What time will the UK know the result of the US election?

Your guide to the American election: when each state declares, who is likely to win it, and what kind of hot dogs you need.

So You're Staying Up To Watch The US Election.

Good on you. Hopefully you've taken the day off work tomorrow, because you are in for a long night. Also hopefully you're not cheering for a Romney victory, because if you are, smgdh.

If you haven't planned your night already, it might be a bit late to start. But here's a rough timeline for the evening:

Before the night starts

Put together your food and drink. Probably best to eat your dinner now, because you're not going to want to take time away from the HOT POLITICAL ACTION to cook something. Also, if you're anything like me, you'll need something to line your stomach for the night ahead.

You might want to eat a bipartisan salad or some Uncle Sammies while drinking an All-American if you don't want your food to say "I am a hopey-changey style person, even four years on". Alternatively, if your recipies are as fiercely partisan as you are, why not make some Chicago hot dogs and Barack Obama pizza burgers. It's probably too late to brew some White House Honey Porter (it's definitely too late to brew some White House Honey Porter), but a good American beer will go a long way. At the "beer summit" in 2009, Obama drank Bud Light. But you can do better than that.

11:30pm UK Time

Coverage kicks off. BBC 1 has David Dimbleby in Washington DC and Emily Maitlis in the studio, and also features Katty Kay on expert analysis, and Jeremy Vine, probably dressed up as an alien firing a ray-gun at astronauts or something, I don't know.

ITV's coverage is hosted by Alastair Stewart, and will also feature "contributions" from Julie Etchingham, Mark Austin, Bill Neely and Robert Moore.

If you switch over to Channel 4 and see bombs and things, DO NOT BE ALARMED: it is showing Homeland instead.

The 24-hour news channels will also be doing their thing, while if you ache with nostalgia for the bad old days, Sky Atlantic is showing the 2008 Bush v Gore docudrama, Recount.

12:00am

It begins. The first states' polls close, but do not be alarmed: five are safe Romney states, and only one is a hold for Obama. The only toss-up in this first batch is Virginia, and it is very close: in the latest polls, Obama is in the lead, but his hold is less than half a per cent.

It will take a while for exit polls and early counts to work out on which side of the fence Virginia is going fall, and call accordingly. Obama winning Virginia would be very good, but even if he loses it, he's still relatively safe. Either way, we're unlikely to find out what happens before…

12:30am

The big one. If there is one state this election is riding on, it's Ohio, and polls show him with a pretty confident lead in the state – around 3 per cent. It would be a major upset for Obama to lose the state, and its 18 electors, so make sure you're around when polls close.

At the same time, polls are closing in North Carolina. This is a crucial hold for Romney. If Obama wins these two states, he's won the election. In all likelihood, though, the states will go the way they're predicted.

1:00am

A raft of states' polls close now, but the two we are interested in are Florida and New Hampshire. (Pennsylvania is a quite close race, but expected to be a safe Obama hold – his lead is almost five per cent). Florida is an absolute must-hold for Romney. If he loses that – even if he's won all the swing states up to this point – it's likely all over. A Romney without Florida needs to hold Ohio, North Caroline, Virginia, Wisconsin, Colorado, Iowa, Nevada and New Hampshire – as well as have no upsets in his safe states – to win the election.

Romney has a lead in Florida – but it's not as strong as he would like. Latest polls put him 1.5 per cent ahead of Obama, but NYT polling-guru Nate Silver gives Obama a 52 per cent chance of winning the state.

New Hampshire is a swing-state which leans Obama, but it's four electoral votes are only going to be a key in the most marginal situations. Nonetheless, the Democrats will be pleased to take the state.

1:30am

If you are playing along at home, we've got Obama behind with 135 electoral college votes – Virginia remains a toss-up, but in the interests of an exciting race, I'm predicting it will fall to Romney by this time in the night, which gives him 149 amongst the states which have declared.

1:30 is the quiet period – only Arkansas, a Romney cert, closes its polls then, adding another six votes to his tally. Take the opportunity to go to the loo, make a midnight snack, or run out to the 24hr off-license, because coming up is the big one.

2:00am

By this time, voting will have ended in 40 states. Amongst the safe seats, Mitt Romney's big hitters have all closed – Texas alone will give him 38 electors, while Arizona gives another 11, and the midwest a further 17. New York State also closes its polls, the last of the east coast to shut, and will likely send 29 to Obama. Before we look at the swing states, Obama's electoral tally is at 165 to Romney's 229.

Michigan is the safest battleground state featured here, but is still worth a look. Obama is polling at 49.2, compared to Romney's 45.4, but he really needs the state – one which has been hit hard by the recession, and isn't seeing much of the recovery either.

Colorado is always a swing state, going blue for Obama, but having been Republican for the three elections before that. Although Obama should win there – and is polling in the lead – a win for Romney there would put him in a very interesting position – which we'll come to.

Wisconsin is another battleground in name only. The Democrats are polling almost four per cent above the Republicans, and the state – and its 10 electors – are likely to go to Obama.

At the end of this rush, then, we've put Obama on 191 and Romney on 238. The states have mostly fallen down the line, except for Colorado and Virginia, which we've given to Romney. What next?

