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Just how close is this presidential election? Is this one of the closest elections of its kind (incumbent, etc) in recent history?

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Obama wins.  He won the electoral college 332 to 206, and the popular vote 60,189,703 to 57,459,307.  ~130 electoral votes and almost 3 million votes means the election was not so close.  Also looks like Nate called every single state correctly.  Really badass.  Here are some festive 'Nate Silver Facts':  Top 25 Nate Silver Facts

When Alexander Bell invented the telephone he had 3 missed calls from Nate Silver.
Nate Silver threw a grenade and killed 50 people, then it exploded.
Nate Silver can delete the Recycling Bin.
Nate Silver once got bit by a rattle snake. After three days of pain and agony... the rattle snake died.
Nate Silver doesn't use pickup lines, he simply says, "Now."
Nate Silver can suffocate a pillow with a man.
Nate Silver once had a heart attack; his heart lost.
Nate Silver doesn't call the wrong number. You answer the wrong phone.
Nate Silver can speak French... In Russian.
When a zombie apocalypses starts, Nate Silver doesn't try to survive. The zombies do.
Ghosts sit around campfires and tell Nate Silver stories.
Nate Silver lost his virginity before his dad did.
Nate Silver beat Halo 1, 2, and 3 on Legendary with a broken Guitar Hero controller.
Nate Silver can unscramble an egg.
Some magicans can walk on water, Nate Silver can swim through land.
Nate Silver can set ants on fire with a magnifying glass. At night.
There used to be a street named after Nate Silver, but it was changed because nobody crosses Nate Silver and lives.
Fear of spiders is aracnaphobia, fear of tight spaces is chlaustraphobia, fear of Nate Silver is called Logic
Nate Silver's computer has no "backspace" button; Nate silver doesn't make mistakes.
Nate Silver can build a snowman out of rain.
Nate Silver has already been to Mars; that's why there's no life there anymore.
Nate Silver can hear sign language.
Nate Silver can light a fire by rubbing two ice-cubes together.
When Nate Silver does a pushup, he isn't lifting himself up, he's pushing the Earth down.
Nate Silver beat the sun in a staring contest.
Nate Silver can slam a revolving door.


Another interesting thing is that most mainstream media outlets are painting the election as extremely close going into the final day:

While 538 is forecasting more strongly than ever in favor of Obama:

While MSNBC may be using the popular vote (which is somewhat useless and  deceptive as a means of measuring for someone the direction of a general  election), and 538 is using a probabilistic outcome for the electoral college, the difference in the implied closeness of the race is quite striking.

(old post)

This election is not that close, and certainly not as close as historic elections like 2000. Obama currently has a 73% chance of winning according to 538.

(data from 10/30 @9:15 PM)


Nate silver has a very good track record for forecasting elections.

Vegas seems to agree giving Obama nearly 2:1 odds:
Dave Hogg
The popular vote is going to be unusually close, but the Electoral College outcome probably won't be. That's just a function of the EC map, which gives the Democratic Party two huge chips - California and New York - before the process begins.

(If Romney wins the popular vote and loses in the Electoral College, I would hope that it would lead to the removal of the EC, but I hoped that in 2000, as well.)

For everyone using Nate Silver's numbers to say that it won't be close, keep in mind that he thinks it will be close. His numbers just show that it will be 0-2 points in favor of Obama nationally, and because of the EC, that makes it nearly impossible for Romney to win.

It's a shame that people who want Romney to win have decided that Silver is some kind of villain. I know Nate a little from his baseball days, and he wants to get this right more than anything else. If his numbers showed Romney winning, he'd be projecting Romney as the likely winner. There are other people who use much the same method with incredible accuracy, and who have Obama's chances of winning in the high 90s. Those people predicted Bush to win in 2004 and said it was a toss-up in 2000.

What would be the point of building an intentionally inaccurate system? The day after the election, you are going to look like an idiot, and lose all credibility.
Rather than try an inept answer myself I'll post the answer from George Friedman of Stratfor:

"U.S. Presidential Elections in Perspective is republished with permission of Stratfor."  

