Things to look out for tonight

I’m going to a party tonight for the US election, and the idea of hiding buried in a laptop instead of talking to people is not hugely appealing. But I did want to put together a quick crib sheet of numbers that might prove significant if we are going to be keeping an eye out for the big waypoints on the night.

So here are some figures:Overall turnout – 2004, 56.7 per cent [1]
The highest turnout in recent times was 1960, when more than 63 per cent of Americans voted. Will that record go tomorrow? Some people are saying so, but it is a big ask.

Youth turnout – 2004, 51.6 per cent (18.4 per cent of the electorate) [2]

If this figure goes up much, Obama will surely be in the White House with a big margin. We also need to remember to play the expectations game here. If youth turnout goes up 10 per cent, that is a huge increase.

African American turnout – 60.6 per cent [3]
We would surely expect a huge African American turnout tomorrow. However, if Obama is to carry states like North Carolina, it will have to be off the scale.

Undecideds
During the primaries, Obama had an undecided problem. People just weren’t breaking for him if made their mind up at the last minute. Could this save McCain? Doubtful, but it is pretty much his last hope.

It’s the economy stupid
This might be a very different election, if it weren’t for the complete collapse of the US economy over the past six weeks. Imagine if that had been delayed by a couple of months. Obama and McCain might have been level pegging, and we’d be talking about the Bradley effect and the electoral college. The more people who go into the booth thinking about the economy as the top issue, the better for Obama.

Key states
This is my checklist:

Pennsylvania. Obama, doesn’t need it. McCain does. If the Democrats win this one, it is surely curtains for the GOP.

Virginia. Another huge one, not only because it has significant in this election cycle, but because it signifies huge demographic changes in some parts of the country.

Florida. If you sat up all night in 2000, this one will mean a lot, however it falls. If the Democrats win, it will also prove that conventional wisdom is crap – if you remember, when the primaries were over, Obama was supposed to have problems winning the support of older people, Jews and Hispanics.

Nevada. Not just because it decided the dress rehearsal of this election on the West Wing. This state could really go blue, but it will very close, I suspect.

North Carolina. Surely it couldn’t happen? However, don’t forget that Southern states have a long tradition of populist politics and the economy has been front and centre fro the past couple of months. Stranger things have happened.

Missouri. The famous bellwether state. We’ll see if it keeps its record up.

What are you going to be looking out for?