In the morning (7 action items)
1) Do not — under any circumstances — turn on your television prior to 6pm EST. This isn’t specific to the morning, but it has to be first, because it’s absolutely crucial. The only thing worse than the election night coverage on the cable news networks is the election day coverage on the cable news networks. And trailing right behind those two things is the douchebag in your office who watched the Today show on election morning and is now repeating the same drivel outside your cubicle. Don’t be that guy.
In case you are tempted at any point in the day, I’ll save you the time by summing up the coverage for you here: worthless anecdotes about turnout; analysis of rainy weather forecasts that supposedly affect turnout but actually do not; “explanations” of the “science” of exit-polling and election prediction; interviews with senior citizens who voted at 11am in the Midwest; set pieces like “36 years ago this week” about past elections; meta-narratives about the parties probable reactions to a 5-seat swing in the House vs. a 15-seat swing; exposés on campaign financing, voter turnout, and enthusiasm; editorials on what the election “means,” whether this is a “change” election, a “wave” election, or a “turnout” election; stories about the parties angling with teams of lawyers to oversee recounts; worries on the left and right about voter fraud and voter suppression; some blair-witch style youtube video showing something allegedly wrong; debates over whether this is 1988 or 2008 or neither; debates over divided government and gridlock; anecdotal profiles about who the independents are voting for; questions about why aren’t there more moderates; polemics on whether the Trump followers will have an impact in DC during the lame-duck, whether the Trump followers will be a force in politics for much longer, and whether the Trump followers are actually an organized group; and 35 other things that could be studied with a rigorous methodology but instead will be delivered in the absence (or face) of data, and an equal number of things that should never be studied, period.
Did I mention this will all be delivered to you at a 4th grade comprehension level?
2) Learn the Electoral College landscape cold. You need 270 electoral votes to win the Presidency on Election Day. Here’s the map of states that aren’t competitive. If we assign these as already locked-in, then there are now 223 electoral votes for Clinton and 179 for Trump:
That leaves 136 electoral votes up for grabs, and only 10 states you really need to watch (PA, CO, NH, NV, FL, NC, OH, IA, AZ, MI, plus the split-state districts in ME-2 and NE-2.) Get yourself knowledgeable about when the polls close in those states, review some recent polling averages, and check out some of the online forecasts to think about different situations. (Here are the NYT summary of forecasts; here’s 538’s forecasts.) Over at 270towin.com, you can fiddle with a map yourself to see how different scenarios play out.
Is it possible Clinton wins Georgia or Trump wins Wisconsin? Sure. But if either of those things happen, the Presidency will have long been decided; they simply can’t be the states that make the difference. So focus on the ones above. Utah may also be interesting due to Evan McMullan, the first 3rd-party candidate since 1968 who is a serious threat to win a state. It’s not impossible that McMullan winning Utah could affect the outcome—or even make him President—but it’s highly unlikely.
3) Learn the Senate landscape as best you can. There are only 8 races that are either remotely close enough to have big impacts or are otherwise interesting, seven seats currently held by Republicans (FL, IN, MO, NH, NC, PA, WI) and 1 seat currently held by a Democrat (NV). Check out the candidates and the stakes in each of these. Forget all the rest. Right now, there are 54 Republicans and 46 Democratic (or Democratic-aligned) Senators. Since the Democrats are almost certain to pick up the Republican held seat in IL, they will need to net a gain of 3 (if Clinton wins the Presidency) or 4 (if Trump wins) of the competitive seats to take control of the Senate. Examine some polling averages, and take a look at some of the online forecasts to think about different situations. (Here’s the NYT forecasts; this is 538’s.)
4) Figure out some House bellwethers. Unless you spend your days dealing with the House of Representatives (ahem), it’s hard to be up on all the competitive house races. But it’s a lot more fun to watch returns if you can assess the importance of a given House race result without having to trust Chuck Todd. Throughout the night, there will be a flood of House returns, and if you know that New Jersey’s 5th District and Florida’s 18th district are a lot more important in judging the national result than Pennsylvania’s 4th and Rhode Island’s 2nd, you’ll be ahead of the game. In the past, this has been a doable-but-arduous task. There are now a lot of websites that make your job easier. You can use Roll Call’s great House guide and Cook’s race ratings and RealClearPolitics House map and ratings and 270ToWin’s guide or any number of other websites to orient yourself.
