How Election Night Unfolded, Minute by Minute
A resident casts a ballot at an early voting polling location for the 2020 Presidential election in Lexington, South Carolina, U.S. (Photographer: Micah Green/Bloomberg)

How Election Night Unfolded, Minute by Minute

1:08 a.m.: Jonathan Bernstein, Politics & Policy Columnist

It looks unlikely that we’ll know who won the presidential contest for a while. I'd much rather have Joe Biden's hand right now than Donald Trump's, especially if Fox News was correct to call Arizona for Biden. The count has been delayed in Georgia, with votes coming in slowly in a couple of Democratic areas, but at least one careful analysis at the New York Times gives Biden the edge there, eventually. He still has an outside shot at North Carolina, too. Even without those two states, Biden would still win if he takes Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin - so if he does add one of the others, he'll have a cushion in case something goes wrong in those three states. 

Remember that Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin are counting slowly because their Republican legislatures insisted on slow counts. It's possible we might know in the morning; it might take a few more days, as Biden said to his supporters late tonight. We've been expecting some slow counts, with a decent chance that Democrats would be helped by the last-to-count-ballots.

Biden says he’s optimistic and Trump is tweeting triumphantly, but none of that matters. We just have to wait.

That’s all for this Election Night blog. Thanks for tuning in. To keep tracking developments, please follow the 2020 Presidential Election Results on bloomberg.com.

12:40 a.m.: Timothy L. O’Brien, Senior Columnist

As I noted earlier on the blog: Patience is a virtue. Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan are going to be the pivotal contests on the electoral map. Biden has a clear path to 280 to 290 electoral votes at this point if two of the three land on his side. Trump can push past 270 if he gets two of the three. Time to exhale and wait for ballots to be counted.

12:11 a.m.: Jonathan Bernstein, Politics & Policy Columnist

Meanwhile, Joe Biden has moved into the lead in the overall vote. Yes, the contest is about the Electoral College, but it's meaningful that Biden is going to win the popular vote, and almost certainly win it by a larger margin than Hillary Clinton did.

I'm not a major critic of the Electoral College, but that's mainly because it hasn't had a long-term bias in favor of either party. That may be changing now, even if Biden does wind up winning.

12:09 a.m.: Clara Ferreira-Marques, Commodities Columnist

Looking for a good indicator of Trump’s perceived prospects? Try the Chinese yuan traded offshore, which is slumping as investors unwind positions built with an eye to a clear Democratic win. It hit 6.7745 per dollar earlier, after the sharpest drop since August 2019. It’s not even close to reversing the year’s gains on the back of the post-pandemic recovery, but it’s a wild trading session out there.

How Election Night Unfolded, Minute by Minute

11:36 p.m.: Jonathan Bernstein, Politics & Policy Columnist

Time for a general comment: If a state isn't called, there's a reason it isn't called. I see a lot of folks on Twitter getting ahead of themselves, and the truth is we're just going to have to wait for more counting. There's still enough uncertainty over whether Joe Biden could win by a pretty wide margin; or whether Donald Trump could win; or whether Biden could win by a narrow margin.

11:15 p.m.: Clara Ferreira-Marques, Commodities Columnist

Ahead of the U.S. vote, Chinese and Russian state media dialed up their depictions of looming mayhem.

Russia’s English-language RT carried a segment depicting street clashes and armed vigilantes, and is leading its coverage tonight with protesters gathering in Washington. In China, The People’s Daily has described divisions, confusion and fears of “chaos and social unrest.” The Global Times speculated in an editorial that “there might be even riots, with the losing side refusing to accept the outcome.”

None of this has happened, of course, and still may not. At the same time, merely raising doubts about America’s ability to hold a credible, peaceful election is a major propaganda win for both Beijing and Moscow — and an incalculable blow to Washington's credibility.

11:13 p.m.: Jonathan Bernstein, Politics & Policy Columnist

If Republicans hold on to their Senate seat in North Carolina, where Senator Thom Tillis clings to a narrow lead over Democratic challenger Cal Cunningham, it's certainly good news for them. But even if that happens, it's still too early to know which party will win a Senate majority. If Democrats are up two seats after flipping Colorado, Arizona and Maine and losing their seat in Alabama, and if Kamala Harris is vice president - and of course there are loud maybes there - Democrats would need one victory in either Georgia, Iowa or even Montana. 

