A few months ago, I was of the opinion that this presidential election would shape up like the one in 1980. That year, voters wanted change but weren’t sure they were comfortable with the change they were being offered – that is, Ronald Reagan. Consequently, Reagan and Jimmy Carter ran close in the polls until near the end, when a critical mass of people finally decided they were comfortable enough with Reagan and the vote broke in his direction and gave him a decisive victory.
This year looked to be very similar, with the country yearning for a change of direction but unsure of the change agent before them, Barack Obama. And, in the past few months, as with Reagan in 1980, Obama has made voters comfortable enough with him to prompt a decisive late break in the polls in his direction.
So, end of story, easy win for Obama? Very likely, yes. But is it possible that 1980 is not, in the end, going to be the best comparison? Well, if John McCain manages a grand upset today, the comparison will of course be to 1948 when Harry Truman pulled off what is generally considered the biggest upset in presidential history when he defeated Thomas Dewey.
But another possibility also comes to mind. That would be the election of 1932 when, in the face of an economic crisis and after a long period of Republican rule, Franklin Roosevelt won a crushing victory and ushered in an era of Democratic dominance of national politics. It was the quintessential realigning election, in which a new coalition of voters coalesces to replace the previously dominant coalition. This tends to happen every 30-36 years, with the most recent example being when the Deep South in 1968 moved away from the Democratic party.
In recent days, as we’ve tried to ascertain the direction of this year’s vote, there has been a tightening of the polls in states such as Pennsylvania, Colorado and Virgina, all of which are crucial to any McCain hopes of an upset. If McCain indeed wins, this tightening of the polls will have been our early indicator. At the same time, though, we’ve also seen strong Republican states such as Indiana, Montana, North Dakota and Georgia slide into the toss-up category. A late-breaking wave for Obama could put all of these states into his column and mark an electoral landslide. This, combined with a large number of expected Democratic pickups in the Senate and House of Representatives, would make this an historic election along the lines of 1932.
We’ll know for certain which way this election is heading later tonight. In the meantime, if you’re hungry for some polling data or predictions, there are two great sites to check out. Pollster.com has a wealth of polling information from around the country. They currently have Obama at 291 electoral votes to 142 for McCain and 105 in the toss-up column. Also check out fivethirtyeight.com, which has run 10,000 simulations of the election based on polling, historical and demographic data. They peg Obama as having a 98.9% chance of winning the election and predict that he will accumulate at least 349 electoral votes.
Whomever you favor today, though, if you’re a U.S. citizen please go out to vote and make your voice heard.