5) Make a prediction of some sort — and maybe a bet — but don’t be the “prediction-guy.” Make your prediction public by emailing it to someone (Or heck, tweet it to me @MattGlassman312). Here’s mine: Clinton wins the electoral college 341-198. Democrats picks up a net 15 House seats and gain Senate control 52-48. Cooper beats McCroy for the NC governor, and the Dems sweep the open governor seats in IN, NH, and VT. I also guarantee that either David Gergen or some governor-type (Ed Rendell? Haley Barbour?) will get on my nerves at some point. And yeah, I’ll bet you a drink that I’m closer than you on the House total.
The trap to avoid here is turning the whole night into a test of your prediction ability. Don’t be that guy who’s only interested in the NCAA tournament because he’s got seven brackets going and $1000 on the line, but doesn’t really give a shit about college basketball. So keep the predictions light and modest. Guess some House and Senate totals, and call half a dozen races. But don’t go crazy. Face it: you didn’t build (you didn’t build!) your predictions from some proprietary model and a whole bunch of insider information, so your success or failure basically reflects zero on your ability as a forecaster. But your behavior tonight can reflect grandly on your status as a douchebag. So let Nate Silver and the British gambling houses sweat it out; your job isn’t on the line here.
6) “Watercooler” the election. I spend a lot of time at work trying to avoid political discussion — and I work on the Hill! So I understand your general impulse to stay away from your wackier colleagues on Election Day. But it might be the one day of the year when talking politics at the office can generate some positive returns. Especially if you go beyond contemporary politics and talk to people about democracy. Obviously, you have to weed out the cynics who want to lecture you on why they didn’t vote and the angry partisans who can’t imagine who would vote for that idiot for Senate and the monologuers who won’t shut up about why Denmark is such a better democracy than ours, but if you can weather those storms, you might strike gold.
You’re not looking for anybody specific here, but I recommend finding two people in particular if you can. First: a veteran. Ask him if he ever voted from a combat zone. Then listen. Second, someone who’s run for local office in the past. Ask them what it was like on election day when they ran and how it changed their view of democracy. Then listen. And, of course, if you work with any African-Americans over the age of 65 or so, by all means talk to them about voting and elections. You’re almost guaranteed to get a story worth hearing.
7) Vote. Or don’t. It’s utterly not consequential to the election. But you’ll feel better about yourself if you do. If you need some patriotic inspiration, go read my voting story from a few years back.
In the afternoon (6 action items)
1) Again, resist any and all temptation to turn the television on. For full explanation, see #1. But remember, they’ll be doing things like using a panel of “experts” to interview David Axelrod for three minutes about who he thinks is going to win the Senate. You’ve been warned.
2) Figure out who you are going to watch the returns with. People go all sorts of ways with this. I totally respect the people who have to watch alone, in the dark, just them and the TV, like they’re die-hard baseball fans watching game 7 of the world series. But that’s not my scene. Ditto with the election-night-headquarters style parties with you and 200 of your closest friends at a barroom. I think a home get-together is best, preferably with at least one person who shares your politics and one who doesn’t. I don’t recommend getting a ton of people together; think more “friends coming over” than “party” — you want six, not thirty.
I also think bringing lots of huge partisans into the mix is a mistake, but strong ideologues can be great if they are not too attached to party labels. Avoid cynics and Euro-philes at all costs. Face it, democracy is the least-worst alternative, and unemployment in parliamentary-systems on the continent is like 15%. Yeah, the Senate is anti-democratic, but so is the veto. Get over it. I don’t want to hear it tonight. And neither do your guests.
3) Get your snack setup straight. This is tricky. It’s not a college football tailgate. It’s sure as hell not a dinner party. It’s not a BBQ. It’s not having people over for The Game. My suggestion is to go simple and traditional. That means, of course, pizza and beer. Fill in with pretzels or chips. The thing to stay away from is really messy food, since you’re going to want access to your laptop or ipad (see below) regularly. So probably stay away from salsa, or guacamole. And as much as it pains my upstate heart, wings are a big no-no. You also want a wonkcave configuration that’s amenable to eating and using a computer. You don’t have to go full-blown dork with TV trays and all that jazz, but figure something out ahead of time, so you aren’t sitting on a really deep couch, balancing a plate of pizza on your knees while you smear blue cheese all over your Ipad screen.