Georgia not looking good for Democrats now, but there are a lot of votes remaining in Atlanta, so we just have to wait to see whether Republican Senator David Perdue gets to 50% and avoids a runoff. A runoff is virtually certain in a second Senate race there, which means Senate control could remain unresolved until January.

11:00 p.m.: John Authers, Senior Editor for Markets

For the markets, and indeed the future of global macroeconomic policy, a critical moment may have come when Republican Thom Tillis’s vote total edged ahead of the Democrat Cal Cunningham’s in North Carolina. 

If Tillis holds on, it looks highly likely that the Democrats will fail to take control of the Senate.

With a Republican Senate, we either have the economic status quo, dominated by monetary policy, if Trump is re-elected; or a Biden vs. Mitch McConnell dynamic, in which fiscal policy would become even more frugal. A "blue wave," with a dramatic move toward deficit financing and infrastructure investment, looks as if it is not happening. Many market assumptions that have endured for months need to be changed.

10:43 p.m.: Robert A. George, Editorial Board Member

Here’s another example of what appears to be a real surge of Republican strength around the country: It looks like Nicole Malliotakis has defeated the incumbent Democrat, Max Rose, who represents Staten Island and Brooklyn in the U.S. House. While Staten Island is a Republican stronghold, this seat has flipped back and forth in recent years. Rose, an Army veteran, ran as a moderate Democrat able to work with both sides, while Malliotakis ran tough ads suggesting he supported defunding the police.

10:40 p.m.: Timothy L. O’Brien, Senior Columnist

Almost 75% of the vote has been counted in Arizona and Biden leads Trump by nine percentage points. Mark Kelly, the Democratic challenger to Senator Martha McSally, is also nine points ahead. Biden needs Arizona, especially if Trump keeps sweeping the South. And all of that is likely to make Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin where the presidential race will be won or lost — shades of 2016. And patience is a virtue, because Wisconsin's results won't be known until Wednesday and Pennsylvania may take days to tally.

10:25 p.m.: John Authers, Senior Editor for Markets

Betting markets were always skeptical of the emphatic odds on a Biden victory that were produced by the main models based on polls. The Predictit prediction markets, and the main betting markets, agreed on the eve of Election Day that Biden’s chances were only 63%, not the 90+% called by the likes of FiveThirtyEight and The Economist. That leaves them looking clever, with a true Biden landslide already ruled out as a possibility.

Not that this is an unqualified victory for the prediction markets. On Predictit, the afternoon saw a swath of bets on Biden to win battleground states. And then shortly before polls closed on the Eastern seaboard, the website crashed. Many bettors who had suddenly decided to bet on Biden after all will not be happy about this.

Meanwhile, the betting markets that remain open may have overstated Trump’s chances of victory. London-based Betfair now gives Trump an 87% chance. With little evidence on the “Blue Wall” of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, that number might come down again.

How Election Night Unfolded, Minute by Minute

9:48 p.m.: Clara Ferreira-Marques, Commodities Columnist

Record voter turnout is a key feature of this election, based on early votes alone. As a reminder, in 2016, more eligible Americans did not vote than voted for either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton — over 90 million people, depending on how you calculate the total. 

The big question is which side benefits. Voting is more difficult in the U.S. than in any other developed democracy – long waits, weekday voting, cumbersome registration. Yet it’s not inconceivable that strong turnout could favor Trump, who has poured energy into mobilizing his base. A Knight Foundation study found that U.S. non-voters tend to doubt the system, engage less with news and to be more evenly divided on Trump policies than active voters.

Here's an historical snapshot from the Elections Project website.

How Election Night Unfolded, Minute by Minute

9:45 p.m.: Robert A. George, Editorial Board Member

With early returns suggesting Joe Biden is seriously underperforming among Latino voters in states such as Florida and Texas, let's take note of the dog that didn’t bark in 2020: immigration. The issue that Donald Trump used to launch his 2016 bid went almost unmentioned this time — by either candidate — as the coronavirus and the economy sucked up almost all the attention. Is it possible that downplaying immigration has helped Trump with Hispanic voters?

