Tomorrow November the 4th, Americans will wake up to go and vote in the most high stakes United States presidential election in recent history.
The vote will pit 47-year-old African American; Harvard trained lawyer and Illinois senator, Barrack Obama against seventy two year old Vietnam war veteran and prisoner of war John McCain. How will one of these two win?
The numbers game
The presidential elections in America are indirect elections in which voters cast their ballots for electors. These form an electoral college that determines the winner.
Each of the fifty states is allocated electoral votes according to the number of senators and representatives in the United States congress, together with electoral votes from Washington D.C., totalling to 538 electors. 48 of the 50 states adopted winner take it all system where the winner of the popular vote takes all the allocated electoral votes.
A candidate needs at least 270 electoral votes to win. In principle, electors can vote for whomever they chose, but actually have to pledge to vote for the candidate who wins in their State.
A candidate can lose the popular vote and still win the election. In 2000 Democratic candidate, Al Gore won more votes than President Bush but still got less electoral votes.
Battle ground states
Candidates concentrate on winning crucial battle ground or swing states that usually determine the election. Wikipedia defines swing state, battleground state or purple state as a state in which no candidate has overwhelming support, meaning that any of the major candidates have a reasonable chance of winning the state’s Electoral College votes.
According to the CNN/Time Magazine/Opinion Research Corp. polls, the five crucial 2008 battle ground states are Florida, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada and Virginia.
In recent history, US presidential elections have been decided by one swing state. In 2004, a protracted 18-day battle over counting of votes in Florida ended when George Bush was declared winner while in 2004, Ohio gave George Bush a second term in office.
No Republican has ever been elected without winning Ohio, a BBC correspondent adds, and Mr McCain appears to be five points adrift there now.
On Wednesday, the New York Times editorial praised the success of early voting which this year is estimated to reach forty percent of the total vote.
In many U.S. states, the period varies between four and fifty days prior to Election Day. Experts such as Paul Gronke of the Early Voting Information Centre predict nearly a third of the electorate will vote early this year, up from 15% in 2000 and 20% in 2004.
A poll by NBC News, Reuters, C-Span, Zogby and the Wall Street Journal gives Barack Obama a ten-point lead over John McCain, that is 52% to 42%, reports CBS Correspondent Jeff Glor.
The Bradley effect
The Obama campaign is sweating despite the good opinion poll ratings because of the so-called Bradley effect.
The Bradley effect plays on the assumption that some white American voters with hidden racist tendencies will not admit to vote for senator Obama when called by pollsters, but will go ahead and vote for his rival in the polls.
It takes its name from Tom Bradley, an African-American mayor of Los Angeles who ran for governor of California. According to Time magazine, on the eve of the election, polls anointed him a prohibitive favourite.
But on Election Day, Bradley lost to his white opponent, “How much we are under-representing people who are intolerant and therefore unlikely to vote for Obama is an open question,” said Andrew Kohut, the president of Pew Research Centre to the New York Times.
“I suspect not a great deal, but maybe some. And ‘maybe some’ could be crucial in a tight election.”
The close of polling usually signals frenzy by media networks to beat each other in releasing exit polls, which is to predict the winner.
John Zogby, one of the household names in elections polling in the US said that Exit polls attempt to predict election victories beyond the polling place door based on interviews with people who have just voted.
Exit polls achieved particular infamy in the 2000 U.S. presidential election, when they were misused by the television networks to make not one, but two, incorrect projections of the winner who had been selected by voters in Florida.
An independent report made for CNN, Television’s Performance on Election Night 2000 concluded that CNN and five other networks made erroneous calls in favour of either George Bush or Al Gore for the state of Florida hence determining that election erroneously.
A statement on American government website summarizes these years’ expectations. “With exit polling data and vote projection analyses in hand, the news media once again will be putting their professional credibility on the line during the evening and early morning hours of November 4 and November 5 by declaring victors in U.S. states well before most of the votes have been counted.”
Tuesday night (midnight to midday CAT) will register peak ‘viewership’ of various television networks as American and the world wait with bated breath, for the signal that either Barrack Obama or John McCain will take the white house.
All television networks know that they must beat competition to call states and be the first to put up the latest Electoral College numbers.
CNN’s “Election Night in America” election coverage begins at 6 p.m.—one hour before the first polls close—with Wolf Blitzer leading along with Campbell Brown and Anderson Cooper from the Election Centre headquarters in New York, the network said Thursday.
For BBC, David Dimbleby will present the US ‘Election Night’ live from Washington, with Matt Frei in the studio and reporters in crucial swing states around the country.
Jeremy Vine will be in a virtual reality studio analyzing the figures, and using the latest touch screen graphics to show who is winning the race to the White House.
The day after
The BBC says that Polling officials are expecting some 130 million Americans to vote - a turnout that would prove higher than in any election since 1960. In 2004, at 11: 34 am on the morning after the ‘Election Day’, President Bush crossed the 270 votes threshold and effectively won the presidential race.
We do not know how long it will take a winner to be declared this year, nut barring any troubles by Wednesday evening we should have a winner.
However, we can be sure that before any one makes a victory speech, his rival will make a congratulatory phone call and give a speech conceding defeat to his rival.
The Obama camp is planning an ‘election night’ celebration at Chicago’s Grant Park, the venue for the august democratic convention where Obama hopes to declare his historic victory before a cheering.
McCain’s election night watch party might be missing John McCain according to the Associated Press. He plans to skip the Biltmore Hotel event in Phoenix on the evening of Nov. 4 in favour of delivering post election remarks to a small group of reporters and guests on the hotel’s lawn.