Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Election Night

I'm an election night enthusiast. I don't usually make it all through the night, but for UK elections I always stay up until the early hours, and I couldn't resist watching last night's US election results. All that punditry, and David Dimbleby gravitas, and clever interactive maps turning blue and red ... irresistible!

As I watched I was fascinated by the differences between US and UK election nights. Here are a few random comparisons ...

In the US Republicans are red and Democrats blue; here Conservatives are blue and Labour red. Very confusing.

American results seem to be announced by the TV networks before they actually happen. Did I get that right? Here all the candidates for a parliamentary seat are gathered on a platform while the returning officer announces the result. This means we get to see their face at the moment of victory or defeat - in comparison, the American election coverage was, literally, faceless. Often a number of fringe candidates stand alongside the main parties in parliamentary elections. Sometimes they look like this:

This adds some entertaining eccentricity to the announcement of results. I suspect there is something peculiarly British about a returning officer solemnly intoning "Screaming Lord Sutch, Monster Raving Loony Party, 51 votes; Gordon Brown, Labour, 35,000 votes ...".

Results - or accurately predicted results - come through much quicker in America. It was quite a surprise to see some called virtually the instant the polls closed. Here polls close at 10pm, and the results don't get beyond a trickle until about 1am. Then they come through thick and fast for a couple of hours, with the TV coverage zooming frantically from one vital count to another.

America has 50 states; the UK has over 600 parliamentary constituencies. Whereas the US has only a handful of important marginal states, there are many more marginal constituencies here ... and keeping track of the flurry of results is harder. The US results are simpler and clearer to watch.

The time zone effect surprised me. It was odd to realise that the overall election result was already obvious before voting had finished in some states.


Pixilated Mum said...

So I'm not the only one who thinks that it's weird to call an election before we're done voting?

I don't understand it. I mean, I get the process, but I find it highly faulty.

I live on the West Coast, so I find it extremely disheartening to vote (though I do vote) when the election is being called while our polling places are still open.

And people in Hawaii and Alaska? Those poor people have it worse than we Californians do. No one even waits for them either.

It's very strange.

Theresa said...

I think yours sounds like more fun!

Jennifer said...

Yeah, the west coast thing stinks. I really think they should let them vote the day before if that would, in some way, be possible.

LeeAnn said...

There were some weird numbers that came out that day. I think the states that were called for a particular candidate a few minutes after the polls closed, without any actual votes being counted, are based on exit polling by the media. Which is, I guess, why the media spends so much time and money on doing the polling correctly, so that their results are guaranteed to match the actual counted results.

One thing that was weird to me, I think New Mexico was called for Obama with only 14% of the vote counted and the percentages at the time at something like Obama 42%, McCain 58%. Seems obvious that McCain should have been the leader, right? But apparently the exit polling showed otherwise.

I bet the drama of waiting to hear the election results read in public is intense! I can't imagine what such a scene would have looked like in our country. Although it would be great exposure for the smaller parties.