9:40 p.m.: Francis Wilkinson, Politics Columnist

Political scientist Thomas Schaller emailed earlier in the day with an observation that may have relevance to the strength Trump has shown in Florida. “Psychographic identifiers are becoming as important as demographic ones,” Schaller said. “For example, I think we will learn that the subset of high-authoritarian non-white men gravitated to Trump, despite their race, whereas low-authoritarian suburban women moved toward Biden, despite their gender, geography and affluence.”

Pre-election polls and focus groups showed some Hispanic and Black men attracted to Trump’s authoritarian style. Some of those men look like they're helping Trump win Florida tonight. We’ll hear from women in the suburbs of Philadelphia and elsewhere later.

9:27 p.m.: Cathy O’Neil, Author and Data Scientist

After all the discussion about how we would first hear from Election Day voters and then, later, we would see the absentee ballots counted, it's hard to know which states are counting what right now, and that's pretty frustrating. In fact, it's probably true that it depends on the county of a given state how it's done. 

Moreover, it feeds into the Trump narrative that this is an ongoing race, whereby Trump could be “winning” early on and then “lose later”; we might even see the anticipated disagreements if this exact thing happens. 

But the narrative is, of course, misleading and confuses causal reasoning: The votes are the votes, they have by now all been cast, and they should all be counted. This confusion is understandable but highly problematic. 

My conclusion is we need better language to describe partial results.

9:04 p.m.: Timothy L. O’Brien, Senior Columnist

A bright spot worth noting: All the concern about possible voter intimidation and violence at polling places was for naught. 

Secretaries of state and election commissioners told me a couple of weeks ago that they were working closely with local law enforcement to ensure voters could visit polls safely, and they felt they had that possible problem well under control. Their confidence was well placed, as it turns out. 

They also felt they had threats of cyber-hacking in check, and had prepared well for public health concerns. That also appears, happily, to be true. 

The remaining wild card: lawsuits. Everyone I spoke to was very wary of a possible flood of lawsuits, primarily from Republican lawyers, contesting the ballot count on or after Election Day. We'll have to wait on that one. 

8:55 p.m.: Francis Wilkinson, Politics Columnist

While Florida is doing what Florida does best — shattering the hopes of Democrats and people who like to go to bed early — let’s talk about Pennsylvania.

Doc Sweitzer, a longtime Pennsylvania-based Democratic consultant, sends a reminder that Trump won the state by 0.7% in 2016, the closest margin in almost two centuries. The question is whether Democratic organizing can claw back enough votes to turn the tables. Sweitzer, who says he called the state for Trump in 2016, thinks Democrats will have a comfortable margin this year. “I think the surprise will be less Trump turnout on Election Day,” he emailed.

Lara Putnam, a history professor at the University of Pittsburgh, says to watch the competition in Allegheny County, which includes Pittsburgh. “Democrats carried Allegheny by 14.5 to 16.5 points in every presidential election from 1996 to 2016,” she emailed. “But that steadiness actually hid huge internal swings in opposite directions, as diehard Democratic mill towns bled population, white working-class subdivisions swung to the GOP, and once rock-red Republican suburbs swung purple. In 2016, Allegheny County was, in absolute terms, Trump's biggest vote source in Pennsylvania. Trump got 259,480 votes in Allegheny — about 100,000 votes more than in his next-best county,” Putnam said.

Hillary Clinton won the county by about 16 points. “Democratic Senator Bob Casey thinks Biden can hit +25 in Allegheny. If so, that’s game over for Trump — both because of what it suggests about areas with similar demographics, and simply for the impact of that vote result itself.”

8:47 p.m.: Karl W. Smith, Economics Columnist

So far it looks like the economy/Covid hybrid model of this election is holding up fairly well. Trump is doing better among minorities, particularly Hispanics (and given his small base of African-American support, a 2- to 3-percentage-point swing is significant). At the same time, the president is doing worse among older voters. The difference is that he is not doing as badly as early polls might have predicted. All this helps explain why he is outperforming projections in Florida, Georgia and North Carolina.