Read more: U.S. Presidential Elections in Perspective | Stratfor
U.S. Presidential Elections in Perspective

U.S. Presidential Elections in Perspective

The U.S. presidential election will be held a week from today, and if  the polls are correct, the outcome will be extraordinarily close. Many  say that the country has never been as deeply divided. In discussing the  debates last week, I noted how this year's campaign is far from the most bitter and vitriolic.  It might therefore be useful also to consider that while the electorate  at the moment appears evenly and deeply divided, unlike what many say,  that does not reveal deep divisions in our society -- unless our society  has always been deeply divided.
Since 1820, the last year an uncontested election was held, most  presidential elections have been extremely close. Lyndon B. Johnson  received the largest percentage of votes any president has ever had in  1964, taking 61.5 percent of the vote. Three other presidents broke the  60 percent mark: Warren G. Harding in 1920, Franklin D. Roosevelt in  1936 and Richard Nixon in 1972.
Nine elections saw a candidate win between 55 and 60 percent of the  vote: Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, Theodore  Roosevelt, Herbert Hoover, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower  and Ronald Reagan. Only Eisenhower broke 55 percent twice. Candidates  who received less than 50 percent of the vote won 18 presidential  elections. These included Lincoln in his first election, Woodrow Wilson  in both elections, Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy, Nixon in his first  election and Bill Clinton in both his elections.
From 1824 to 2008, 13 elections ended in someone obtaining more than  55 percent but never more than 61 percent of the vote. Eighteen  elections ended with the president receiving less than 50 percent of the  vote. The remaining 16 elections ended with the winner receiving  between 50-55 percent of the vote, in many cases barely above 50 percent  -- meaning almost half the country voted for someone else. The United  States not only always has had deeply divided elections, but in many  cases, minority presidents. Interestingly, of the four presidents who  won more than 60 percent of the vote, three are not remembered  favorably: Harding, Johnson and Nixon.
Three observations follow. First, for almost 200 years the electoral  process has consistently produced a division in the country never  greater than 60-40 and heavily tending toward a much narrower  margin. Second, when third parties had a significant impact on the  election, winners won five times with 45 percent of the vote or less.  Third, in 26 U.S. presidential elections, the winner received less than  52 percent of the vote.
Even in the most one-sided elections, nearly 40 percent of voters  voted against the winner. The most popular presidents still had 40  percent of votes cast against them. All other elections took place with  more than 40 percent opposition. The consistency here is striking. Even  in the most extreme cases of national crisis and a weak opponent, it was  impossible to rise above just over 60 percent. The built-in opposition  of 40 percent, regardless of circumstances or party, has therefore  persisted for almost two centuries. But except in the case of the 1860  election, the deep division did not lead to a threat to the regime. On  the contrary, the regime has flourished -- again, 1860 excepted -- in  spite of these persistent divisions.
The Politically Indifferent
Why then is the United States so deeply and persistently divided and  why does this division rarely lead to unrest, let alone regime  change? Let us consider this seeming paradox in light of another fact,  namely, that a substantial portion of the electorate doesn't vote at  all. This fact frequently is noted, usually as a sign of a decline in  civic virtue. But let's look at it another way.
First, let's think of it logistically. The United States is one of  the few countries that has not made Election Day a national holiday or  held its presidential elections on a weekend. That means that there is  work and school on Election Day in the United States. In the face of the  tasks of getting the kids off to school, getting to work, picking up  the kids on the way home -- all while fighting traffic -- and then  getting dinner on the table, the urgency of exercising the franchise  pales. It should therefore be no surprise that older people are more  likely to vote.
Low voter turnout could also indicate alienation from the system. But  alienation sufficient to explain low voter turnout should have  generated more unrest over two centuries. When genuine alienation was  present, as in 1860, voter turnout rose and violence followed. Other  than that, unrest hasn't followed presidential elections. To me, that so  many people don't vote does not indicate widespread alienation as much  as indifference: The outcome of the election is simply less important to  many than picking up the kids from piano lessons.
It is equally plausible that low voter turnout indicates voter  satisfaction with both candidates. Some have noted that Barack Obama and  Mitt Romney sound less different than they portray themselves as being.  Some voters might figure there is not much difference between the two  and that they can therefore live with either in office.
Another explanation is that some voters feel indifferent to the  president and politics in general. They don't abstain because they are  alienated from the system but because they understand the system as  being designed such that outcomes don't matter. The Founding Fathers'  constitutional system leaves the president remarkably weak. In light of  this, while politically attentive people might care who is elected, the  politically indifferent might have a much shrewder evaluation of the  nature of the presidency.
