Everything You Need To Know About Today’s Presidential Election But Were Afraid To Ask

Who's going to win? When will we know? When can we start drinking? All these question, plus more, answered.

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When Donald Trump announced his presidential campaign back in June 2015 the whole world thought it was a joke. Fast forward more than 12 months and it still seems like an absurd prank, but one that’s only a few percentage points away from sitting in the White House for the next four years.

Despite the scandals, allegations of sexual assault and some pretty outrageous policies, Trump’s support has held up. According to some polls (we’ll get into the polling complexities in a bit) the Republican candidate is about three points behind Hillary Clinton. But surely he can’t win, right?  After all this is the guy who wants to ban Muslims, called Latino immigrants “criminals”  and has been accused of rape.

But here’s the thing. Despite all of the controversies, based on current polling, Trump could still secure around 45 percent of the vote. That’s just under 1 in 2 voters.

The US electoral system is pretty complex and national vote results don’t easily translate into predictions about who could win. On top of that this election has been one of the most unusual in modern history. So what are the likely outcomes of today’s election and who’s got the best chance of coming out on top?

What Are The Possible Outcomes?

It might sound obvious but there are two ways this election is most like to go: a Clinton victory or a Trump win. But there is also a possibility of a third conclusion: a draw. While the chances are slim, they can’t be totally ruled out.

The election’s victor won’t be decided by who wins the national popular vote. US presidential elections are decided by a system known as the ‘electoral college‘. There are 538 electoral college votes up for grabs, divided up by each of the 50 US states. Whoever wins 270 votes wins the presidency.

Larger states have more electoral college votes than smaller ones. For example, California has 55 votes while New Hampshire only holds four. Some of those states tend to regularly vote Democrat, like New York, and some tend to regularly vote Republican, like Texas. But a number are called ‘swing states’ because they shift election to election and help decide the winner.

Swing states like Florida and Nevada are bombarded with election advertising and campaign visits from both candidates every election because they are crucial to winning to presidency.

Because 538 is an even number, it’s technically possible for there to be a 269-269 draw. Depending on which way the states fall that could happen but it’s incredibly unlikely.

While the candidate who wins the national popular vote tends to also win a majority of the electoral college, that’s not always the case. In 2000 George W. Bush lost the national vote to Al Gore, but won enough states to come out on top.

But the real question everyone wants answered is: who is going to win?!

Could Donald Trump Actually Win?

There’s a lot of political polling that goes on in the US. Like, a lot. But most of it is focused on national results, or the race in a few key states, which can make it hard to determine the overall outcome. To make things even more complicated, the polls often tell wildly different stories due to the way they’re conducted or inherent biases within their methodology.

To help overcome some of these polling challenges, data journalists in the US have started developing aggregators. These tools hoover up all the polls out there, make some adjustments and weightings and spit out a more accurate figure.

The godfather of political polling aggregation is a guy called Nate Silver. Silver runs FiveThirtyEight. In 2012 Silver correctly predicted the result in all 50 states. In 2008 he got it right in 49 states. So he has pretty good form.

But Silver isn’t the only aggregator out there. The New York Times has their own model and Real Clear Politics provides a regularly updated polling average. All of these different aggregators point to a Clinton win, but by varying margins.

The New York Times thinks Clinton will score 322 electoral college votes and Nate Silver thinks she’ll score about 302. Real Clear Politics’ polling average has Clinton winning the national vote by 3 percent.

The numbers suggest a pretty comfortable Clinton victory. But there are a few unknowns. Some key states haven’t had much polling done, so we don’t know with much certainty what the results could be. The polls could also be wrong, which could throw out everyone’s predictions. But on balance it’s fair to say Clinton is in the box seat.

And even though the numbers have bounced around over the past 12 months, we’re pretty much back to where we started a year ago.

RCP polling average

The Real Clear Politics polling average over the past year. Clinton’s in blue, Trump is red.

When Will We Know The Results?

Polls on the east coast of the US will opened at 10pm last night, Australian Eastern Daylight Time. By 11am today voting will close in the key, east coast states of Florida and New Hampshire. We should get the results pretty soon after that. If Clinton wins Florida it will be very hard for Trump to win. But if Trump wins the state we could be in for a long count.

By about 2pm most of the key states will have started reporting their results and we should have a clear picture of what’s going on. If Clinton does as well as predicted we’ll probably know the result a bit earlier. But if there’s an unexpected Trump surge, counting could take even longer.

If you’re an election tragic you’ll be glued to your screens all day. But if you just want to know the final result, it’s worth checking in around 2-3pm.

Of course Junkee will be providing updates throughout the day so be sure to check our site regularly!

Good luck to us all.