Eve-of-poll voter surveys mostly point to a narrow US presidential election victory for Barack Obama. But with the contest finely balanced in a few key states, it would not take much to shift the advantage to Mitt Romney. A last-minute slip, a neglected minority voter bloc, or simply a piece of bad luck could be enough to ditch Obama and send the Republican to the White House.

Here’s one possible example: Obama’s unguarded suggestion in Springfield, Ohio last Friday that "voting is the best revenge" has been seized on by Republicans. Romney exploited it in a speech later that same day. "He [Obama] asked his supporters to vote – to vote for revenge. Instead, I ask the American people to vote for love of country," Romney said – and then aired a TV attack ad featuring the exchange.

"’Revenge’ is not something sought by most American voters, and 2008 Obama voters who are disappointed in his performance … Voters want someone who will serve the country. The moment when Obama said "revenge" could turn out to be a pivotal moment in the campaign", said Beltway Confidential commentator Michael Barone. Obama faces plenty of other possible last-minute pitfalls as he reaches for the finishing line.


In this razor-thin presidential race, everyone has a theory about where things will end up on Election Day — with some even predicting control of the White House won’t even be settled by the time we go to sleep Tuesday night.

The Obama campaign points to the president’s lead over Mitt Romney in many of the key swing states as evidence that finding a way to the magic number — 270 electoral votes — based on the current map is still a tougher slog for the Republican challenger than for the incumbent.

But today, the last marathon day of the 2012 election cycle, indications about the tightness of the race are everywhere. In our own ABC News-Washington Post tracking poll out Sunday night the contest between the two presidential contenders remains deadlocked, with 49 percent support for Obama among likely voters compared to 48 percent for Romney.

The Bradley effect

Named after a former black mayor of Los Angeles, this phenomenon involves voters telling pollsters they intend to support a black candidate, and then not doing so because of his or her ethnicity. In 2008 Obama enjoyed an 8-9% lead in most polls, but his actual margin of victory was 6%. If today’s polls are overestimating his backing by a similar margin, Romney will win.

Racial prejudice, covert or otherwise, also partly explains why a majority of white males will vote against Obama. In 2008, 57% backed Republican John McCain. The anti-Obama totals among both white men and women may be higher this time, polls suggest. It is also a fact that white males prefer Republicans to Democrats, whatever their colour.


The Democrats need a big turnout to secure victory but most estimates suggest Obama’s support, particularly among younger voters, blacks and Hispanics, will fall well below 2008 levels, partly as a result of disappointment with his performance in office.

"In 2008, voters 18 to 29 went for Obama 2-1 over McCain; turnout among these young voters was the second-largest ever recorded. But in 2012, that youthful Obamamania seems to have faded. Alex Wirth of the Harvard Public Opinion Project has forecast that turnout for voters under 30 will be 34 to 40%, compared with 51% four years ago," said Fast Company’s Anya Kamenetz.


At the heart of American pollsters’ electoral map lies an awkward little secret. Presidential elections are increasingly decided by an ever-smaller group of swing voters within an ever-smaller number of swing states. Nobody really knows exactly who or where these people are, and that makes for severe unpredictability. But Republicans are claiming independent voters (neither Republican nor Democrat registered) are breaking 2-1 for Romney in toss-up states and that early voting turnout shows the Republican base is more energised.

Acts of God

Religiously-inclined voters could also give Obama a scare. "I expect Mitt Romney to maximise the white religious vote … The major push Obama made in 2008 among white Catholics is completely absent this cycle … Anti-Mormon sentiment has never caught on among the Christian community to the degree some feared. And Obama’s contraception and abortion message has caused a great deal of concern among religious groups, Protestant and Catholic alike," said analyst Ben Domenech.

Perfect storm

Despite suspicions about Hurricane Sandy, Obama does not control the weather. Forecasters say election day will be cold, wet and windy in the north and east – not good for the needed high Democrat turnout.

Cock-up or conspiracy?

Comparisons are already being made with the 2000 presidential election that saw George Bush installed as president after numerous recounts, legal challenges, and myriad balloting irregularities gave rise to claims of widespread fraud and rigging. Today’s election is supposed to be better organised. But Americans are a sceptical lot. If the vote is as close as predicted, and the result is not immediately clear, claims that sinister forces are at work will not be long in coming.




ABC’s Jonathan Karl starts us off on Election Eve with a startling thought — was this entire race much ado about nothing?

Karl notes that in an interview with MSNBC veteran political prognosticator Charlie Cook made the following prediction:

–Barack Obama will be re-elected President

–53 Democrats and 47 Republicans in the newly elected Senate

–240 Republicans and 195 Democrats in the House

Now consider that the current political breakdown is this:

–Barack Obama is the President

–53 Democrats and 47 Republicans in the Senate

–240 Republicans, 190 Democrats and 5 vacant seats in the House

In other words, Karl observes, after a multi-billion dollar campaign it is quite possible that nothing at all will have changed in the national political lineup. Nothing.



Meanwhile, ABC’s David Muir highlights a crystal ball column on by Republican strategist Alex Castellanos, in which he predicts a Romney win:

"Late polls in 1980 gave Ronald Reagan only a 2 percent to 3 percent lead over Jimmy Carter. Reagan ended up winning by nearly 10 percent. For the same reason, I would expect this campaign’s final public opinion polls and exit polls this Tuesday to under-report the Republican vote by a handful of points."



According to an analysis by Poynter, Romney has bagged a total of 24 swing-state newspaper endorsements, to Obama’s 15. Across the country, at least 30 newspapers also flipped from backing Obama in 2008 to backing Romney this year. 

They include some major swing-state papers, including the Wisconsin State Journal. In its editorial Sunday, the newspaper called Obama the "more likable and inspiring speaker." However, the editorial said, "this election is about jobs … This is now Obama’s economy, even though the GOP shares in the blame for partisan games." 

The State Journal joined the Des Moines Register, Naples Daily News, Reno Gazette-Journal and the Orlando Sentinel, among others, in flipping to back Romney. 

The New York Daily News also made waves this weekend by endorsing Romney, after having backed Obama in 2008. 

"Four years ago, the Daily News endorsed Obama, seeing a historic figure whose intelligence, political skills and empathy with common folk positioned him to build on the small practical experience he would bring to the world’s toughest job," the endorsement in part states. "We valued Obama’s pledge to govern with bold pragmatism and bipartisanship. The hopes of those days went unfulfilled." 

According to Poynter, at least three papers flipped from Sen. John McCain in 2008 to Obama this year. They were the San Antonio Express-News, The San Francisco Examiner and the Winston-Salem Journal. 

Several other newspapers abstained from endorsing anybody this year after backing Obama four years ago — including the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the Palm Beach Post and the Dayton Daily News. 

The following is Poynter’s tally of newspapers that flipped from Obama to Romney: 

Billings Gazette 

Cape Cod Times 

Casper Star-Tribune 

The Columbian 

The Daily Herald 

Los Angeles Daily News 

Daily Tribune 

The Dallas Morning News 

Des Moines Register