Even though the end of this long, strange trip is nearly here, questions remain about the size and shape of the electorate, the true swing-state battlefield on which President Obama and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney will fight over these next two days and the factors that will ultimately push the sliver of undecided voters to make up their minds.
We lay out five of the most pressing questions.
1. Enthusiasm or organization?
Most polls suggest that Republican voters are more amped to vote in this election than are Democrats. In tracking poll data from the Washington Post-ABC News, 80 percent of Republican adults are registered to vote and are either absolutely certain to vote or have already voted as compared with 70 percent of Democratic adults. But, even the most loyal Romney allies acknowledge privately that the ground operation Obama has built over the past six years - and honed over the past four - is superior to what the Republican presidential nominee has been able to put together since emerging as his party's pick in April. What tomorrow will prove is what matters more: an enthusiasm advantage or an organizational edge? Conventional wisdom dictates that both factors can help a candidate who has them on his side by a point or two. But if enthusiasm is working for Romney and organization is working for Obama, do they offset each other and turn this question into a push? And, if organization and enthusiasm cancel each other out, then who wins?
2. Is the playing field expanding? Or not?
In the last 10 days of the campaign Romney and his allies have made investments of time and money in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Minnesota amid polling that suggests all three are single-digit contests. (Pennsylvania appears to be the closest, while Michigan still looks like a long-ish shot.) Romney staged a rally in Pennsylvania on Sunday - his first of the general election campaign - and his campaign is spending nearly $2 million on TV ads in the Keystone State in the final week. But, Pennsylvania has proved to be a Republican trap in recent presidential elections as they've been able to earn 48 percent, but never 50 percent plus one. (The last Republican to win Pennsylvania was George H.W. Bush in 1988; in the five elections since then, Republican nominees have averaged 43 percent of the vote.) If Romney can find a way to get over the top in Pennsylvania, it takes a narrow path for him to get to 270 electoral votes - he all but has to win Florida, North Carolina, Virginia and Ohio - and broadens it considerably.
3.Where do independents end up?
The story of the last several elections has been the wide swings among independent voters. In 2004, George W. Bush (Republicans) lost independents by one point to Sen. John Kerry (Democrats-Massachusetts). Four years later, Obama carried unaffiliated voters by 8 points over Sen. John McCain (Republicans-Arizona). (The independent swings have been even more pronounced in midterm elections; in 2006, independents voted for Democratic candidates by 18 points, but four years later went for Republican candidates by 19 points.) In tracking polls conducted by the Washington Post-ABC News over the past 10 days, Obama has regularly trailed Romney among independents by double digits. But in Saturday's tracking, the incumbent had pulled into a tie with these voters. If independents do move to Obama in the race's final hours, expect much focus to fall on Hurricane Sandy and Obama's handling of the disaster; independents love the idea of politicians working together to solve problems and Obama's trip to New Jersey to tour the devastation with Republican Gov. Chris Christie could well have moved some unaffiliated voters to his side.
4.Will young people support Obama again?
And in what numbers?
One of the biggest myths of the 2008 election was that Obama drastically increased the number of 18- to 29-year-olds who voted. In 2004, 18- to 29-year-olds comprised 17 percent of the total electorate, while they made up 18 percent of it in 2008. The difference? Kerry won that youthful age group by nine points nationally; Obama won it by 34 points. Given that, the key for Obama on tomorrow is not to grow the share of the electorate that 18- to 29-year-olds comprise, but rather to ensure that doesn't dip significantly and ensure that the young people who do vote do so in something close to the percentages they did four years ago. Polling suggests enthusiasm (as measured by likelihood to vote) among 18- to 29-year-olds has drifted off from four years ago, but the Obama campaign has placed a giant bet on being able to motivate and turn out these younger voters.
5.How big is the gender gap?
Democrats have spent lots of time in this election driving a narrative that Republicans are conducting a "war on women" due to some of the policies espoused by GOP candidates on contraception and abortion - not to mention decidedly impolitic comments made by Senate candidates in Missouri and Indiana on rape. But, national polling suggests that Romney is trailing Obama by mid to high single-digits among women - a margin that would rank among the smallest gender gaps in modern presidential history if it holds. In 2008, McCain lost women by 13 points, George W. Bush lost them by 11 points in 2000 and Bob Dole lost the female vote by a whopping 16 points in 1996. Democrats insist - and some polling data confirm - that Romney is having more trouble among women voters in targeted swing states where the effect of the Obama ad onslaught on Romney's record has been focused.