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A couch potato’s guide to the presidential election night – 2020

UNG political science professor Dr. Carl Cavalli offers his insights on what to watch for on election night in 2020.

Editor's Note: Dr. Carl Cavalli, professor of political science at UNG and an expert on presidential elections, every four years produces his “Couch Potato Guide to Election Night” for those following media coverage of election returns. Below, in his own words, is his guide for the 2020 Presidential Election.

This is not meant to be predictive or scientific. It is just a guide to help you follow along as the media reports come in on election night.

While close races, recounts, voting irregularities, and legal challenges may extend a final determination for days or longer, the tenor of this election will be known relatively early because many battlegrounds (especially Georgia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Florida) are in the eastern half of the country. However, keep in mind that four western states totaling 78 electoral votes – California, Hawaii, Oregon, and Washington – are solidly Democratic (Biden has a 20-35% lead in all of them). This is noteworthy because it means that once Biden’s total reaches 192 Electoral College votes among the rest of the nation, he will have enough electors to win. 

Time (EST)

States and Washington, D.C. (Territories not included)

Key States

7 p.m.

Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, South Carolina, Virginia, Vermont


7:30 p.m.

North Carolina, Ohio, West Virginia

North Carolina, Ohio

8 p.m.

Alabama, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Washington DC

Florida, Maine (2nd CD), New Hampshire, Pennsylvania

Note: By 8 p.m., polls will close in states totaling more than 270 electors. This is the earliest that any formal winner could be projected.

8:30 p.m.



9 p.m.

Arizona, Colorado, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, Wisconsin, Wyoming

Arizona, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska (2nd CD), Texas, Wisconsin

10 p.m.

Iowa, Montana, Nevada, Utah

Iowa, Nevada

11 p.m.

California, Idaho, Oregon, Washington


12 a.m., 1 a.m.

Hawaii (12 a.m.), Alaska (1 a.m.)


Note: Times indicate when all polls are closed within a state (in some states, polls partially close earlier).

Here are some states to watch for (in order of the time their polls close):

Georgia (7 p.m., 16 electors): Democrats have gained significant ground here. The 2018 gubernatorial election was the closest in over 50 years, with Republican Brian Kemp winning by a popular vote margin of only about 1.5% over Democrat Stacey Abrams. Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in 2016 by over 5%, but polls this year indicate a virtual toss-up. If Biden wins here, he has a very good chance of winning the election.

North Carolina (7:30 p.m., 15 electors): Once reliably Republican, this is now a toss-up state because of diverse growth in the suburbs of Charlotte and other major cities in the state. Biden does not need the state to win, but if he does, it will be difficult for Trump to win the election.

Ohio (7:30 p.m., 18 electors): Once a toss-up, Trump won handily in 2016. It’s a toss-up again this year. If Biden wins, he will almost certainly win the election.

Florida (8 p.m., 29 electors): Always the toss-up, this year is no exception. If Biden wins the state, it will be very difficult for Trump to win the election.

New Hampshire (8 p.m., 4 electors): Once reliably Republican, it is trending Democratic. Clinton eked out a victory by less than 1% of the vote in 2016. Biden has maintained a significant lead for most of this year. He should win here.

Maine 2nd Congressional District (8 p.m., 1 elector): The state of Maine has four electors, but it is one of two states (with Nebraska) that is not a winner-take-all state. It awards one elector for each of its two congressional districts, with the state’s overall popular vote winner getting the remaining two electors. This means it is possible that the electors could be split 3 to 1. The statewide vote will almost certainly favor Biden. But Maine’s 2nd District is a toss-up that may very well go to Trump.

Pennsylvania (8 p.m., 20 electors): Always teasing Republicans, the state was reliably Democratic … until 2016. Trump surprised the pundits by squeaking by Clinton in 2016 with a 45,000-vote margin out of about 6 million. Most polls put Biden securely ahead, but Democrats are nervous.

NOTE: If all results are clear-cut so far (very unlikely!), 8 p.m. is the earliest that any formal winner can be projected.

Arizona (9 p.m., 11 electors): A solid Republican state that Biden has done surprisingly well in. Trump won here by 4% of the vote in 2016, but Biden is up in most polls by about the same amount now. It could be a backup for him if he loses one of the other states discussed above.

Michigan (9 p.m., 16 electors): Along with Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, one of the three “surprise” states that Trump won in 2016. Usually a reliably Democratic state, Trump eked out a victory here by just over 10,000 votes out of about 4.5 million cast. Biden has had a steady lead here in the high single digits. If Trump wins here, he may very well be on the way to re-election. 

Nebraska 2nd Congressional District (9 p.m., 1 elector): See the discussion of Maine’s 2nd Congressional District above for details on why a single elector in Nebraska may be worth noting. Overall, Nebraska is a reliably Republican state – and has been for quite some time. However, the 2nd Congressional District is in the more diverse, more urban, and more industrial Omaha area. In 2008, while the rest of the state was solidly Republican, giving John McCain four electors, the 2nd District supported Barack Obama, giving him one of the electors. 

Texas (9 p.m., 38 electors): Like Georgia, a Republican state where Democrats have gained ground recently. In 2018, Sen. Ted Cruz won re-election by less than 3% of the popular vote over Democrat Beto O’Rourke. Texas is surprisingly close this year, but Trump should win. If Biden does, he wins … possibly in a landslide. 

Wisconsin (9 p.m., 10 electors): The third “surprise” state that Trump won in 2016. Wisconsin is a traditionally Democratic state that Trump won with just a 23,000-vote margin out of 2.8 million votes. Biden has steadily led in the polls, but if they are as far off as in 2016, Trump may take the state again.

Iowa (10 p.m., 6 electors): Iowa was a classic midwestern Democratic farm state (think: Tom Harkin) that has trended Republican recently. It was a toss-up in many recent presidential elections before going decisively for Donald Trump in 2016. Biden has maintained a slim lead through October. It is unclear if that will hold up.

Nevada (10 p.m., 6 electors): Nevada has trended Democratic in recent years, largely due to growing diversity and union membership among Las Vegas workers. Clinton scored a narrow victory here in 2016. Biden has had a good-sized, steady lead most of the year. A Trump win here could make up for minor losses back east.

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