The Role of Ideologues
The United States always has had ideologues who have viewed political  parties as vehicles for expressing ideologies and reshaping the  country. While the ideologies have changed since Federalists faced off  against Democratic-Republicans, an ideological divide always has  separated the two main parties. At the same time, the ranks of the true  ideologues -- those who would prefer to lose elections to winning with a  platform that ran counter to their principles -- were relatively  sparse. The majority of any party was never as ideologically committed  as the ideologues. A Whig might have thought of himself as a member of  the Whig Party when he thought of himself in political terms at all, but  most of the time he did not think of himself as political. Politics  were marginal to his identity, and while he might tend to vote Whig, as  one moved to less committed elements of the party, Whigs could easily  switch sides.
The four elections in which presidents received 60 percent or more  were all ideological and occurred at times of crisis: Johnson in 1964  defeated Barry Goldwater, a highly ideological candidate, in the  aftermath of the Kennedy assassination; Roosevelt defeated Alf Landon,  an anti-Roosevelt ideologue, during the depths of the Depression; Nixon  defeated George McGovern, an anti-war ideologue, during the era of the  Vietnam War and the anti-war challenge; and Warren G. Harding won in the  wake of World War I and the latter debacles of the Wilson  administration and its ideology.
Crisis tends to create the most extreme expressions of hostility to a  challenging ideology and creates the broadest coalition possible, 60  percent. Meanwhile, 40 percent remain in opposition to the majority  under any circumstances. To put it somewhat differently -- and now we  get to the most significant point -- about 40 percent of  the voting public cannot be persuaded to shift from their party under  any circumstances, while about 20 percent are either persuadable or  represent an unrooted voter who shifts from election to election.
The 60-40 break occurs rarely, when the ideological bent rallies the  core and the national crisis allows one party to attract a larger block  than normal to halt the less popular ideology. But this is the extreme  of American politics; the normal election is much narrower.
This is because the ideologues in the parties fail to draw in the  center. The weaker party members remain in their party's orbit and the  20 percent undecided distribute themselves fairly randomly, depending on  their degree of indifference, so that the final vote depends on no more  than a few percentage points shifting one way or another.
This is not a sign of massive divisions. Whereas the 60-40 elections  are the moments of deepest political tension in which one side draws the  center to it almost unanimously, in other elections -- particularly the  large number in which the winner receives less that 55 percent of the  vote (meaning that a 5 percent shift would change the outcome) -- the  election is an election of relative indifference.
This is certainly not how ideologues view the election. For them, it  is a struggle between light and darkness. Nor is it how the media and  commentators view it. For them, it is always an election full of  meaning. In reality, most elections are little remembered and decide  little. Seemingly apocalyptic struggles that produce narrow margins do  not represent a deeply divided country. The electoral division doesn't  translate into passion for most of the voters, but into relative  indifference with the recognition that here is another election "full of  sound and fury, signifying nothing."
The fact that nearly 50 percent of the public chooses not to vote is  our tipoff about the public's view of elections. That segment of the  public simply doesn't care much about the outcome. The politically  committed regard these people as unenlightened fools. In reality,  perhaps these people know that the election really isn't nearly as  important as the ideologues, media and professional politicians think it  is, so they stay home.
Others vote, of course, but hardly with the intensity of the  ideologues. Things the ideologues find outrageously trivial can sway the  less committed. Such voters think of politics in a very different way  than the ideologues do. They think of it as something that doesn't define their lives or the republic. They think of politicians as fairly indistinguishable, and they are aware that the ideological passions will melt in the face of presidential responsibility. And while they care a bit more than those who stay home, they usually do not care all that much more.
The United States has elected presidents with the narrowest of  margins and presidents who had far less than a majority. In many  countries, this might reveal deep divisions leading to social unrest.  It doesn't mean this in the United States because while the division  can be measured, it isn't very deep and by most, it will hardly be  remembered.
The polls say the election will be very close. If that is true,  someone will be selected late at night after Ohio makes up its mind. The  passionate on the losing side will charge fraud and election stealing.  The rest of the country will get up the next day and go back to work  just as they did four years ago, and the republic will go on.

Read more: U.S. Presidential Elections in Perspective | Stratfor