8:34 p.m.: Robert A. George, Editorial Board Member

With the numbers coming out of Florida's Miami-Dade County seeming to point to a Trump win in the state, the lesson is clear: Despite his anti-immigrant reputation, Trump has made significant inroads among the Hispanic (and Black) electorate. But the signs for a potentially strong night for Biden are still there in his strong performance in the suburbs (see Florida’s east coast). That trade-off, extended across the country, is likely something Biden will take. Keep an eye on Ohio, Arizona and, yes, Texas.

8:29 p.m.: John Authers, Senior Editor for Markets

The blue wave appears to have crested, at least for now. Wall Street trading saw stocks and bond yields rise sharply in a clear bet on a Biden-led blue wave. That has been reversed in Asian markets in response to the early returns coming out of Florida.

S&P 500 eMini futures have dropped 1.2% since 7:15 PM, while the 10-year Treasury yield has dropped 7 basis points, having briefly touched 0.94%, which had been its highest since the crisis hit in March. In both cases, these moves have so far only rubbed out what was a very surprising dose of speculation in Tuesday's daylight hours.

That speculation looked surprising at the time, and looks harder to explain now. Markets would move a lot further in the direction of the last hours if the positive signs for Trump so far are confirmed as the night goes on.

8:26 p.m.: Jonathan Bernstein, Politics & Policy Columnist

There’s a long way to go, but so far we have a lot of good news about election administration. We didn't have stories about intimidation at polling places, or extraordinarily long lines, or ballot irregularities, or polling places failing to open because of shortages of poll workers. 

The news is similarly good so far about how news organizations are reporting the returns. From what I've seen, journalists and other analysts are being careful about discussing early returns without extrapolating where it isn't warranted. 

The best news is that media sources all appear to be discussing turnout in terms of expected votes, rather than the (wildly misleading) precincts. That's going to be very important as the night goes on - it means that they won't say that a state has 100% of the precincts reported when there are still a lot of absentee votes remaining to count.

8:22 p.m.: Francis Wilkinson, Politics Columnist

This is a monumental election for the future of American democracy, and it’s producing deep emotions in many Americans. I asked former Representative Bob Inglis, Republican of South Carolina, how he was feeling today. He told me he was listening to Gerald Ford’s inaugural address. “It’s really worth a listen,” he said. “When today's votes are all in, I hope to celebrate with President Ford's words: ‘My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over.’”

Inglis quoted more from Ford’s address: "As we bind up the internal wounds of Watergate, more painful and more poisonous than those of foreign wars, let us restore the golden rule to our political process, and let brotherly love purge our hearts of suspicion and of hate.”

It’s a reminder of divisive times past. “God help us to have public servants of that level of decency,” Inglis said.

8:18 p.m.: Timothy L. O’Brien, Senior Columnist

Biden is posting impressive numbers in Ohio -- large (but still early!) margins over Trump. Although Biden has underperformed in Florida, he's outperforming in Ohio. 

An interesting case study in Ohio is Mahoning County, home to Youngstown, that is the kind of white, working-class bellwether that demonstrates the possible fraying of Trump's 2016 base. Biden is leading Trump there by about 25 points.

8:04 p.m.: Cathy O’Neil, Author and Data Scientist

There's a lot to complain about when it comes to polls. They are inaccurate but seemingly authoritative, they confuse and distract us. Couldn't we find better things to talk about than what white women in Iowa think? Like the policy positions of the candidates? And polls serve to actually skew our behavior, if we decide not to bother voting if the decision seems decided beforehand. 

For that matter, early results can also mislead us. Here's an example: Dixville, New Hampshire, voted 100% for Biden, whereas in 2016 it voted 66% for Hillary Clinton. The margin of victory has gone way up! Oh, wait, five people voted this year whereas only six people voted in 2016.

Having said all that, I will admit to being so nervous recently about the uncertainty around this election that I'm hoovering up all the polling and early results I can find, in an attempt to soothe myself. It hasn't worked but at least now I get it: It's an emotional addiction rather than a scientific curiosity.

7:55 p.m.: Francis Wilkinson, Politics Columnist

Wisconsin Democratic Party Chair Ben Wikler emails a bracing piece of data: “Over the last five days, 23,081 Wisconsinites tested positive for coronavirus. That’s more people than Trump’s margin of victory in 2016.”

