Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Is the election over (four weeks out)? History says "Hell No"

By Ned Barnett (c) 2008

A lot of spinners are contending that the election is now over - we can all go home, because Obama has it in the bag. And, while some polls show Obama ahead by single digits (but outside the margin for error), Zogby has the election within a single point.

Zogby's right. History (going back to '68) tells us that this election is not over - it will be finally "decided" no sooner than the last weekend before the election.

You can always tell when somebody has drunk deeply from the Kool Aid when he pronounces this election is over, and does so four weeks before the ballots are cast. The last time a US Presidential Election did NOT come right down to the wire was ’84 with Reagan (if somebody cared to argue how not-close the Clinton/Dole election in '96 was four years before the election, I won’t argue, but it was a lot closer than most like to recall, and that even in ’96, Clinton didn’t get a simple majority).

In recent times, ultra-close elections include

· Humphrey/Nixon ’68 (Humphrey was in the lead across the board right up to the last week – he peaked too early and Nixon won by a whisker)

· Ford/Carter ’76 - it was right down to the wire, and while not as close as '68, Carter won by a razor-thin margin ... the election might have turned on Ford's "Poland" gaffe in a pre-election debate

· Carter/Reagan/Anderson ’80 (it was single-digit until just about two weeks before the election, when the “misery index” - "are you better off now than you were in '76" question began to resonate with the populace)

· Bush/Dukakis ’88 (the Duke was 17 points ahead on Labor Day and he was still leading in some polls mid-October)

· Bush/Clinton/Perot ’92 – Clinton won with 43 percent of the vote

· Clinton/Dole/Perot ’96 – Clinton won with 48 percent of the vote, and he was only one blunder away from losing (of course, he didn’t blunder until a couple years later, with Monica)

· Bush/Gore ’00 – this was decided a month after the election by the Supreme Court – and the media only finally satisfied themselves that Bush really did win Florida a year later after the “non-partisan” media Election Fact-check commission tried five different ways to calculate the votes so Gore could have won, and failed in all five tries and finally gave up

· Bush/Kerry ’04 – not as close as ’00, but still right down to the wire, right down to the final days

With this history, and with the election polls in what is essentially a dead heat (in the last two weeks, first McCain was ahead by single digits outside the margin for error, then Obama was ahead by single digits outside the margin for error, now Obama is ahead – in one major poll – by just one point, well within the margin for error) – the election is far closer (at four weeks out) than Carter/Reagan was in ’80 or Bush/Dukakis was in ’88, and closer than any of Clinton’s or Bush-43’s elections at this point.

In short, unless you drink the Kool Aid, this race is too close to call – each candidate is just one big blunder away from giving his opponent a decisive-seeming lead (which could erode if terrorists attack, or if Wall Street takes another 1,500-point plunge, or if something embarrassing and personal came out about either candidate). Almost any scandal or "gaffe" could overturn the margin of victory, for either candidate, right up to the last weekend before the campaign.

This election could go either way, but the only thing we can be certain of is that nobody who says the election is over knows what l he’s talking about. Either he’s ignoring the news or he’s ignoring Presidential election history.