What to Watch for on Election Night

Campaigns & Elections Executive Editor, Costas Panagopoulos, Ph.

Campaigns & Elections Executive Editor, Costas Panagopoulos, Ph. D., tells Campaign Insider what to watch for on election night.

C&E: What are the indicator races that you are looking for to determine if there will be a “wave election” for Republicans?

Panagopoulos:  Polls close at 7PM in 6 states (Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, South Carolina, Vermont and Virginia) and then a 7:30PM in 3 additional states (North Carolina, Ohio and West Virginia). Tracking the outcomes of competitive races in these states will help foreshadow what is to come. There are several U.S. House races in these states that may be telling as bellwethers as well. If Democratic incumbents like Joe Donnelly (IN-2), Baron Hill (IN-9), John Boccieri (OH-16) Jim Marshall (GA-8), and Ben Chandler (KY-6) start losing, this would not bode well for Democrats nationwide. 

C&E: How important in turnout in 2010?

Panagopoulos: Turnout will be crucial in this year’s midterm elections. Americans vote at much lower rates in midterms (about 15 percentage points lower than in presidential cycles), so about 40 percent of the eligible electorate in likely to vote on November 2. Generally speaking, the electorate in midterms is comprised of more affluent, better educated, whiter voters, which presents a problem for the Democratic coalition that helped to bring partisans into Congress in 2008 (and even 2006). Democrats are unenthusiastic this year, and, at the same time, the GOP is energized, so Democrats are fighting an uphill battle. That said, it is generally acknowledged the Democrats may have an edge in terms of the “ground game,” so they may be able to mobilize more voters than expected on Election Day. If so, this will likely result in better performance than most polls have been indicating of late, based on projections of likely voters.

C&E: What race if called when polls close will indicate a good night/normal night for GOP, Democrats?

Panagopoulos: If Democratic Senate hopefuls like Joe Manchin (West Virginia), Richard Bluementhal (Connecticut) and Michael Bennet (Colorado) squeak out victories, it would suggest Democratic losses may not be as severe as anticipated.

C&E: Is Christine O’Donnell the Oliver North of 2010 (e.g. will the media focus on that race as an indicator of the rest of the night, and miss the forest for the trees)?

Panagopoulos: This race may end up tighter than the polls suggest, but I don’t think there is any credible observer expecting O’Donnell to win. If she manages to do so, it will be the story of the night, and it would deserve all of the attention. It would clearly be a harbinger of bad news for Democrats nationwide, and the GOP could likely gain a majority in the Senate as a result. At the moment, that appears a far-fetched possibility however.

C&E: Do you anticipate a late night?

Panagopoulos: Without a doubt. There are far too many close races that may come down to the wire. In many races, there may not be a definitive winner until all the absentee or mail-in votes are counted, which could take weeks. If races are as tight as we expect, there may even be challenges, appeals or recounts that could last even longer. Moreover, statewide races in Georgia and Vermont, which require candidates to achieve a minimum of 50 percent of the vote, may not be decided until a run-off election or action by the state legislature respectively, which would also delay the outcomes considerably. Brace yourselves. This may not be over anytime soon.  

Dr. Costas Panagopoulos is the executive editor for C&E as well as the Assistant Professor of Political Science and Director of the Center for Electoral Politics and Democracy and the graduate program in Elections and Campaign Management at Fordham University. Dr. Panagopoulos previously founded and directed the Master’s Program in Political Campaign Management in the Department of Politics at New York University. Dr. Panagopoulos, a leading expert on campaigns and elections, voting behavior, public opinion, and campaign finance, is part of the Decision Desk team at NBC News for the 2006 and 2010 election cycles.

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