US Election night: get ready for the greatest political show on earth

We may not get to vote, but Brits can still enjoy the show, argues Will Dean

For psepholophiles, there's nothing more fun than pulling an all-nighter and staying up for that vote's Portillo Moment. The mass coverage of polling queues from Akron to Zanesville makes the US election the biggest event of the lot. So – whether you're having a party for one on your sofa with the volume down, or attending an organised bash – here's the ultimate guide to hanging out like a Miami-Dade chad…

Food

Fuhgeddabout Thomas Keller, Mario Batali and even Martha Stewart; any fool knows an authentic American banquet can be bought for £7.95 at Asda. Simply combine any of the following key items: Butterkist Popcorn, deep-pan oven pizzas, marshmallows and an "American-style" cola.

Drinking

As soon as your TV network of choice calls a state as red or blue – take a drink of that colour. This may be red or blue packaging (eg, Budweiser and Brooklyn beers) or the drinks themselves (eg Chambord and curacao). If you opt for the latter pairing, don't expect to be conscious when they call Colorado at 5am.

Staying awake

In 2008, the prospect of seeing history being made as Barack Obama took the stage in Grant Park was stimulus enough to keep GMT viewers awake. This time, things might be a bit trickier. A tactical 10pm-1am nap might help refresh the eyelids. Otherwise, you're likely to be relying on caffeinated drinks and bafflement at Jeremy Vine's graphics to keep you awake.

Music

Real electionites will insist on silence for Dimbleby/Blitzer/Cooper et al, but if music is insisted on by guests with social skills, Democrat-leaning parties can take their pick from Jay-Z, below, Springsteen, Paul Simon, Aretha, Kanye and the other great musicians backing the incumbent. Red parties may play Kid Rock.

Guests – dos and don'ts

Expat Republicans: Unless they're throwing your party and providing you with free drinks all night, best avoided. Though you may want to tell them how important it is for the world that America re-elects Obama. They love that.

Other Americans: Not vital for a party – but a good point of context for students of American cultural hegemony. Simply place them next to a British election wonk who can drone on for minutes about early voting difficulties in Adams County, Colorado, and then ask them who the leader of the Labour Party is.

Brits obsessed with the American election: Again, best avoided. They know who they are.

Waking Up

…is hard to do. Especially if you stayed up waiting for CNN's Wolf Blitzer to point at a giant screen and call Ohio. But don't worry. Just remember: no one in your office will think that staying up all night to watch a foreign election is madness. No one. So don't worry about shaving, showering or brushing teeth on Wednesday morning. Your odour will remind others of your respect for the democratic process.

Key moments through the night

The outcome of the election will hinge on a few key results. Here’s what to look out for, and when to expect it. (All times GMT.)

Midnight (7pm EST) As polls close in the first six (eastern) states, the one to watch is Virginia, the first of the key battleground states to begin reporting provisional results. Voter turnout in the state’s northern Democrat-leaning areas may offer clues as to which way Virginia and its 13 electoral votes will swing.

12:30am (7.30pm EST) Polls close in three more states, including closely-fought North Carolina (15 votes) and the critical battleground of Ohio (18 electoral votes). No Republican has ever won the White House without taking Ohio, and if he loses it, Romney will need victories in nearly all other battleground states. If the outcome is close, the state’s final result may not come until after election day.

1am (8pm EST) The crucial state of Florida (29 electoral votes) and the competitive New Hampshire (four votes) are the next to close their polls. But don’t put too much stock in early numbers from the Sunshine State – its Democrat areas are slow to report their results.

Former Obama stronghold Pennsylvania is worth watching too. If it swings to Romney, he would be the first Republican presidential candidate to carry it in almost 25 years.

2am (9pm EST) Polls close in 14 states, including battlegrounds Colorado (nine electoral votes) and Republican Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan’s home state of Wisconsin (10 votes).

Minnesota and Michigan – which had been considered safely blue – could turn red after last minute Romney campaigning. By this time in 2008, Obama had taken Pennsylvania and New Hampshire – big blows to John McCain.

3am (10pm EST) Polls close in four states, including the last of the key battlegrounds – Iowa (six electoral votes) and Nevada (six electoral votes) – which Romney will need to win if Obama takes Ohio and Wisconsin.

4am (11pm EST) Polls close in five western states, but most are foregone conclusions – Obama is predicted to take 78 electoral votes from California, Hawaii, Oregon and Washington, and Romney is expected to take four from Idaho. But this is still an important moment in the night.

States can only begin to declare their results officially when California closes.

6am (1am EST, Wednesday) Alaska, where Romney is due to take three electoral votes, is the last state to close.

How to follow it

ON TELEVISION
BBC1
David Dimbleby in Washington anchors coverage from 11:35pm to 6am, with back-up from Katty Kay and Jeremy Vine.

ITV1 Also 11:35pm to 6am, anchored by Alastair Stewart.

Sky News in-depth coverage from 10:30pm onwards, presented by Jeremy Thompson, with Kay Burley in Washington.

CNN in the multichannel age, it makes sense to get your presidential coverage direct from the US, and such coverage doesn’t get much more comprehensive than CNN’s Election Night in America.

ONLINE

For live news, results and analysis on US Election night, plus a fully interactive map including the crucial battlegrounds, visit www.independent.co.uk/USelections

For additional information, we recommend

http://www.washingtonpost.com and http://www.realclearpolitics.com/

Eyes down: Election night bingo

Add a sense of purpose to your all-nighter by ticking off these classic phrases of US electoral punditry as you hear them in the broadcast coverage. First one to a full house avoids a forfeit. (See Drinking, above.)

* Too close to call

* Midwestern firewall

* Ohio, the 'Buckeye' state

* Michelle Obama/Ann Romney is wearing…

* It's the economy, stupid

* In-play

* The magic number (ie, 270)

* Red state/Blue state/Purple state

* The enthusiasm gap

* The people of the great state of (xxxx) have spoken

* Jubilant atmosphere/sombre atmosphere at "X" party HQ

* The 47 per cent

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