The Washington Post
The Post asked pollsters and others what could turn out to be a surprise on Election Day. Included here are thoughts from: Dick Morris, Eileen McGann, James Carville, Heather Wilson, Douglas Schoen, Ed Rogers, Mary Beth Cahill, Linda Chavez and Robert Shrum.
DICK MORRIS AND EILEEN MCGANN
Dick Morris advised Bill Clinton’s 1996 reelection campaign and is a contributor to Fox News; Eileen McGann, a lawyer, is co-author with Morris of “Fleeced”
Every election comes down to a referendum on one of the candidates. When Hillary Clinton seemed likely to be nominated, hers was the only name under discussion. Voters had first to decide whether to back Hillary. If they decided not to support her, they then had to sort out which of the alternatives they would support.
Now, Obama has taken Hillary’s place as the object of our scrutiny. This race is about whether we trust Barack Obama to be president, to handle the economy, to set proper levels of taxation and to guide our foreign policy amid two wars. Those who vote yes are supporting Obama. Those who vote no are either for McCain or undecided. The bulk of the undecided vote will end up going for McCain.
It does not matter how wide or narrow the gap is between the two candidates. What matters is how far above or below 49 percent Obama is in the final polls (49 percent assumes that Ralph Nader gets 1 to 2 points as he did in 2004). Right now, Obama is straddling the 49 percent mark; about half the polls put him over it and half under it. If the final polling numbers indicate that Obama is not convincingly north of 49 percent, we are in for a long night.
Manager of Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign; CNN political contributor
Extraordinary youth turnout will surprise many, but it shouldn’t. Young voters will vote overwhelmingly Democratic up and down the ballot in record numbers. As for a surprise on Tuesday, the combination of Ralph Nader and Bob Barr’s votes will affect the outcome of the presidential election in one or more states. We know that Nader cost Al Gore the election in 2000 by siphoning off votes in Florida. The outcome of this election will not be affected — Barack Obama will be the next president of the United States. But how large will his electoral margin be? Much has been said about the “Bradley effect.” I don’t necessarily buy it, but why wouldn’t voters who won’t vote for an African American or a Republican (the GOP brand is at an all-time low), vote for a third-party candidate? Two states where they may have an impact are Georgia and Montana. Only Barr is on the ballot in Georgia, but in a state that only recently became a toss-up, his home-state support could tip the state’s 15 electoral votes to either candidate. Their impact on even just a few states will surprise many.
Republican representative from New Mexico
The big news will be record turnout — more than 130 million Americans will go to the polls. More young people and African Americans will vote this year, but that won’t account for all of the increase.
Historically, if someone tells a pollster they are “undecided” at this point in a campaign, they are either disinterested and don’t vote or they are refusing to reveal their choice. This year, the “undecideds” are telling pollsters that they are very interested in the race. They are going to vote.
Usually, the “undecideds” who show up in polling break pretty evenly when both candidates are well known. This year’s “undecideds” are generally older, more rural, voted for Bush over Kerry, and they are concerned about Obama’s inexperience and liberal views. The undecideds will break toward John McCain.
Democratic pollster and author
The biggest surprise is likely to come from groups that have gotten comparatively little attention in this election: independents, self-described moderates and conservatives, and Hispanics.
Recent polling shows dramatic improvement from 2004 for the Democrats in these four groups. Obama is winning about one-fifth of conservatives and leads among moderates by almost 20 percent. Among independents, Obama holds slightly better than a double-digit lead. With Hispanics, Obama now has almost 70 percent of their votes, up 10 percent since the last election. This margin with Hispanics is one of the major reasons Obama is poised to win states such as Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada and is even competitive in some polls in Arizona. Obama’s strength with centrist, independent-leaning swing voters will come in large measure from these four voter groups; it is why he has a commanding lead in much of the Upper Midwest, Pennsylvania and Ohio — and why he could even win Missouri and Indiana.
Overall turnout will be so high on Tuesday that the share of the vote from younger voters and African Americans will not differ that substantially from what we have seen in recent elections. In other words, the election will ultimately be decided by voters in the middle. I suspect that analysts will conclude that neither Joe the Plumber nor Sarah Palin was able to bring the always-critical voters in the center back to the Republican ticket.
