The Race Has Been Decided
It’s a tired Washington dinner-speech quip: the last speaker of the night says, “Everything’s been said, but not everyone has said it.” We seem to have reached that point in the presidential campaign. The candidates long ago laid out their positions (with as much specificity as they will give until the election), the commentators seem to have made every observation possible, and the race has settled into a close and stable state. This morning’s Washington Post carried no campaign news on the front page.
It’s certainly possible there are more twists to come – unknown unknowns. But it’s hard to see anything that's likely to occur shaking the race off of its current path. There are two debates left, but Romney can no longer surprise anyone with a good performance, and the President is unlikely to land a knock-out punch, given his opponent’s apparent skill in that medium. One of them could make a “gaffe,” but those almost always mean less than the immediate reporting suggests, and both candidates will be extra careful with their words in the last few weeks. No one who doesn't already feel good about the President is likely to decide that they really like his policies after all, or suddenly be charmed by Governor Romney.
TV commercials, the most visible part of the race for swing-state voters, are not likely to change many minds. The post Citizens United volume of ads has already caused most people to tune them out. Even an attentive viewer won’t see any themes, emotional ploys, facts or claims that they haven’t seen hundreds of times before in the last few months. Each side is running ads for the same reason the British and Germans filled the trenches in World War I, to avoid giving up territory already gained. They may have some very marginal impact on swing voters, pushing them to a final decision, but mostly they are playing to a stalemate (and pushing committed voters to the polls).
So, what will decide this close election? An important element of it will be who does a better job getting their voters to the polls. Some of it will come in small movements based on good or bad news on the economy, and good or bad performances by the candidates. But I think mostly the election is already decided, even if we have to wait for that decision to reveal itself on Election Night. Voters who still consider themselves undecided are probably leaning toward one candidate, even if they are not fully satisfied with that choice. Barring an “October Surprise,” if you pushed a swing voter to make a snap decision today, it’s probably the same one they’ll make after another three weeks of consideration. There are very few true-in-their-heart undecideds left – probably not enough to swing the race either way.
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