In elections this close, anyone who thinks they can be authoritative in knowing exactly what is going on is fooling themselves. This is an incredibly close election, and will remain so in the polling until election day. Last minute efforts to Get Out The Vote (GOTV) and appeal directly to undecided voters are all-important right now.
There are a couple of pessimistic scenarios for us Democrats. The first is that Republicans win the voter suppression wars. The impression I have from the field reports I am getting from people and news accounts around the country is that Republicans seem to be working harder at suppressing our vote than turning their own out which, while morally ugly, makes some tactical sense for them since their voters are more likely than ours to show up at the polls. They have done what they can to throw out as many legal hurdles to poor, minority and young people voting as they can although, thankfully, a lot of those efforts have been rejected in court. Now they are mobilizing volunteers to challenge voters at the polls, paying for ads and mailings to discourage people from voting, and having their legal teams ready to try and throw out legitimate voters who show up in Democratic precincts. Democrats are mobilizing to fight back against these ugly Republican tactics, but it will be brutal on the ground in the most competitive states and races. Who wins this battle may well win the election.
The other scenario Democrats have to worry about is the old adage that undecideds almost always break against the incumbent at the end. That is certainly something that happens sometimes in politics, including at the presidential level such as in the Carter-Reagan race in 1980. However, I tend to think that is less likely for a couple of reasons. One of them is that the great pollster Mark Mellman has pretty thoroughly debunked that notion that it happens most of the time in presidential races. As Mark points out, in most presidential races, undecideds break close to 50-50 at the end. But this year, there is another reason to be a little more optimistic about the undecided: they look a lot like Democratic base voters.
This point is worth talking about at a little more length, because it is crucial to understanding this election. The undecided that are left, which may be as few as three percent of the electorate or less (although that's plenty to decide a race this close), are mostly women and very disproportionately young and lower income and unmarried. In other words, they look a lot like Democratic base voters. That means the people they know and trust to get their political advice from are a lot more likely to be voting Democratic, and it makes the odds of them deciding to vote Democratic in the end quite good.
It also means that our final GOTV operation and our final persuasion of undecided voters' efforts are very much aligned. This is great news, because there is nothing more painful for a campaign in the closing days than having to juggle messages and final expenditures between swing and base voters who are very different kinds of folks and need to hear different messages. This kind of alignment powerfully favors the Obama campaign here at the end. They can and should be targeting the large majority of their messaging to young unmarried women. And it sure does make clear for all you Democratic activists out there how to spend your time in addition to the door knocking and phone calling you are already doing through campaigns or organizations: talk to/text/Facebook/tweet all your friends who are unmarried women, and make damn sure they are voting and voting Democrat.
I talked at the beginning about the reasons for Democrats to feel more pessimistic about this election, but when I look at the numbers, I tend to be more on the optimistic side: the Get Out The Vote operations in the swing presidential states look far better for Obama than Romney; undecided look more like our voters than Republican voters; swing state numbers tend to look consistently better for us than Romney. The optimistic scenario, which right now I think is more probable than the pessimistic one, is that the DCorps poll is right that we are three percent up, and that the three percent undecided likely break more our way than GOP because of their demographic alignment, which I discussed earlier. In terms of specific swing states, I think that means we end up winning PA, WI, MI, and NV by a few points each; and that we take OH, IA and CO by 1-2 each. I think we won't quite get there in NC or FL, and that VA will be the closest race in the country, I'm guessing we won't know about VA on election night and maybe for a couple days out. But all of these states' fate depends on a strong GOTV operation, and winning the battle over voter suppression.
Here's the other important point to make about this election cycle's endgame: it's not all about the presidential swing states by a long shot. The get out the vote work and persuasion to undecided has to extend to competitive Senate and House races. There are a lot of competitive House races in the presidential swing states, but there are big numbers in non-Presidential swing states like IL, CA and NY as well, and without the Obama field operation, they are going to need all the GOTV help they can get. And while Sherrod Brown in Ohio, Tammy Baldwin in WI, Tim Kaine in VA and Shelley Berkeley in NV will all greatly benefit from the superior Obama GOTV efforts, incredibly important Senate races like the Elizabeth Warren race in MA, the Chris Murphy race in CT and the Heidi Heitkamp in ND race need for their GOTV operations to be top-notch in order for them to win.
We are in the phase of this election cycle where GOTV is all-important and where appeals to young, unmarried women and people of color in general are crucial to Democratic victories. If you are not in a swing state or district, here's where you can go to volunteer on the ground or to make calls. And if you are going to give money to support GOTV or one of these races, do it now -- money doesn't do campaigns nearly as much good the last three or four days before an election.