NZ: an evolving party system

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New Zealand has experienced a huge amount of change in its party system over the last two decades. The resignation of Jim Anderton from the Labour Party in 1989, which resulted in the formation of the Alliance in 1991, was followed by the formation of New Zealand First in 1993, and a huge amount of party evolution over the term of the 1993-6 Parliament. Following the first MMP election in 1996, every single party in the Parliament included former members of the Fourth Labour Government of 1984-90, including the National government.

In the early years of MMP, the minor parties were largely dominated by parties led by former major party politicians, particularly Alliance, New Zealand First and ACT. After gradual evolution, the recent campaign has moved New Zealand’s party system onto a different level.

The vast number of political parties have effectively been reduced to five parties, all of which appear to have a path to long term sustainability. The three remaining parties that were dominated by major-party splitters, NZF, UF and Progressive, were reduced to two seats. Winston Peters’ party was destroyed, while Peter Dunne and Jim Anderton have effectively been reduced to independent MPs, and their parties are expected to disappear with their eventual retirements. Indeed, this could be hastened sooner, with Dunne barely holding on over either Labour or National in his seat, with a three-way race barely going his way.

For a long time the political spectrum was crowded, with ACT, United Future and New Zealand First competing for the conservative minor party vote, and with Alliance and later Progressive competing with the Greens and later the Maori Party for the progressive minor party vote. With the demise of NZF, UF and Progressive, ACT, the Greens and to a lesser extent the Maori Party appear to be in a much stronger position to solidify their role in New Zealand politics.

Indeed, NZ politics now closely resembles German politics, with a centre-left major party, a centre-right major party, a libertarian right-wing minor party and a left-wing green party. The main divergence is the existence of the Maori Party. Such a political make-up suggests a much more stable long-term political system.

The other aspect of the 2008 campaign was the formation of pre-election coalitions, with all parties except the Maori Party clearly indicating which major party they would support. For ACT and the Greens, rather than attempting to use their seats to leverage power, they campaigned to National and Labour voters respectively as another option to vote for the same party for government while pushing them in a particular direction.

It is quite conceivable that both ACT and the Greens, which have a much clearer political niche now carved out than Progressive, United Future or New Zealand First ever did, can now carve out a long-term base that will allow them to solidify their position as supportive but critical allies of National and Labour respectively.

It is less clear what will happen to the Maori Party, who have failed to increase their party vote and will be vulnerable to a resurgent Labour Party in the Maori electorates, and would disappear if the Maori seats were eventually abolished. Yet it is clear that NZ politics is suddenly much more stable and consistent than it has been since the late 1980s.

New Zealand update

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Sorry I’ve been a bit slow in posting over the last few days. I thought I’d kick off again with a summary of the results in New Zealand.

Four days after the NZ election, New Zealand is on track for its quickest government formation since the introduction of MMP, and you can’t come to any other conclusion than that last Saturday’s result was a landslide victory for the National Party and its allies.

As of the latest results, the seat distribution is:

  • National – 59
  • Labour – 43
  • Greens – 8
  • ACT – 5
  • Maori – 5
  • One seat each for Peter Dunne and Jim Anderton

National will be forming a government with ACT and Peter Dunne, and appears likely to establish some sort of relationship with the Maori Party.

In terms of a result, it was a good result for National, ACT and to a lesser extent the Greens and the Maori Party. Clearly National performed strongly and it is hard to imagine them being in a stronger position. ACT will both benefit from being National’s #1 ally, but also from having increased their numbers substantially. Many polls suggested ACT would come into government without gaining a single seat, but ended up gaining three. The Greens also gained ground, although polls suggested they would gain more ground than they did, and their influence will be dramatically reduced under a National government. The Maori Party gained ground and will be in a more influential position, but predictions of the MP sweeping the Maori seats did not come to pass, and you would have to think that this was the best opportunity to sweep out the Labour MPs in the two seats Labour held on to.

It was clearly a disastrous result for New Zealand First, and a bad result also for what remains of United Future and Progressive, both of whom have been reduced to one MP. Jim Anderton and Peter Dunne are now effectively independent MPs. Their parties should disappear when the two men retire. While Dunne, at 54, could last for many years to come, Anderton is now 70 years old, and it is only a matter of time before he retires and his seat returns to Labour.

