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Last-minute factors could decide close race

Michael Busk | Tuesday, November 2, 2004

Despite the bold predictions of some political prognosticators, today’s presidential election is simply too close to call, according to some of Notre Dame’s specialists in American politics. “I think no one knows what’s going on, and all the people trying to predict what’s going to happen are grasping at straws … There are too many close states in the election. It’s just too close to call,” said political science professor Benjamin Radcliff. Bethany Albertson, a doctoral candidate and visiting scholar from the University of Chicago, said at least one of the normal rules does not apply this year.”In general, the best predictor for re-election is the state of the economy … But foreign policy changes the decision calculus for so many voters this year,” she said. “I don’t think the economy is the right predictor for this year’s election.”With such a close and unpredictable race, last-minute factors may come into play, Notre Dame experts said.In past presidential elections, some registered voters on the West Coast have stayed away from the polls if they saw one candidate winning heavily on the East Coast, where polls close earlier due to time zone differences, according to Radcliff. He said, however, that measures had been taken to prevent that from happening in this election.”Networks have since stopped reporting early exit poll data … That information isn’t made public,” he said. “The big question is going to be who’s going to vote, and the last-minute decisions that come into play are much more prominent.” The recent brainstorm that has been drenching the Midwest might well affect such last minute decisions, Radcliff said, especially in key swing states like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan. “It could make a pretty big difference in a close race,” he said. “In general, you’d expect anything that depresses turnout overall hurts Democrats, and that’s in part because there are more marginal Democratic voters who tend not to vote.” Although many journalists and politicians have highlighted high recent voter registration, political science professor David Campbell wondered if the high registration would really translate into high turnout. “It may be that all the efforts in voter registration that have generated so much attention will be like all of the stories about Y2K, which turned out to be a dud,” he said. “This is not to say that turnout will not go up from 2000, only that the news coverage does not give us a good sense of what will happen.”Albertson also said that despite the best efforts of both parties, neither Republicans nor Democrats can count on the support of undecided voters. “Historically, undecideds break for the challenger … but this year, we just don’t know,” she said. Here at Notre Dame, area voters will cast their ballots at the Joyce Center, with elected St. Joseph County officials overseeing the process. As at every other polling place in the county, voters will fill out a sheet of paper specifying which candidates they wish to vote for and then put it in an Optiscan, which scans the paper, tallies the vote and secures a hard copy in case of recount. The polls at the Joyce Center, accessible through the Gate 8 entrance, opened at 6 a.m. and close at 6 p.m.