7:39 p.m.: Timothy L. O’Brien, Senior Columnist

Biden and Trump are neck and neck in Florida, with Biden getting a huge boost from Broward county. But Trump voters have turned out in big raw numbers in Miami-Dade. And two House Dems -- Donna Shalala and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell -- are behind in their respective Miami-Dade races. 

It's pretty clear that Trump has made big inroads with Latino voters in Miami-Dade. And he's visited Florida overall at least 16 times this year -- he and his campaign know that Florida is a must-win state.

7:33 p.m.: Karl W. Smith, Economics Columnist

The Gallup poll that John just mentioned may seem shocking, given the devastating effect of Covid. But there are two straightforward explanations.

First, median household income was way up in 2019. Indeed, the rise of the last five years is the largest on record, beating out even the increase of the 1990s. Second, even though unemployment has exploded because of the pandemic, personal income has actually risen even more since the end of 2019. That’s because the unemployment benefits of the CARES Act were so generous that they more than made up for the loss in income from joblessness.

These factors help explain President Donald Trump’s otherwise perplexing improved performance with minorities, particularly men. On the other hand, his former stronghold of older White voters is collapsing. The most obvious answer is Covid.

This dichotomy, I think, will be the dominant story of the night for Trump and his fellow Republicans: strong on the economy and with young male voters who depend on growth, and weak with older White voters who are economically secure but highly sensitive to Covid.

7:27 p.m.: John Authers, Senior Editor for Markets

Are you better off today than you were four years ago? The question has entered political folklore for winning the 1980 election for Ronald Reagan. Amazingly, in the latest Gallup survey, conducted in late September, more Americans answered “yes” than ever before. 

Indeed, this is the first time that a majority has answered “yes” to the question at the end of a president’s term since Gallup started asking the question. Only 44% felt better off after four years of Reagan; 56% feel better off after four years of Trump.

These are the proportions saying they were better off than four years earlier in each of the last five elections where an incumbent was running for a second term:

How Election Night Unfolded, Minute by Minute

If Reagan was right that this is such an important question, why is Trump not winning clearly in all the polls? And as this survey was conducted in September, with the country still barely starting to recover from the Covid-19 economic shock, how could so many people possibly feel better off?

One answer lies in polarization; people are so determined to back their side these days that supporters of the president determinedly told pollsters that they were better off, regardless of the truth.

Another may be what Karl Marx called “false consciousness” – the Trump salesmanship has been so successful that people think they are better off, even if they aren’t.

Or maybe, just maybe, there really are that many people who are better off than they were four years ago. Whatever the explanation, if Trump has performed better than the pollsters predicted, this particular survey answer could come to seem very important.

7:23 p.m.: Cathy O’Neil, Author and Data Scientist

What's interesting to me is the expanded variance of this election: Things could go either way, and bigly. 

This is partly because we know people lie about their feelings about Trump, partly because we don't trust the polls anymore, and partly because we know people who have never voted before are showing up this time. And since we as humans spend more time worrying about bad things than hoping for good things, I'll say it up front: The chance of a Democratic blowout are at least as good as the chance of Trump winning. And of course there are lots of things in between, and there is lots of stuff that could happen between now and Inauguration Day. Even so, variance is exciting (and nerve wracking!).

7:12 p.m.: Robert A. George, Editorial Board Member

Will we see a return of ticket-splitting tonight? If so, that could well affect control of the Senate. The 2016 election was the first that featured state presidential and Senate votes perfectly aligned. If that happens this year, a good night for Joe Biden means a Democratic Senate. On the other hand, if voters are more calculating and opt for a “check” on Biden, Republicans could hold on to the Senate. Keep an eye on Arizona, Colorado, Maine and North Carolina.

7:05 p.m.: John Authers, Senior Editor for Markets

Just why are the financial markets, and even the political betting markets, suddenly confident that the polls have been right all along?

Usually, the day of an election is a very quiet one. On this Election Day, Today, stocks had a great day, and 10-year bond yields hit their highest levels since early June. Both imply a growing belief that reflation and extra fiscal spending are coming – which in turn is in line with belief in a Biden-led “Blue Wave.”