For Labour, there are two scenarios which they could follow. It is conceivable they could return to power in 2011. The “right bloc” holds 65 seats, while the “left bloc” holds 52 seats. Only three seats need to change hands to put the Maori Party in the balance of power, and a slightly larger swing could see Labour in a very strong position to form a government with the Greens and the Maori Party. If Labour holds it together and the economy continues to decline, it’s conceivable to see a small swing back to Labour in 2011.

On the other hand, if Labour struggles to find its role in opposition, it could have a long way to fall. The re-election of the Labour government in 2002 saw former Cabinet minister Bill English suffer a massive defeat, with his National Party reduced to 27 seats. Likewise, Labour has elected a former Cabinet minister as Phil Goff, who could suffer a similar decline, if left-leaning parties like the Greens and Maori Party cannabilise Labour’s support, and Goff is not seen as a break with the Clark government. In this scenario, Key could gain a majority in Parliament, since minor parties are much weaker today than they were in 2002, and this would undoubtedly result in more of a levelling in 2014.

This week in satire – November 10

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Mostly responses to the election this week. I noticed after I’d made the list. I noticed when I made the list that a lot of them dealt with Barack Obama’s race, but I guess that reflects the historic nature of his election.

First up, the introduction to the Daily Show/Colbert Report election night special:

[vodpod id=Groupvideo.1749134&w=425&h=350&fv=videoId%3D209508]

The Best F#$king News Team Ever demand that white people admit that they won’t vote for an African-American:

[vodpod id=Groupvideo.1749138&w=425&h=350&fv=videoId%3D209519]

Now that Obama is winning, Larry Wilmore and Wyatt Cenac are taking over:

[vodpod id=Groupvideo.1749139&w=425&h=350&fv=videoId%3D209524]

Jason Jones tells the story of another 90-something who never thought he’d live to see a black man as President, and quite frankly didn’t want to:

[vodpod id=Groupvideo.1749141&w=425&h=350&fv=videoId%3D209406]

And for a change, some text satire from the Onion.

Black Man Given Nation’s Worst Job

WASHINGTON—African-American man Barack Obama, 47, was given the least-desirable job in the entire country Tuesday when he was elected president of the United States of America…As part of his duties, the black man will have to spend four to eight years cleaning up the messes other people left behind. The job comes with such intense scrutiny and so certain a guarantee of failure that only one other person even bothered applying for it. Said scholar and activist Mark L. Denton, “It just goes to show you that, in this country, a black man still can’t catch a break.”

National Finally Shitty Enough To Make Social Progress

Although polls going into the final weeks of October showed Sen. Obama in the lead, it remained unclear whether the failing economy, dilapidated housing market, crumbling national infrastructure, health care crisis, energy crisis, and five-year-long disastrous war in Iraq had made the nation crappy enough to rise above 300 years of racial prejudice and make lasting change.

Liveblogging New Zealand

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9:45pm – One more thing. Since the electorate seats seem to all have been determined, I’ve adjusted the colours of all general seats on my Google Earth map and will upload that right now, so that you can see the new distribution immediately.

9:40pm – I’m gonna finish up now. It appears that someone like Phil Goff is on track to be the next leader of the Labour Party. John Key should give his victory speech soon. One other point: with all electorate seats seemingly locked down, Labour seems to be entirely restricted to urban areas. All Labour general seats lie within Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin, along with one seat in Palmerston North, a largely urban electorate surrounded by provincial electorates.

9:31pm – Helen Clark announces she will be resigning as Labour leader and expects a new leader by Christmas.

9:28pm – Helen Clark is currently conceding defeat to John Key. To sum up, with 99.8% of booths reporting, National is on track for 59 seats, Labour has won 43 seats, the Green Party have won 8, ACT 5, Maori Party 5, and one each for Peter Dunne and Jim Anderton.

8:13pm – We’re now seeing most of the results becoming clear. ACT and Maori Party will each win five seats, while Peter Dunne and Jim Anderton will each win their own seats but not bring in any list MPs. New Zealand First has been defeated. The Greens have won at least eight seats but I’m not ruling out a ninth. They are on 6.47%, while they won 9 seats with 7% in 2002. Considering that all of New Zealand First’s votes will go to waste, it should be easier for them to win that ninth seat this time. National should win 58-59 seats, while Labour will win 43-44. National will have the numbers to form a government with ACT and possibly Peter Dunne.