4) Learn about a few ballot initiatives. Here’s a comprehensive if somewhat sterile review of the statewide questions voters will face tomorrow. Personally, I’m focused on the following: Arizona Proposition 205 and California Proposition 64 (legalize recreational marijuana; nice overview here); the various gun control propositions in a variety of states; the San Francisco proposal to lower the local voting age to 16; and a local issue in my area, the proposed Fairfax County Meals Tax.
5) Forget the governors’ races. Once you’ve studied the Senate races and found your House bellwethers, you might be tempted to start looking into some governor’s races. It’s not worth it (unless your state happens to have a competitive race, such as Indiana or North Carolina). Maybe pick one that’s really interesting, but don’t bother trying to master them. Invariably, they won’t affect your life and you won’t think about them again until they start announcing for President in a few years. Put your energy into learning more about the Senate races. It makes for much better viewing.
6) Ponder our democratic republic. The 2016 election has featured a tremendous amount of vitriol, norm-breaking, and outright hostility between candidates, parties, and voters. Many political scientists, journalists, and other observes have serious concerns that these developments are not just an extreme version of ordinary election name-calling, but canaries in the coal mine for serious cracks in our democracy. While we have one of the strongest and longest-standing republics in the world, it is not immune to decay, rot, or even collapse. It’s probably worth your while to read an overview of what the concerns are. I recommend either Andrew Sullivan’s recent essay, or Jonathan Rausch’s essay from a couple of months back.
7) Vote if you haven’t yet done so. Or don’t. It’s utterly not consequential to the election. But you’ll feel better about yourself if you do. If you need some further patriotic inspiration, go read my old State of the Union post.
In the early evening, before the first polls close (6pm EST) (5 action items)
1) Again, resist any and all temptation to turn the television on. For full explanation, see #1. But remember, they’ll be doing things like making predictions about national turnout levels based on anecdotal interviews at 2 precincts in the midwest. You’ve been warned.
2) Get your laptop setup with the proper tabs open. My setup is going to look like this: a few live-blogs sitting open on the desktop (such as Five Thirty Eight), an ideological spectrum of other blogs available for quick consult ( TalkingPointsMemo, National Review), the tally-maps from some major networks/papers (probably MSNBC, and Foxnews), and the Virginia official returns site. Anything more than that, and it becomes unwieldy.
3) Arm yourself with the proper printouts. Some things are just better to have in hard copy. If there’s some variant on Nate Silver’s hour-by-hour House guide from 2010, that’s pretty indispensable, especially if you aren’t uber-familiar with the House terrain. And a copy of Cook’s House Race Ratings is nice too to have on the table. I also recommend getting some scrap paper ready to use as your own tally-sheet for House and Senate pickups.
4) Get yourself setup on Twitter. I cannot emphasize this enough. Nothing has made following political events more fun in the last 10 years than Twitter. It brings just the right mix of seriousness and humor that democratic electoral politics deserves. Get yourself setup on it and get tweeting. Or just reading tweets. You won’t regret it. Follow the candidates (@RealDonaldTrump; @HillaryClinton), of course, and some straightfoward news sites (@AP, @CNN, etc.), and the big name forecast-types (@natesilver, @nate_cohn @DrewLinzer, @SamWangPhD). But here are a bunch of non-obvious tweeps I recommend following (for all-around reasons of smarts, humor, and likely volume of tweets tomorrow):
- Academic types:@jbview, @julia_azari, @BrendanNyhan, @smouts , @monkeycage
- Journalists/commentary:@speechboy71, @DouthatNYT, @conor64, @wpjenna, @MEPFuller
- Other: @pourmecoffee, @LOLGOP
And, of course, @MattGlassman312. There are hundreds of other good ones too, so find your own!