White House staffer to Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush; group chairman of BGR Holding
By all accounts McCain is behind but closing in on Obama, who appears to be stronger in the electoral college than in the popular vote. It’s not pretty for McCain, but it’s not over. Three ingredients could be mixing to create an explosive comeback for McCain. No. 1: buyer’s remorse and resentment of the media forecast. Voters are being lectured that the election is over. This might cause them to have regrets about Obama and resent being told what they had already decided. No. 2: presumptuousness by the Obama camp. More than once they have shown a tendency to act like they have won, to assume that the Oval Office is already theirs. Voters resent this and may be itching to show their independence. No. 3: Obama fatigue and classic American support for the underdog. Voters notice the number of ads, phone calls and gushing accounts of the giant Obama machine. Maybe the good old US of A instinct to support the underdog is working to McCain’s benefit.
McCain has to draw to an inside straight to get 270 in the electoral college. The odds are against him, but that’s nothing new for John McCain. He will not quit. Never count him out.
MARY BETH CAHILL
Manager of Sen. John Kerry’s presidential campaign and former chief of staff to Sen. Edward Kennedy
For the past two weeks, polls have agreed that the likely winner will be Barack Obama, riding on the financial crisis and a country fed up with Republican leadership. His campaign has made John McCain a virtual incumbent, heir to the policies of George W. Bush.
Democratic incumbents in the House, Senate and governorships are reading the polls and hoping for Democratic victory up and down the ballot. The winds of change blow both ways, however, and serving officeholders of both parties should be leery of the mood of the electorate in this year of change. Smart incumbents are campaigning as though their lives depend on it. Tuesday night may well bring the defeat of long-serving politicians from heretofore safe districts and states. And it may be very late before we know the leadership and chairmen of the House and Senate.
Chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity; member of the Reagan administration
I’d be surprised if John McCain wins even 30 percent of the Hispanic vote, through no fault of his own. What a difference four years makes. In 2004, President Bush won 4 in 10 Hispanic votes, and Democrats worried that their long-time dominance among Hispanics was slipping away. But thanks to harsh Republican rhetoric on immigration, Hispanics have since cooled to Republicans, badly damaging McCain’s chances to win Colorado, Florida, Nevada and New Mexico.
There is much irony here. McCain will be punished even though he was a champion of comprehensive immigration reform. And while the immigration issue will cost McCain some Hispanic votes, it is unlikely to gain Republicans any advantage among other voters. The issue has largely evaporated as a major concern in the general election — it didn’t even come up during the presidential debates.
It’s no wonder. Despite hyperbole to the contrary, illegal immigration is actually down significantly from its peak — which occurred in 2000. The illegal-immigrant population grew about 800,000 persons a year from 2000 to 2005, the Pew Hispanic Center estimates. The numbers have since declined to an average of 500,000 net new illegal immigrants each year. While stepped-up enforcement has played a role, the economic downturn has probably been the chief factor reducing the flow.
A pleasant surprise Tuesday would be the election of a president with the fortitude to tackle this issue.
Senior adviser to the Gore and Kerry presidential campaigns; fellow at NYU’s Wagner School of Public Service
The surprise is no surprise — no hanging chads, no reversal of the preelection polls or the exit polls. Why? First, the presidential race isn’t close. The campaigns are partners in an implicit conspiracy: McCain needs to say the race is narrowing, and Obama wants to combat complacency. There are many polls, and many data, that on average show a far wider margin than in 2000 or 2004. So we will speculate about the “Bradley effect” — which, if it exists, will be offset by a wave of young and African American voters — and react to changes in polls here or there, but it won’t change the reality. It will only give Democrats another round of their customary anxiety and Republicans a moment of illusory hope. Then the results will come in as expected, with perhaps a difference in a state or two that won’t make a difference nationally.
This is true for a second reason. Obama’s decision to forego public funding has enabled his Internet-fueled campaign to compete in states where he has potential but otherwise would have been forced to write off. We know what they are; look at the advertising buys. McCain has to carry a whole string of states where he is behind or effectively tied; Obama has to win in just a few. He has many routes to victory, McCain just one. Don’t be surprised if some place we never thought would go Democratic does. The Obama campaign has signaled that several could — and in the process left the other side constantly on the defensive.