11/05/2012 09:04 am ET Updated Jan 05, 2013

7 Key Turning Points in the 2012 Presidential Election

The nation will soon decide who will lead our country for the next four years. No matter who wins, pundits will jump up with explanations of what were the make or break moments of the 2012 presidential campaign.

Hindsight, they say, is 20/20. After Kennedy won the 1960 election, pundits latched onto Nixon's physical appearance at the debates, focusing in on his unshaved, sweaty look and occasionally mentioning the voter turnout in Chicago. These same pundits point to Mike Dukakis sitting on a tank as the critical turning point in his campaign against George Bush. They recall Bill Clinton's saxophone playing performance and John Kerry not defending himself against the swift-boat attacks.

This election had some major background events that precipitated the detailed polling we are now reading daily. The Republican Primary was a long drawn-out slog with Romney emerging as the last one standing after round and round of candidate was tossed up as a potential favorite and soon crashed and burned. From Rick Perry to Rick Santorum to Newt Gingrich, utterly unelectable candidates were paraded around then soon disappeared. All the while, the far deeper pocketed Romney campaign was forced to slide from his original moderate position to move further and further conservative.

While the economy has been an overriding factor, recent job reports have been average, meaning neither side can point to it as a strong area of attack or evidence of great success. That said, the economy is certainly on many voters minds but there hasn't been any major economic news that appears to have shifted polling in the past few months.

Turning Points in the 2012 Presidential Campaign

The most interesting evidence for turning points in the election comes from the polls themselves and the events related to those shifting sentiments. The polls over the last few months tell a story of the changing moods of American voters, driven by specific events though the consistently point to Obama having an advantage in the Electoral College.

Regardless of who wins the election, here are some of the key moments that pundits will select as turning points since the events coincide with shifts in polling.
• Paul Ryan selection: The mid-August selection of Paul Ryan did little to impact the polls though Romney succeeded at energizing both his base and the Democratic base by picking a candidate who had taken strongly conservative positions. Women's rights groups and informed elderly citizens soon realized that a Ryan vision for America had serious consequences on their lives.
• Convention season: From late August to mid-September polls the trend out of the Conventions was strongly in Obama's favor driven by Clinton's strong performance at the Democratic Convention and distractions like Eastwood's performance at the Republicans.
• Benghazi attack: The attack on September 11th 2012, coincided with a slide in the pools for Obama that lasted about one week.
• The 47 percent quote: The video was released mid-September, an opportune time given Obama's slipping polls. Negative reaction to this video prompted a surge in Obama support though depending on the election outcome, some will challenge whether the release timing was optimal or whether it should have been delayed a little longer.
• Presidential Debate 1: Following Obama's non-performance on October 3rd, polling for Romney ticked up sharply though at no point did Romney take an advantage in the Electoral College. This poor performance by Obama will likely be flagged as the most critical turning point if Romney wins.
• Vice Presidential Debate: The surge in polling for Romney was stopped dead following the Vice Presidential debate on October 11th where Biden repeatedly attacked Paul Ryan's proposals as "malarkey" with Ryan unable to provide any retorts to challenges that his proposals don't match basic arithmetic. If Obama wins the election, pundits may likely flag this as the moment where the Democrats took permanent command.
• Hurricane Sandy: While polling had risen steadily for Obama since the Vice Presidential debate, his handling of Hurricane Sandy was seen as a positive by many including New Jersey Governor Chris Christie who commended the President.

Above are the key turning points based on the polling data. Pundits are preparing their 20/20 hindsight by waiting to see who wins on Tuesday and then picking one of the above favorite explanation. Which one do you think was the key turning point?

Note: Data for the polling was taken from Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight Blog

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