How Election Night Unfolded, Minute by Minute

Meanwhile, there was little sign during the day of any great concern about the risk of a contested election or of civil disorder, despite clear signs that the Trump president’s campaign is preparing for a legal fight, and a presidential prediction that there will be “bedlam” if a result is not called by the end of the tonight. The CBOE Vix index, often referred to as the “Fear Gauge,” which tracks how much investors are paying to hedge against future volatility in the options market, declined for a third day in a row, having jumped alarmingly towards the end of last week.

How Election Night Unfolded, Minute by Minute

6:59 p.m.: Francis Wilkinson, Politics Columnist

I’m going to be bringing in comments from political scientists, consultants and activists with whom I’ve emailed and spoken today. Here is something from political scientist David Karol at the University of Maryland. Polls have been showing enormously lopsided support for Joe Biden among younger voters. And the early vote suggests that young voters have been turning out. That will have enormous significance in determining who wins elections tonight. 

But as Karol points out, it can have lasting effects:

“Many polls show President Donald Trump running best among middle-aged voters whose formative political memories are from the Reagan Era,” he said. “It’s a reminder that presidents have a long-term impact on their party’s brand and all indications are that Trump is doing lasting damage to Republicans’ standing among today’s young people.”

I’m going to return to this idea because Trump appears to be doing serious damage to the GOP brand among women as well. And women and youth may prove to be the real drivers of this and future elections.

6:42 p.m.: Timothy L. O’Brien, Senior Columnist

Virginia may not really be a swing state anymore. Democrats control the board there now and Donald Trump lost to Hillary Clinton by 5 points in 2016. Biden may build handily on all of that.

Georgia will be much more interesting. Trump approved the state's plan to shut down the Obamacare portal, HealthCare.gov, two days ago -- tossing red meat to conservatives in the state. And Georgia has voted Republican in eight of the last nine presidential elections (Bill Clinton picked it off last, back in 1992).

On the other hand! Hillary Clinton won two conservative bastions in Georgia in 2016: Cobb and Gwinnett counties. Stacey Abrams has been the face of blue momentum in the state and Democrats have made progress in the Atlanta suburbs since then. Rural black voters are going to matter in the Georgia vote today as well.

6:34 p.m.: Jonathan Bernstein, Politics & Policy Columnist

Just to remind everyone: With all the early voting, the counting and reporting are going to be different this year, and different from state to state. We may get huge dumps of results that favor one candidate or the other. Since we haven't really seen this sort of thing in the past, it will be hard to know what to make of partial returns.

Even the professionals on the TV network decision desks will be challenged by all of it. And while some of the on-air folks are excellent, some ... not so much. We're all going to have to be patient. And, hey, the one I'm watching for, the San Francisco measure lowering the voting age to 16, isn't going to be in for hours anyway. 

6:23 p.m.: Karl W. Smith, Economics Columnist

It’s worth remarking how sensitive 2016 appeared to be to economic fluctuations versus how seemingly irrelevant they are today. One of the few statistics that predicted Hillary Clinton’s poor performance in the Midwest was the mini-recession sweeping through the heartland in early 2016. Tonight, states like Wisconsin and Georgia are less solid for the president after having seen their economies hold up relatively well. Instead, the swing this time seems to be dominated almost entirely by Covid-19.

How Election Night Unfolded, Minute by Minute


6:12 p.m.: Timothy L. O’Brien, Senior Columnist

First, a disclaimer: Votes may take a few days to tabulate in some key contests. That's normal! That's OK! That also means that blogging tonight is all about uncertainty. And, to be completely unoriginal and state the obvious: The swing states are where all the unpredictable action is. Polls close in two of them -- Virginia and Georgia -- at 7 p.m., followed by North Carolina and Ohio at 7:30 p.m. and Florida and Pennsylvania at 8 p.m.  

6:00 PM: Mike Nizza, Bloomberg Opinion Editor
Welcome to Bloomberg Opinion’s live blog, where our best political, economic and market minds will be posting throughout the night on developments large and small. Here is the short list of participants, and stay tuned for more:

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Bloomberg Opinion provides commentary on business, economics, politics, technology and markets.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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