Two, Three Percent? Given Stark Contrast, Does Close Election Mean We've Become Two Countries

Being the contrarian that I am, I made a sucker bet on the presidential election. I didn't bet on who would win, but I bet that the winner would do so by a margin of 10 percent in the popular vote.

The amount of money spent on polling this campaign season is astronomical. It will be interesting to see after the election if they had any validity in this era of cell phones, multi-generational households, and saturation media coverage. The polls have showed little variance for months, a tight race is predicted.

So why am I making a stupid bet? I cannot believe that we have become two countries. The stark difference between President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney's visions for the future give voters a clear choice. If the margin is 1 or 2 percentage points, it means that our normally just-right-of-center electorate has become so polarized that a governing consensus would seem impossible.

In 1980, Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter were neck and neck in October. Just before the election, the vote broke in Reagan's direction and he won handily. We look back now and see the condition of the economy at the time and it is no surprise that Carter was fired after one term. But the polls showed a close election until Reagan convinced the voters he would be a safe choice.

I think the voters will break in one direction or the other on Election Day. Given the momentum in recent days, it could be Romney. I'm writing this a few hours before the candidates meet for the final debate, and anything can happen.

An argument against a major shift in the final days is the rise of early voting, not possible in 1980. Even if Romney were to catch fire in the final days, many people will already have voted. The Obama team also has a tremendous ground game in places like Ohio and Romney may not be able to overcome an early lead for the Democrats.

(One wonders why we have all these long campaigns and spend so much money nationwide. If you listen to the pundits, all we need to do is have an election in Ohio and just ignore the rest of the country.)

Early voting totals across Tennessee and at the heavily Republican early voting locations at Downtown West and Farragut seem to show that Republicans are indeed turning out in droves to vote for Romney. Perhaps the enthusiasm of Republicans for Romney and against Obama is occurring around the nation in red states.

Polling also demonstrates that the "gender gap" is disappearing and that the margin of women voters in Obama's favor is narrowing.

Polls also show that Romney is getting a higher percentage of the white vote, higher even than John McCain. The Democrats have not won a majority of the white vote since Lyndon Johnson in 1964. But Obama got more of the white vote in 2008 than John Kerry did in 2004. The question for Romney has always been whether white voters would vote in large numbers. Much is being made of gender gaps and the Hispanic vote. But Obama has a gender gap with men and a huge turnout of white men will offset the Hispanic vote.

It is also a distinct possibility that the enthusiasm of the young voters that showed up in 2008 has waned. What was once the thing to do (vote Obama) has now become just another fad from years gone by.

Unemployment remains high, the Middle East is in turmoil, and the economy sucks. It is a tribute to Obama that he is this close to re-election (according to the polls).

I don't think the country is as fragmented as pollsters and political operatives would have you believe. If they are, then my friend Craig will collect his bet and have braggin' rights for some time to come.


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