5) Bill Mitchell. You must follow Bil Mitchell (@mitchellvii) on Twitter. If you aren’t familiar with him, he has become the ultimate pro-Trump internet troll, producing horror in those well-versed in the science of statistics, joy in the hearts of those who can appreciate a good KenM trolling performance, and total suspense for everyone who wants to know what what he’s going to say/do when Trump actually loses. Or wins. Also, he’s cruising at about 300 tweets/day. I’m not kidding; this might be the most important piece of advice in the list. I mean, just look at this brilliant piece of buffoonery / performance art:
That’s galaxy-class Twitter troll game. You’re welcome.
After the polls begin to close (5 action items)
1) Ease into things. If you plant yourself on the couch at 6pm, you will be brain-dead by 10:30. This is not college football; it is best enjoyed with an active mind. So turn on the TV, get your prep-work out, but don’t sit down. If you absolutely must be plugged in from the get-go, I recommend cleaning or exercising in the TV room. And for goodness sakes don’t eat a full sit-down dinner in front of the television. You’ll regret it. Have a light snack and order the pizza for 7:30. Make the returns background noise and a passive activity early on; by 7:30 or 8, you’ll be ready to hunker-down.
2) Pick a cable news network and stick with it. And I recommend making your choice based solely on comedy. Who has the stupidest display board, with the most useless bells and whistles? Who has the most commentators lined up in a bleacher-like tier? Which network is doing live-remotes from the most ridiculous places? Who has the funniest name for their “war room”? The bottom line is that the networks have ceased to be journalistic endeavors, and are now only good for getting raw data or being entertained. Everything else — from play by play to commentary to meta-analysis — is better on the Internets. Like fifty times better.
3) Don’t be afraid to get emotional. For whatever reason, America spent the 20th century trying to remove political intensity from the practice of actually casting and counting the votes. As recently as 100 years ago, polling places were raucous scenes, complete with bands, rallies, and liquor. Now they are like graveyards. And that carries over a lot of the time to how people adsorb returns. Don’t let it get to you. You’re emotionally invested in either politics or policy; you wouldn’t be reading this otherwise. Don’t pretend we’re counting the votes in a vacuum. Go ahead and cheer.
4) Around 9:00pm EST, call someone who’s only mildly into politics, and talk to them about the elections. Or more precisely, listen to them. Ask them who they voted for and why, and what they think of the emerging results. Don’t offer any opinions, analysis, or commentary. Too many junkies live exclusively in the world of the strategic meta-narrative; it’s both insightful and refreshing to hear people on election night who approach things at face-value.
5) Find out who won local office in your town. Contrary to the indications derived from media coverage, your town and school board elections routinely have a bigger effect on you and your family than anything going on in Washington. It’s bad enough that you don’t know who your state rep is, but it’s unconscionable that you don’t know who’s setting the policies for your kids’ school. Take the time and find out who won these races, and promise yourself that you’ll have a better knowledge of them next time around. That way, you’ll at least feel guilty two years from now when you say, “Is he the Democrat or Republican?”
Late Night (3 action items)
1) Watch an unexpected victory speech, and an unexpected concession. Obviously, if there’s a pretty big surprise upset (like Kirkpatrick in Arizona or … TRUUUUMMP!), find those speeches and watch them live. Otherwise, look for the mild-upsets in Senate races in NH, PA, etc. If Marco Rubio loses, watch him. And if you can find an internet feed of a political amateur winning a House seat, those are solid gold moments.
2) Turn it off by 12:30am EST, after the initial California returns have come in and been digested. Unless you’re prepared to stay up all night, the marginal value of waiting each additional half-hour at that point is really low. If they can’t call the west coast races by 12:30am EST, it will probably be sometime until they can. Don’t bother. Unless the Presidency is hanging in the balance. Then get your coffee out; you’re not going to bed if the map looks like it’s headed toward this:
3) Light up a joint if pot wins in California. Just kidding! Federal law will still make marijuana possession, sale, and cultivation illegal in the United States, and Gonzalez v. Raich will continue to guarantee for the time being that those federal laws are constitutional, regardless of how much money we throw away in the War On Drugs and how many non-violent drug offenders we put in federal prison in the coming years. Think that’s dumb? Me too. But I tend to support candidates who are ready to end the drug war. Next time, will you?