I am not surprised by the fact that neither candidate has yet obtained enough support to win. This is an open election with no incumbent to evaluate, nor even a candidate from the incumbent administration. This is a bad year for the Republican Party, but the GOP nominated a guy who has built a reputation opposing his own party. The Democrats nominated a candidate with a background dramatically different from any major party nominee in American history. Between 4% and 8% of the country still does not know what to make of it yet. They were probably part of the 7% to 12% that were undecided in June.
My intuition is that this group is going to sort itself out late. I'd guess that they are the true independents, i.e. those without strong party attachments. [Many people say they are independent but they actually behave like partisans.] I'd also wager that they have not been paying a lot of attention yet. The debates might move them, but I wouldn't be surprised if these folks sort themselves out in late October.
It is not unreasonable to expect a close race. Some perspective is called for here. We have in our collective memory the blowouts of 1984, 1972, and 1964. However, presidential elections in the 19th century were persistently close. Between 1876 and 1896 - all five presidential elections were decided by 5% or less. The country was also closely split in the ante-bellum period. Between 1836 and 1860, only William Henry Harrison was able to pull substantially more than 50% of the vote. Typically, one saw multi-candidate fields, as the two major parties (Democratic and Whig) were unable to organize politics into the binary choice we have today. So, sustained periods of close elections and even splits in public opinion are as much a norm as anything in this country - and we might have recently re-entered such a phase.
Saturday, September 20, 2008
Jay Cost handicaps the race on RealClearPolitics: