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A Guide for Watching Election Night Results

For those obsessed with the results on Tuesday night, here is a guide to watching TV and searching exit poll data on the web.

For those obsessed with the results on Tuesday night, here is a November 4 guide to watching television and searching exit poll data on the web.



There are three basic questions (with hundreds more to follow in the weeks ahead): 1) When can you feel confident about the outcome of the presidential contest?; 2) How well are Democrats progressing toward their goal of 60 seats in the Senate?; and 3) Will 2008 be another Democratic blowout, signaling the possibility that the party could establish a majority coalition in future elections?



The basic rule of thumb is to follow the closing times of the polls in each state. Once voting is stopped, the networks can start using detailed exit polling and post the material on their websites. If the networks are unwilling to call a given state, an examination of the exit poll data can often give you a clear signal of the ultimate results. The state-by-state exit polls released after poll closings will have large samples and should not suffer the defects that plagued the early findings in 2004 which pointed to a solid Kerry victory nationwide.



For additional help, HuffPost has election night widgets from CNN and MSNBC that will allow you to "watch the electoral vote count and the congressional balance of power with the national U.S. map or choose a state and see how individual counties are voting."



Fortunately for those who cannot stay awake, some of the first states with earliest poll closing times of 7 PM EST are key battlegrounds: Indiana, Georgia, Virginia, and Kentucky.



Virginia is a crucial battleground state, and an Obama win there (without Georgia or Indiana) would suggest he is likely to take the oath of office on January 20. In terms of the future, an Obama victory would mean that Virginia has completed the move from red to purple, with all the demographic changes pointing toward further Democratic gains.



If Obama carries either Georgia or Indiana, look for a big Democratic night all around. If he carries both (along with Virginia), Republicans should consider turning on the gas and closing the windows. Those who care only about the presidential outcome should feel free to switch to sports, watch a movie, or go to bed.



Conversely, if McCain carries Virginia, Indiana and Georgia, plan to stay up a little later.



These early states are also key to the Senate outcome:
Thomas B. Edsall is the political editor of the Huffington Post. He is also Joseph Pulitzer II and Edith Pulitzer Moore Professor at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.
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