Okay, so between looking at a map of when polls close, looking at Nate Silver’s model, and playing with electoral votes, I am ready to make predictions. I’ve provided links so that you may play along at home.
If you take an electoral map and fill in all the states that are strongly leaning toward either candidate (>90% likelihood of winning, with the exception of Ohio…more on that in a second), you wind up at Obama with 253 EV and Romney with 191.
So to start out, my map has 7 states “in play”: New Hampshire, Virginia, North Carolina, Ohio, Florida, Iowa, and Colorado. Of these, NC, VA and NH will likely be “called” first since their polls close the earliest and they all show significant “lean” in one direction or the other (but not enough to be considered a sure bet).
OH also closes pretty early, and most models show it as a very likely Obama win, but no statistical model, no matter how robust, can account for electoral fraud and other shenanigans. So I’m treating Ohio exactly how I’m treating Florida in this prediction–essentially a 50/50 tossup that won’t be called anytime tonight, so I’m going to ignore it in my prediction of when I get to go to bed.
Nate Silver’s model shows a lean toward Obama in both NH and VA. If he wins these states, combined with the total “sure bet” electoral votes that I’m starting with, that puts Obama at EXACTLY 270. I would expect that NH, VA, and NC will all be called by 9 pm ET, about an hour after the rest of the polls close in NH. Without any other tossup states considered, if two of those three states go for Obama, I’d say you can pretty much call the election for him outright before the Daily Show comes on.
So that’s my prediction: If two of those three states (NH, NC, VA) go for Obama, we can pretty much call it a night. Everything else is just playing the Mustache Drinking Game or catching a friend up on the episodes of Doctor Who that aren’t on Netflix while keeping the rest of the returns on mute (because I do still want to know the results of local elections, and the gains and losses in Congress).