Election 2012: The final analysis?

Political junkies like me have seen two broad narratives about what will happen in tomorrow’s presidential election between Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney.

The most popular call is that this is a dead heat, a toss-up, and we might not know the winner until Wednesday or even later if ballots in Ohio, Florida or some other electoral disaster state to be named about 10 o’clock Tuesday night come into question.

Then there are the statisticians who don’t see things being quite so tight. Chief among them is Nate Silver, creator of the Five Thirty Eight blog, now part of the New York Times, who called all but one state correctly in 2008 and all of the Senate races that year. He didn’t do quite as well in 2010, correctly calling 34 of 37 U.S. Senate races. This year, Silver has never had President Obama behind and currently (9 a.m. Nov. 5) gives him an 86.3 percent chance of winning and projects he’ll get 307.2 electoral votes, more than the 270 needed to win the election, and 50.6 percent of the popular vote. Silver has become a controversial figure in the political media world, in a large way by frequently debunking some of the popular narratives about the election. Just this morning, he has a post disputing the idea that Hurricane Sandy stopped Romney’s momentum after the first debate, Oct. 3, in Denver.

A third theory being posited this morning on MSNBC’s Morning Joe is that there is this groundswell of enthusiasm for Romney that will rise up and flip a number of states, including Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, that seem to be in Obama’s column. Even partisans including show host Joe Scarborough, a former Republican U.S. representative from Florida, say there is nothing really to back that up, and others point out that a lot of losing candidates have had throngs of enthusiastic supporters show up to their rallies in the days before the election. They include U.S. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) who lost a narrow election to incumbent George W. Bush in 2004, an election that this year’s contest is being heavily compared to.

Certainly the first and last scenarios are most useful for hyping interest in the election and keeping people from watching Full House or Real Housewives reruns Tuesday night instead of election coverage. Journalists are often accused of harboring political biases, but what they tend to root for is the best story. A close election is inherently more interesting than a blowout.

One thing we can be sure of is that by tomorrow, it will all be over but the counting, and the analysis, and the second-guessing. What will be interesting is the final analysis: Will it be an election we should have seen coming, or the kind of surprise that can make and break media careers?

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