3:00am

Montana and Utah turn red instantly, giving Romney another nine electors. But what of the last two battleground states, Iowa and Nevada?

Both have a strong lead for Obama, well over two per cent. But we are getting late enough in the day that turnout is starting to be affected by the calls made elsewhere. In our imaginary scenario, could Romney winning Florida and Virgina early on motivate turnout? Could he win those two states?

If he did, then we'd have a very interesting situation indeed: a near-certain tie. If Romney takes Florida, North Carolina, Virgina, Colorado, Iowa and Nevada, then the candidates are near certain to have 270 269 electors each. That would boot the decision over to the newly elected congress, where the House of Representatives would elect the president, and the Senate would pick the vice-president – which, given the split in control, would mean a Romney/Biden presidency, the first split White House in over 200 years, when John Adams had to govern with his opponent Thomas Jefferson.

In reality, that's unlikely to happen. Obama will most likely win Iowa and Nevada, leaving him with 203 votes to Romney's 247. Although the numbers don't show it, at this point, he has won the election – and in fact, will have even if he loses one of Iowa or Nevada – because in an hour…

4:00am

The east west coast declares. California, Oregon and Washington state will all turn blue, giving Obama another 84 votes, and pushing him over the 270 he needs to win.

And the rest is history.

If you want to stay up later still, the Daily Show/Colbert Report election special begins now on the Comedy Central website, and runs until 5:00am UK time.

Or you could just go to bed.

Watching politics in style. Photograph: BarackObama.com

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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Forget the progressive alliance - it was the voters wot won it in Richmond

The Labour candidate on how voters have acted tactically for decades.

The Richmond Park by-election is both a triumph and a setback for the concept of an anti-Tory progressive alliance. As the Labour candidate, I was bombarded with emails and tweets saying I ought to stand down to prevent Zac Goldsmith being re-elected long after it was technically impossible for me to do so even if I had wanted to. I was harangued at a meeting organised by Compass, at which I found myself the lonely voice defending Labour's decision to put up a candidate.

I was slightly taken aback by the anger of some of those proposing the idea, but I did not stand for office expecting an easy ride. I told the meeting that while I liked the concept of a progressive alliance, I did not think that should mean standing down in favour of a completely unknown and inexperienced Lib Dem candidate, who had been selected without any reference to other parties. 

The Greens, relative newbies to the political scene, had less to lose than Labour, which still wants to be a national political party. Consequently, they told people to support the Lib Dems. This all passed off smoothly for a while, but when Caroline Lucas, the co-leader of the Greens came to Richmond to actively support the Lib Dems, it was more than some of her local party members could stomach. 

They wrote to the Guardian expressing support for my campaign, pointing out that I had a far better, long-established reputation as an environmentalist than the Lib Dem candidate. While clearly that ultimately did little to boost my vote, this episode highlighted one of the key problems about creating a progressive alliance. Keeping the various wings of the Labour party together, especially given the undisciplined approach of the leader who, as a backbencher, voted 428 times during the 13 years of Labour government in the 1990s and 2000s, is hard enough. Then consider trying to unite the left of the Greens with the right of the Lib Dems. That is not to include various others in this rainbow coalition such as nationalists and ultra-left groups. Herding cats seems easy by contrast.

In the end, however, the irony was that the people decided all by themselves. They left Labour in droves to vote out Goldsmith and express their opposition to Brexit. It was very noticeable in the last few days on the doorstep that the Lib Dems' relentless campaign was paying dividends. All credit to them for playing a good hand well. But it will not be easy for them to repeat this trick in other constituencies. 

The Lib Dems, therefore, did not need the progressive alliance. Labour supporters in Richmond have been voting tactically for decades. I lost count of the number of people who said to me that their instincts and values were to support Labour, but "around here it is a wasted vote". The most revealing statistic is that in the mayoral campaign, Sadiq Khan received 24 per cent of first preferences while Caroline Pidgeon, the Lib Dem candidate got just 7 per cent. If one discounts the fact that Khan was higher profile and had some personal support, this does still suggest that Labour’s real support in the area is around 20 per cent, enough to give the party second place in a good year and certainly to get some councillors elected.

There is also a complicating factor in the election process. I campaigned strongly on opposing Brexit and attacked Goldsmith over his support for welfare cuts, the bedroom tax and his outrageous mayoral campaign. By raising those issues, I helped undermine his support. If I had not stood for election, then perhaps a few voters may have kept on supporting him. One of my concerns about the idea of a progressive alliance is that it involves treating voters with disdain. The implication is that they are not clever enough to make up their mind or to understand the restrictions of the first past the post system. They are given less choice and less information, in a way that seems patronising, and smacks of the worst aspects of old-fashioned Fabianism.

Supporters of the progressive alliance will, therefore, have to overcome all these objections - in addition to practical ones such as negotiating the agreement of all the parties - before being able to implement the concept. 

Christian Wolmar is an award winning writer and broadcaster specialising in transport. He was shortlisted as a Labour mayoral candidate in the 2016 London election, and stood as Labour's candidate in the Richmond Park by-election in December 2016.