If George Bush is headed for a landslide victory, as many polls suggest, the first signs will show in the states along the East Coast and the election could be over before counting gets heavy west of the Mississippi.

Conversely, if Michael Dukakis is about to pull an upset, the seeds will first appear in the East and Midwest, but the presidency will not be decided until votes are in from the Pacific Coast.This, then, is a television viewer's guide to the 1988 presidential election, with indications that Bush will let you go to bed early while Dukakis will keep you up late.

The networks will help. They will use exit polls to project the winner of a state, but only after the polls in that state close.

And they will not declare a winner until Bush or Dukakis have 270 electoral votes, a majority, in states where the polls have closed.

Well before that, however, one of two trends should emerge - a Bush sweep or a tight race nationwide. A Dukakis landslide is not in the cards.

There are several states or parts of states along the East Coast that could provide very good clues. Good states to watch early may be Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey and North Carolina - all for different reasons.

Rhode Island is traditionally Democratic and abuts Dukakis's home state. This is the kind of state that Dukakis has to win if he is to have any chance at the presidency.

New York, with its 37 electoral votes, is one of the night's big prizes and, with a large black, Jewish, Hispanic and liberal population, also the kind of state that the Democrats have to win.

To win New York, however, Dukakis will have to come roaring out of New York City with a huge majority. Four years ago, Walter Mondale carried the city by 500,000 votes and that was not enough - so watch Dukakis's margin in the Big Apple.

The polls show Bush has wrapped up New Jersey. If that proves to be wrong and Dukakis runs stronger than expected - even if he loses - then that could be a sign that Bush is in some trouble as the election heads west.

Of all the Southern states, North Carolina is considered the weakest for Bush. And the chances are that if Bush wins in the Tar Heel state, he will sweep the South and its 154 electoral votes.

Even before the heart of the election moves into the Central Time Zone, where polls generally close an hour later, the outlines of the election could be clear.

If Bush is running strong in New York and Pennsylvania, sweeping the South, taking New Jersey and plucking off Mid-Atlantic states such as Maryland and Delaware, the election might be over.

Conversely, if Dukakis is winning New York and Pennsylvania, with big boosts out of New York City and Philadelphia-Pittsburgh, and nails some of the smaller Northeastern states, his chances increase appreciably.

It is in the three big industrial Midwestern states - Illinois, Ohio and Michigan - that the battle may be joined. Together, they have 67 electoral votes. For Dukakis even to have a chance, he will have to win at least two of the three, if not all three.

The key state to watch is Ohio, which has voted the winner in 23 of the past 25 elections, and since 1968 has been within 1 percentage point of the national result.

Also worth watching are Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa, three states with liberal leanings, to see if Bush can crack through there, and Kansas, Nebraska and the Dakotas, traditionally Republican states, where Dukakis could harvest the fallout from farm problems.

If Dukakis is still in the running after the count is in from the Eastern, Midwestern and Southern states, the landscape becomes bleak for the Democrats until the polls close on the West Coast.

Up for grabs - if the election has not been decided - are California, Washington and Oregon.