By early Wednesday morning, we should know who will be the president of the United States for the next four years. The complication, of course, may be that in a very tight election, one close call could lead to an extended recount. The two campaigns have already placed hundreds of lawyers in contentious areas around the country, ready to take action if required.
However, if the result is clear-cut, we should also have the answer to questions thrown up by the election process over the past few weeks.
1. Momentum or maths? The Romney campaign has argued since the days after the first presidential debate in Denver that it has growing momentum and that will be enough to sweep their man to victory. The Obama team insists it holds a lead in most of the key swing states and so has a much better chance of getting the 270 electoral college votes they need to secure victory. They say that has been unaffected by the late Republican surge. Both can’t be right.
2. Enthusiasm or organisation? The Obama team organised perhaps the most effective get out of the vote operation in American political history in 2008. It was a significant part of the effective landslide win over John McCain. The Democrats insist they’ve built on that, tweaked the parts that needed tweaking and have had four years to make it even slicker. The Republicans had less time to get their “ground game” in place because of the extended primary process. Lessons have been learned by the right and their operation is much sharper and better organised than in 2008 but they believe the key is that Mitt Romney has energised their support base. More people want to vote against Barack Obama than want to support him. There is always the possibility, the two could cancel each other out.
3. Where did the independents go? While American politics has perhaps never been as polarised and divided, there are still thousands of voters who carry no party affiliation. Instead they cast their vote after listening to the candidates, following the campaigns and then voting for the person they believe will do the best job. In 2008 Obama won the independent vote by a large margin. This time Romney seems to have the advantage. That doesn’t always translate into a win. John Kerry won the independent vote in 2004 and still lost. If Obama holds on to a lot of independents, he might thank Superstorm Sandy. The overwhelming view is that he handled the crisis well, and the pictures of him working with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a strong supporter of Mitt Romney, would have helped. Independents like the idea of politicians working together to get things done.
4. Are there more swing states than we thought? This election will essentially be decided in around 8-10 swing states. However, the Republicans spent the last week talking up their chances in Michigan, Minnesota and Pennsylvania, which were thought to be safely in the Obama camp. They invested a lot of energy and money in the states, and Mitt Romney even held a rally in Pennsylvania two days before the election. His team argued they were hopeful of making a breakthrough there which would give them another route to the coveted 270 figure and expand the electoral map. In the last five presidential elections, no Republican has polled more than 43 per cent in Pennsylvania. If Romney’s team are right, the map we’ve all been studying for the last nine months changes dramatically.
5. Will young voters continue to turn out in huge numbers? There is a myth that the 2008 election saw a huge surge in young voters, driven by excitement for Barack Obama. The reality is the turnout of people aged 18-29 was only 1 per cent greater between 2004 and 2008. The difference was that Barack Obama won that vote nationally by more than 30 per cent while John Kerry cleared just 9 per cent. Polls suggest that enthusiasm among that group has dropped off. The Obama campaign has spent a lot of time on college campuses trying to inspire that vote and get it behind their man. How successful they’ve been we’ll see on Wednesday.