7:46pm – 32 of 46 booths reporting in Ohariu, and the lead remains the same, with Labour 2.8% behind. It seems unlikely there will be a change, although Dunne will be in a lot of danger in 2011.

7:43pm – More than 2/3s of the polling booths have reported their party votes, and Labour has gained a few more seats, up to 43. The Greens are up to 6.43%, what do they need to win a ninth seat?

7:32pm – This is the fifth election in NZ since the introduction of MMP. The first election saw almost one-third, 39 seats, go to minor parties. This fell to 32 in 1999, and increased to 33 in 2002. There was a big drop in 2005, with only 22 elected. At the moment, it appears that only 20 minor party MPs will be elected, and this could fall to as low as 18.

7:30pm – Most of the attention for minor parties in this campaign went to the Maori Party. Yet when you watch the results tonight, the Maori Party has still only polled 2% of the vote and appears to be gaining only one extra electorate seat. In contrast, ACT has gained three seats and the Greens have gained two, and may gain a third if this trend continues.

7:27pm – I’m ready to call that Labour will hold onto Ikaroa-Rawhiti and Hauraki-Waikato seats. The only two seats in question that could effect the overall numbers are Ohariu and Te Tai Tonga, where Peter Dunne and the Maori Party respectively are narrowly leading over Labour.

7:22pm – There has been a large jump in the count in Ohariu, with 24 of 46 booths reporting. National has fallen back, with Dunne on 32.5% and Labour on 30.5%.

7:15pm – I’ve already stopped following Tauranga, Epsom and Mangere, and I’m going to add Wigram to that list, where Anderton is now leading by 14%. I’m on the verge of calling Ikaroa-Rawhiti and Hauraki-Waikato for Labour. The Maori Party is falling back to earth in Te Tai Tonga, where their lead is now less than 3%.

7:12pm – We’re starting to see clear trends. Greens and ACT gain seats, NZF wiped out, Maori Party looking at 5 seats in Parliament, and Jim Anderton holding his one seat. Labour have lost seats and National are no track to form government with ACT. The most interesting contest is Ohariu, where Peter Dunne is in a fierce race with both major parties. If he loses, it will be the end of his party.

6:57pm – Ohariu is shaping into the most clearcut three-horse race ever. National has retaken second position, and Dunne leads by 3.1% with 9 of 46 counted. Ohariu is on the outskirts of Wellington, and presumably the more urban booths are yet to come in, and will favour Labour.

6:55pm – As far as the key electorates, Rodney Hide is well in front in Epsom. National will win Tauranga. In Wigram, Jim Anderton is leading by 12% and is out of danger. Peter Dunne in Ohariu is only 2.9% ahead of Labour and could be in danger. The Maori Party look on track to win Te Tai Tonga, although the race has narrowed. They are falling further behind in the other two Labour-held Maori seats.

6:52pm – NZF is fading in the party vote, down to 4.3%, and has no chance in Tauranga. It’s looking all over for Winston.

6:49pm – Both ACT and the Greens are gaining ground in the party vote, and ACT has just ticked over from four seats to five.

6:48pm – In Peter Dunne’s seat of Ohariu, Labour has overtaken National and are now within 3 points of Dunne. Could this be the end of the road for New Zealand First AND United Future?

6:44pm – Maori lead in Te Tai Tonga is narrowing, down to 6 points, after peaking at 10 points. In Ikaroa-Rawhiti Labour is now ahead by 10 points, but Hauraki-Waikato has narrowed to four points.

6:40pm – Greens picking up support in the party vote. They had fallen to 6.1% but are back up to almost 6.3%.

6:38pm – Although very few votes have been counted in the key minor party seats, 13% of booths have reported the party vote. National, on 62 seats, has a slim majority in a 122-seat chamber, and a more solid majority with 67 for National-ACT-UF.

6:18pm – A few more votes registered in Ikaroa-Rawhiti and Labour has increased its lead from 50-44 to 51-43.

