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2012 campaign

Here's What Time the Election Will Be Called

The cafeteria at Public School 370 in Coney Island, Brooklyn, served as an emergency location for voting on Nov. 6

Photograph by Mark Lennihan/AP Photo

The cafeteria at Public School 370 in Coney Island, Brooklyn, served as an emergency location for voting on Nov. 6

(Corrects the number of electoral votes for California.)

Everybody knows that tonight’s magic number is 270—as in, the number of electoral votes needed to win the White House. What nobody knows is exactly what time the winning candidate will reach 270. Well, the crack Bloomberg data team of Alexandre Tanzi and Evan Applegate have cross-referenced electoral votes, poll-closing times, and the most recent RealClearPolitics average of state polls to devise a chart showing what time we’ll likely have the answer. The conclusion: 9 p.m. EST is the earliest we’ll plausibly be able to call the election—and it’ll be for Mitt Romney, because states leaning his way close earlier than those leaning toward President Obama. That’s if Romney wins toss-ups such as Virginia, Ohio, Florida, and New Hampshire. If he doesn’t, we’ll all have to stay up later.

The earliest there will plausibly be an official call for Obama is 11 p.m. And that’s assuming that he carries most of those toss-up states. The reason it’s later for Obama is mainly California and its 55 electoral votes. The polls don’t close there until 11 p.m. EST.

Here’s a chart showing the hour-by-hour likelihood of how the electoral votes will be apportioned between the candidates—with the big mystery, of course, being who wins the battlegrounds.

Green is senior national correspondent for Bloomberg Businessweek in Washington. Follow him on Twitter @JoshuaGreen.

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