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What To Expect On Election Night In The U.K.

FiveThirtyEight will be covering the U.K. general election results live Thursday night, with projections updated as soon as each result comes in.

But what if you’re away from your computer, forced (shudder) to rely on broadcast news to understand the relevance of the results in Pudsey or Bootle?

With the help of the Press Association’s list of expected declaration times, we’ve prepared this handy guide, which shows you what to expect during each phase of the night after the polls close (5 p.m. EDT and 10 p.m. BST).

We’ve done this only for seats in Great Britain, excluding Northern Ireland. Northern Irish parties may be vital after this election. But many Northern Irish seats are scheduled to report in a tight window around 9 p.m. EDT.

Be warned, though: It might be a long night. We’ve plotted below how we expect the seat tallies to evolve over the course of the night — and for large portions of the evening, the gap between Labour and the Conservatives will be very, very small.

hanretty-datalab-timings

There’s no large partisan bias to the pattern of declarations: Some Labour-leaning seats report early, but so do some Conservative-leaning seats. As such, no party will be thrown into despair only to be rescued by a (predictable) recovery. Rather, everyone’s going to be on tenterhooks throughout the night.

Before 9 p.m. EDT (2 a.m. BST)

How many seats are on offer? 12

How did they break in the previous election? Conservatives: 1; Labour: 10; Liberal Democrats: 0; SNP: 1; Plaid Cymru: 0; Greens: 0; UKIP: 0; Other: 0

How do we think they’ll break in this election? Conservatives: 0 (-1); Labour: 11 (1); Liberal Democrats: 0 (0); SNP: 1 (0); Plaid Cymru: 0 (0); Greens: 0 (0); UKIP: 0 (0); Other: 0 (0)

Don’t expect too much out of this first batch of 12 seats. Most are safe Labour seats in the northeast of England. The only chance these constituencies have of taking up any screen time is if they count the votes with indecent haste and thereby fill the dead air before the next wave of results.

The one exception is Nuneaton, which the Conservatives currently hold but Labour has a 72 percent chance of stealing. Nuneaton is the 298th most likely seat to go Conservative — so if the Conservatives do hold on there, they have a really good chance of finishing the night with the most seats.

9 to 10 p.m. EDT (2 to 3 a.m. BST)

How many seats are on offer? 65

How did they break in the previous election? Conservatives: 31; Labour: 26; Liberal Democrats: 4; SNP: 2; Plaid Cymru: 2; Greens: 0; UKIP: 0; Other: 0

How do we think they’ll break in this election? Conservatives: 29 (-2); Labour: 21 (-5); Liberal Democrats: 3 (-1); SNP: 10 (8); Plaid Cymru: 2 (0); Greens: 0 (0); UKIP: 0 (0); Other: 0 (0)

Things only start getting really interesting from 9 p.m. onward. This is when we start getting results from different parts of the country — including areas, such as Scotland, where party competition is very different. Keep an eye on Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath. In 2010, Gordon Brown of the Labour Party — then the prime minister — won this seat, finishing more than 50 percentage points ahead of the Scottish National Party candidate. Brown has since stepped down from Parliament, and, incredibly, we rate the SNP as more likely than not to take this seat (95 percent). It’s the 36th most likely seat to fall to the SNP — and the party’s victory there would be a huge psychological blow to Labour in Scotland.

10 to 11 p.m. EDT (3 to 4 a.m. BST)

How many seats are on offer? 169

How did they break in the previous election? Conservatives: 74; Labour: 81; Liberal Democrats: 11; SNP: 2; Plaid Cymru: 1; Greens: 0; UKIP: 0; Other: 0

How do we think they’ll break in this election? Conservatives: 65 (-9); Labour: 79 (-2); Liberal Democrats: 4 (-7); SNP: 20 (18); Plaid Cymru: 1 (0); Greens: 0 (0); UKIP: 0 (0); Other: 0 (0)

By 10 p.m., the results start flowing in, with 169 seats expected to declare their results in this hour. Labour should still be ahead in the seat count, but over the next few hours, we might see that lead erode.