6:09pm – New Zealand First is performing quite well on the party vote, but the vote is starting to drift downwards. It’s too early to say that NZF will return, and if NZF manage to return and the Maori Party gain all seven seats, then it will be harder for NAT/ACT to form a majority.

6:08pm – It appears that the count has slowed down in the key electorates. The only progress has been in Te Tai Tonga, where the gap is down to eight points, with Labour gaining 2%.

6:06pm – It appears very unlikely that Labour will form a government, although current projections of National winning a majority are unlikely to hold up.

6:02pm – In the party vote, with 5.9% counted, leans towards a National majority government. National has 48.7%, Labour 31.5%, Greens 6.2%, Maori 2.1%, ACT 3.3%, NZF on 4.6%, and Jim Anderton and Peter Dunne on track to be the sole MPs for their parties.

6:01pm – The Maori Party is strongly ahead in their four current seats. In the other three, the party is leading 47-37 in Te Tai Tonga (South Island) and trailing by 6% in the other two seats.

5:54pm – Jim Anderton is on 40% in Wigram, with National on 32%.

5:53pm – Rodney Hide is miles ahead in Epsom, polling over 60% with one booth in.

5:51pm – In Ohariu, UF leader Peter Dunne is only just ahead of Labour and National with two booths in. Dunne has 33%, with National on 28% and Labour on 27%.

5:49pm – Antony Green has pointed out that Labour gained 4%, National lost 4.5%, the Greens went up slightly and NZF went down slightly between the end of the counting of advance votes (which is where we are now) and the final count.

5:47pm – In Tauranga, with 2 of 38 booths counted, Simon Bridges of the National Party is on 61% with Winston Peters on 23%. It’s early, but not looking good.

5:41pm – Sorry about the delay. I’m onboard now. I suggest for more coverage you take a look at Pollbludger‘s coverage and Antony Green at the ABC. You can see raw results at the NZ elections website. I’ll come back in a minute with a summary of where we are at.

5:00pm – Polls just closed in New Zealand. I don’t know how long it will take before we start seeing results, but here we go…

New Zealand ’08: What to watch for on election night

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Polls close in New Zealand at 7pm NZDT (5pm AEDT). I’m not sure how long the count will take, but I should be liveblogging from 5:15pm AEDT. I thought I’d run through what are the key points to follow.

Labour-National marginal seats – DON’T bother yourself watching these (unless you’ve really got nothing better to do). While force of Australian habit would suggest that you keep an eye on how these fall, it really doesn’t make a difference. In addition to not making a difference in the overall seat count, the defeat of any key figures on either side in an electorate seat will not be significant, as most senior figures are also placed high on their party’s list, meaning they will be returned if they lose their electorate seat.

Hauraki-Waikato, Ikaria-Rāwhiti and Te Tai Tonga – polls suggest that the four sitting Maori Party MPs are safe in their electorates. On the other hand, these three seats are held by Labour, and polls suggest all three will be close. Barring an exceptionally high party vote, the number of Maori seats won by the Maori Party will determine their total numbers in Parliament, and the size of the overhang. A large overhang will likely make it more difficult for National and ACT to win a majority of seats.

Epsom, Ohariu and Wigram – these three seats are respectively held by the leaders of ACT, United Future and Progressive. None of these are expected to be close, but a defeat for one of these leaders would see that party knocked out of Parliament.

Tauranga – this seat, formerly held by New Zealand First leader Winston Peters, will likely be the key to his party’s survival. Unless they perform well in the party vote, this is NZF’s only lifeline. Polls suggest the Nationals are well in front.

The party bloc votes – It’s worth adding up the votes for the “left bloc” of Labour, Progressive and Greens on one side and National, ACT and United Future on the other to get an idea of their relative performance.

New Zealand First’s party vote – If New Zealand First manages somehow to poll over 5%, they will return to Parliament and will dramatically alter the make-up of any “left bloc”, with tensions between NZF and the Greens almost as bad as those between NZF and National. They may also return to a kingmaker position, as, while National has rejected them, Peters insists his party is undecided and may well force John Key to change his mind if Peters is in the key position.

