma (7), Pennsylvania (20), Rhode Island (4) and Tennessee (11)
Clinton will win Connecticut, Delaware, D.C., Illinois, three of Maine’s electoral votes (along with Nebraska, it splits its votes by congressional district), Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Rhode Island.
Trump will take Alabama, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Tennessee.
The million-dollar question is what will happen in Pennsylvania. In 2008, the Keystone State was called as soon as the polls closed, breaking John McCain’s heart. Four years later, it took an hour and change. Clinton has a 76 per cent chance here, says Silver: but if she has a large enough majority that it is declared immediately, she’s liable to have a great night. For Trump, Missouri would be a nice gain now, but it’s possible he’ll have to wait a bit.
The true battlegrounds are Florida and New Hampshire. Expect both to be categorized as too close to call. As Silver says of Florida in particular:
Think of Florida and North Carolina as being the protagonists of this election. They have a bit of everything: early voting, conflicting polling, changing demographics. And they’ve always played a role in the drama of the campaign, since neither candidate has ever really been able to pull away in either state.
1.30am (8.30pm): Arkansas (6)
Bill Clinton’s home state is going to let him down. The former First Lady doesn’t stand a chance here.
2am (9pm): Arizona (11), Colorado (9), Kansas (6), Louisiana (8), Michigan (16), Minnesota (10), Nebraska (5), New Mexico (5), New York (29), South Dakota (3), Texas (38), Wisconsin (10) and Wyoming (3)
New York will go to Clinton. She’s also favoured in Minnesota, Wisconsin and New Mexico. If they get called right away, that’s a good sign for Hillary. (Clinton is an 80 per cent favourite in New Mexico, but Libertarian Gary Johnson, the state’s former governor, may grab some of her voters.)
Colorado was the tipping-point state in both 2008 and 2012. But the biggest state to watch here is Michigan, where Trump has been making a last-ditch effort. If he can’t at least get a “too close to call” here, it will be a sign that Clinton’s Democratic firewall is holding.
On the other side of the aisle, Trump will get a boost from Texas as well as Kansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wyoming.
3am (10pm): Iowa (6), Nevada (6), North Dakota (3), Montana (3) and Utah (6)
North Dakota and Montana are solidly red states. Iowa has somewhat surprisingly titled toward Trump.
Utah could be a wild-card, with independent Evan McMullin trying to become the first third-party candidate to win a state since George Wallace of Alabama in 1968.
Nevada will be one of the biggest states to watch Tuesday night. If New Hampshire gets away from Clinton, Nevada – where Clinton is a 54 per cent favourite – could repair the damage. Latino turnout here will be key.
4am (11pm): California (55), Hawaii (4), Idaho (4), Oregon (7) and Washington (12)
This is the moment Hillary Clinton hopes she becomes President-Elect of the United States.
That’s what happened in 2008; four years later, it took less than 15 minutes more to confirm the results.
Clinton is virtually guaranteed 78 of the 82 electoral votes in these western states. If she has already passed 192 votes before 4am, that’s when Democratic celebrations will start.
6am (1am): Alaska (3)
If Clinton hasn’t given her acceptance speech by this point, she might not her get the chance. The longer the night goes on the better the odds for Trump, who is heavily favoured to win Alaska.