One seat to watch is Thurrock, a constituency on the Thames Estuary. It’s a key seat for the U.K. Independence Party — its second-best chance, according to our forecast. If UKIP doesn’t win there, the party might find it difficult to elect its bluff, plain-spoken leader Nigel Farage, who’s contesting Thanet South (expected declaration time: 1 a.m.).

Many of the Scottish seats should have declared by the end of this hour — so if the SNP does make a major breakthrough (and we forecast it will), it will do so in time to make some of the morning editions.

11 p.m. to midnight EDT (4 to 5 a.m. BST)

How many seats are on offer? 204

How did they break in the previous election? Conservatives: 105; Labour: 75; Liberal Democrats: 23; SNP: 1; Plaid Cymru: 0; Greens: 0; UKIP: 0; Other: 0

How do we think they’ll break in this election? Conservatives: 102 (-3); Labour: 78 (3); Liberal Democrats: 12 (-11); SNP: 11 (10); Plaid Cymru: 0 (0); Greens: 0 (0); UKIP: 1 (1); Other: 0 (0)

This looks like it might be the darkest hour for the Liberal Democrats. Almost half of their seats should declare during this hour, and we forecast them to lose almost half of those.

The natural focus of attention is Sheffield Hallam, the constituency of the Liberal Democrats’ leader, Nick Clegg. Normally, party leaders coast home with huge majorities, but such is the scale of the collapse in the Liberal Democrat vote that there’s an outside chance (15 percent) of the party being “decapitated.”

Midnight to 1 a.m. EDT (5 to 6 a.m. BST)

How many seats are on offer? 107

How did they break in the previous election? Conservatives: 57; Labour: 38; Liberal Democrats: 10; SNP: 0; Plaid Cymru: 0; Greens: 0; UKIP: 0; Other: 2

How do we think they’ll break in this election? Conservatives: 49 (-8); Labour: 49 (11); Liberal Democrats: 5 (-5); SNP: 2 (2); Plaid Cymru: 0 (0); Greens: 1 (1); UKIP: 0 (0); Other: 1 (-1)

By midnight, attention should return to the battle between Labour and the Conservatives. In the Midlands and North, the Conservatives will be looking to retain Calder Valley, Rossendale and Darwen, and Halesowen and Rowley Regis — the 265th, 273rd and 280th most likely seats for the party.

If they don’t take two or all three of these seats, they’ll be underperforming relative to our forecasts.

By contrast, if the Conservatives retain either Ealing Central or Finchley and Golders Green in London, they can be slightly more sanguine, as these seats are tossups in our seat forecast, being the 282nd and 283rd most likely seats for the party.

After 1 a.m. EDT (6 a.m. BST)

How many seats are on offer? 75

How did they break in the previous election? Conservatives: 38; Labour: 28; Liberal Democrats: 9; SNP: 0; Plaid Cymru: 0; Greens: 0; UKIP: 0; Other: 0

How do we think they’ll break in this election? Conservatives: 39 (1); Labour: 31 (3); Liberal Democrats: 2 (-7); SNP: 3 (3); Plaid Cymru: 0 (0); Greens: 0 (0); UKIP: 0 (0); Other: 0 (0)

Forty minutes after sunup in London, we’ll still be waiting on the outcome — although hopefully by this point our on-the-night predictions will enable us to determine the largest party. If our forecasts are on track, then the Conservative Party should be in the lead at this point, but the margins could be so tight as to make the last results very, very exciting indeed. Results will start coming in from around the country — from the islands of Scotland to Land’s End in Cornwall. The very last declaration expected is from St Ives, a seat that was won by the Liberal Democrats in 2010 but could (probability 8 percent) be seized by their coalition partners, the Conservatives.

Chris Hanretty is reader in politics at the University of East Anglia.

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