Maori Party’s party vote – If the Maori Party vote performs strongly, they may well gain list seats in addition to Maori seats. With their current four seats, a vote above 3% could see them win list seats. If they win all seven, then they would need close to 6% to win an eighth seat.

Prediction:

Electorates: National will win 37 electorates, Labour 24 (including Ikaroa-Rāwhiti), Maori Party six, and one each for ACT, UF and Progressive.

Party vote:

  • National – 45.5%
  • Labour – 34.2%
  • Greens – 8.5%
  • Maori – 4.0%
  • NZ First – 3.5%
  • ACT – 3.0%
  • United Future – 0.8%
  • Progressive – 0.5%

Overall seat count:

  • National – 56
  • Labour – 42
  • Greens – 11
  • Maori – 6
  • ACT – 4
  • UF – 1
  • Progressive – 1

This would give the right bloc 61 seats and the left bloc 54. The Maori Party would become irrelevant, with NAT-ACT-UF holding a one-seat majority, although they would likely look to make some arrangement with the Maori Party to strengthen their position.

So what’s your prediction?

Update: If you want to make your own prediction, there is a calculator on the NZ elections website that allows you to input numbers of electorate seats and %s of the party vote and it spits out the numbers of total seats.

Glenrothes shock as Labour holds on

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A brief note that the Labour Party has held onto the Scottish seat of Glenrothes in yesterday’s by-election. The seat was expected to fall to the Scottish National Party when the by-election was triggered, but since the financial crisis Brown has been performing better overall. While Labour suffered a 3% swing, and the SNP gained a 13% swing, it was nowhere near enough to overturn the previous majority, and Labour held on safely.

Electoral maps

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Via Crikey, Manhattan tech blogger Jason Kottke has posted a variety of different organisations’ maps used to display results in the US presidential election. They are all interesting to look at the different styles, but there’s two I wanted to post in particular, from Crikey and The Onion respectively.

US08: Summary of results part 2 – Congress

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The Senate

The Democrats have picked up at least six Senate seats:

  • Virginia
  • North Carolina
  • New Hampshire
  • Colorado
  • New Mexico
  • Oregon, which was only declared today after a close count.

Three other races could end up going to the Democrat. In Alaska, despite the polls, convicted felon Ted Stevens was re-elected, 48% to 47%. However, Stevens may well resign or be expelled if his appeal fails. After Senator Frank Murkowski was elected as Governor of Alaska in 2002, he appointed his daughter Lisa to fill the senatorial vacancy. In response, a referendum passed in 2004, which means that future Senate vacancies will remain vacant prior to a special election. This would give Democrat Mark Begich a second chance to take the seat, although you would have to think that, if he couldn’t win against convicted felon Stevens, he would fall short against a fresh-faced Republican candidate.

In Georgia, late counting pushed Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss just below 50%, thus triggering a runoff election under Georgia election law. This runoff against his Democratic opponent will take place in December. In Minnesota, comedian Al Franken fell 477 votes short of defeating Senator Norm Coleman, and a recount has been automatically triggered, in a race of almost 2.9 million votes. It is very easy to see a scenaro where the seat could flip.

So as it stands, the Democrats hold 57 seats (inc. 2 independents), the Republicans 41 (including Ted Stevens), one seat going to a recount and one seat going to a runoff election.

House of Representatives

I haven’t been paying close enough attention to break down all of the results in the House of Representatives, however I can say a few brief things. The AP has currently given 254 seats to the Democrats, 173 seats to the Republicans, and 8 seats still too close to call. This is in comparison with the 233-202 split at the 2006 election, although the Democrats gained three Republican seats in special elections earlier this year.

It appears that four Democrats have been defeated. This includes the scandal-plagued congressman who succeeded the even-moreso-scandal-plagued Mark Foley in 2006, the Democrat who won Tom Delay’s seat when his Republican opponent needed to run a write-in campaign, and a Democrat elected in a special election in a conservative Louisiana district. In other news, the sole remaining Republican in New England, Chris Shays, was defeated in his Connecticut district.

US08: Summary of results part 1 – the Presidency

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Barack Obama has been elected 44th President of the United States. In addition to winning all of those states won by John Kerry in 2004 (Hawaii, the three West Coast states, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Maryland, DC and everything to the northeast, including New York and all of New England), Obama has carried:

  • Nevada (5 EVs)
  • Colorado (9)
  • New Mexico (5)
  • Iowa (7)
  • Indiana (11)
  • Ohio (20)
  • Virginia (13)
  • Florida (27)

In addition, Obama is slightly ahead in North Carolina, leading by 12,160 votes, out of over 2 million cast. McCain held on by 6,000 votes in Missouri. Georgia appears in the McCain camp, 53-46, but a large number of votes have not yet been registered, believed to be early votes leaning to Obama, and AP has not yet called the state. All other states have gone to McCain.

Some points of interest:

  • Barack Obama led in Montana early in the count, before eventually losing, 50-47.
  • For much of the night it appeared possible that Obama would win one of Nebraska’s five EVs. Nebraska and Maine both split their EVs, with 2 EVs going to the statewide winner, with one each going to each congressional district. However the two states have never split their EVs since changing their system of electing presidential electors.
  • John McCain ended up winning in Arizona by only nine points, 54-45.
  • Obama is the first Democrat since 1964 to win in states such as Indiana and Virginia.

On the last count of the night, the popular vote sits at:

  • Obama – 52.3% – 62.2 million votes
  • McCain – 46.4% – 55.2 million votes

With George W. Bush polling 62.04 million votes in 2004, Obama now stands as the single candidate to have received the most votes in global electoral history. In comparison, John Kerry polled 59m, Al Gore polled 50.999m and George W Bush polled 50.45m in his first election in 2000. It appears that the highest vote for a single candidate in a non-US election was the 58.3m votes cast for Lula de Silva in the second round of his re-election in 2006. Lula also polled over 52m in his first election campaign in 2002. To put it in a ranking:

  1. Barack Obama 2008 – 62.2 million
  2. George W. Bush 2004 – 62.0 million
  3. John Kerry 2004 – 59.0 million
  4. Lula de Silva 2006 – 58.3 million
  5. John McCain 2008 – 55.3 million
  6. Ronald Reagan 1984 – 54.5 million
  7. Lula de Silva 2002 – 52.8 million
  8. Al Gore 2000 – 51.0 million
  9. George W. Bush 2000 – 50.5 million
  10. George H. W. Bush 1988 – 48.9 million
  11. Bill Clinton 1996 – 47.4 million
  12. Richard Nixon 1972 – 47.2 million
  13. Bill Clinton 1992 – 44.2 million
  14. Ronald Reagan 1980 – 43.5 million
  15. Lyndon Johnson 1964 – 43.1 million
  16. Michael Dukakis 1988 – 41.8 million
  17. Jimmy Carter 1976 – 40.8 million

As far as I can tell, these are the only 16 candidates in global history to poll over 40 million votes, and only one of them (Lula de Silva) is not an American. Of course, countries like India have seen parties poll much higher numbers, but no country with a presidential system and a functioning democracy has such large numbers of voters as the US and Brazil. In comparison, the Indian National Congress polled 100 million votes in the 2004 federal election, but only won 26% of the vote.

Update: oops, I missed John McCain.

Liveblogging USA

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5:22pm – So I’m going home. With the Presidency, it appears that Obama will pick up North Carolina and Indiana, while Missouri will go to McCain. Montana is going down to the wire, with McCain just taking the lead, with a lead of 850 votes, out of 250,000 votes cast. In the Senate, the Democrats have gained five Senate seats, and should pick up Alaska when the results flow in. In Oregon, the Democrat leads by 9500 votes, with 40% of the precincts reporting. In Minnesota, Democrat Al Franken has fallen behind, with Senator Coleman leading by 3300 out of almost 2 million votes. However, at least 150,000 votes are yet to be counted in Hennepin County, which covers Minneapolis. Franken is leading 52-35 in Hennepin County, so it’s not over yet. Anyway, I’ll post a summary post hopefully tonight or maybe tomorrow. Until then, goodbye.

4:20pm – So Obama’s speech finished. He is slightly ahead in Indiana and North Carolina, leading substantially in Montana and behind in Missouri. It appears the result will be 368-170. In the Senate, the Democrat is ahead by 1% in Oregon and only 15,000 votes behind in Minnesota. Polls are yet to close in Alaska, while the Democrats have won five other Senate seats. I probably won’t keep updating this now.

3:08pm – All the networks called the result immediately after polls closed on the West Coast. Barack Obama elected President of the United States. He’s now pulling even in Indiana and North Carolina and is in a strong position in Virginia and Florida. The Senate race in Minnesota is on a razor’s edge.

2:05pm – Oz wants a summary. Obama looks to have made modest gains in the electoral map, winning Ohio and New Mexico, possibly also Colorado, Virginia and Florida with outside shots in North Carolina, Indiana and Missouri. In the Senate, the Dems have gained 4, will almost certainly gain 3 more, with Minnesota a toss-up. No idea about the House of Representatives.

1:57pm – The sole remaining Republican in New England, Chris Shays, has been defeated in his congressional race.

1:46pm – In the Senate, the Democrats have gained 4 seats. In Colorado it is too early to call, Minnesota is too early and too close to call, and Alaska and Oregon are still voting. Minnesota has Coleman leading 45-38, but only 1% has been counted. Udall is leading 47-35 in Colorado with 3% counted.

1:34pm – The presidential race is over. Obama has now picked up New Mexico and Ohio, plus all Kerry states which have closed. The only four remaining Kerry states, Hawaii, California, Washington and Oregon, will be safely Obama and put him over the top. I’m gonna focus on the Senate now.

1:25pm – If you take MSNBC’s number of 195 for Obama, add 55 in California, 4 in Hawaii, 11 in Washington and 7 in Oregon, you come up with 272. Those four states are the only four Kerry states not to be called already for Obama. It’s almost over.

1:22pm – Obama has won Ohio, according to MSNBC. The first state to flip. MSNBC has the race as 195-76. He could lose Virginia and every other Bush state and still win.

1:19pm – Some interesting factoids: Ohio now, with 8% counted, has Obama leading 57-41. Texas has McCain only leading by a slim margin, although I don’t expect that to hold. McCain’s lead in Virginia has shrank to a slender 25,000 votes with over 60% counted. This is going to be one close state. Incredibly, South Dakota is close while North Dakota appears to be safely going to McCain.

1:03pm – Chris Matthews says they won’t be able to decide the race until after 11pm (3pm our time).

1:00pm – MSNBC has called a bunch of states with the latest poll-closing. The only toss-up was North Dakota, which went to McCain. MSNBC now has it as 175-70, with no states changing from the 2004 race so far.

12:54pm – Republicans hold a solid lead in Senate race in Georgia, although the race is only 51-49 for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell with a lot of votes counted. Polls close in much of the Mountain West at 1pm. 2% of votes counted in Texas senate race, and it’s extremely close

12:51pm – McCain has held onto Georgia. In Florida, North Carolina, Ohio and West Virginia Obama is leading, although the numbers are miniscule in Ohio and West Virginia and the lead is slim in Florida. In North Carolina, Obama leads by 9% with 16% reporting.

12:49pm AEDT – Democrats have also won Elizabeth Dole’s Senate seat in North Carolina. 3 gains so far. No states have switched parties in the presidential race so far, although Obama is neck-and-neck in three key Bush states.

12:44pm AEDT (8:44pm EST) – Just got back to the office, sorry about the absence. In the Senate, the Democrats have already gained two seats, in New Hampshire and Virginia. MSNBC has Obama on 103 EVs, with McCain on 58. It appears that Indiana, Florida and Virginia are all extremely close. The only two blue states in danger, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania, are holding firm.

7:50am AEDT (3:50pm EST) – I recommend this map, showing closing times in both US eastern time and AEDT for the entire US. Very useful to know when to watch where.

6:30am AEDT (2:30pm EST) – Votes are being cast across the entire mainland USA by now. First exit polls should come through around 9am AEDT. For a guide to which states close their polls when, read Slate’s hour-by-hour guide. The first races of interest are Indiana and Kentucky at 10am. If Indiana goes to Obama, then he’s on track for a solid victory. If Kentucky falls to the Democrats in the Senate, the Dems are on track for a 60-seat majority, and will have knocked off the Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell. Liveblogging is also available at Pollbludger and an open thread on the topic has been posted at Larvatus Prodeo.