Sunday, November 02, 2008

Tuesday's great horse race, and the world's fate

Tuesday is the day of that great horse race, traditionally the day Australia stands still and celebrates. Ostensibly the world will also stand still on that day, but the US election happens on Wednesday our time, and so doesn't clash with the Melbourne Cup.

I'll be deferring celebrations until Wednesday, and watching that race; it'll be thoroughly enjoyable.

Twenty-seven years ago, US history professor Allan Lichtman (using statistical methods from Vladimir Keilis-Borok) developed a predictive model, 13 Keys to the White House, which has successfully forecast every outcome since then. Those factors, largely relating to incumbency, economy and war, point to victory for Obama. On the other hand, this campaign is not in the realm of the ordinary. In fact, many have characterised it as the pivotal election of our time.

I don't know that those 13 indicators are necessary. Possibly all the factors needed here are charisma, coupled with no significant negatives - and Obama's one 'negative' is proving simply not enough. But more, he has integrity, which comes through in his responses to criticisms, and his responses to some of the negative criticisms on his opponent by his own side. Personally, I'm barracking on the basis of policies as much as anything else - but that doesn't seem to be an influential factor in the US public picking a president. Given the notable lack of political engagement, subtle factors like policy don't filter through to the average voter's consciousness. [that's a bit unfair for the millions that are informed, but more a reflection on how the ultimate decision is really played out only at the margins.]

There are pivotal differences: on climate change, on equity, and on the candidates' different levels of grassroots community engagement, both well before the election, and during the campaign.

All factors point to a landslide.

Skin colour is clearly a factor, although as was pointed out on ABC's Insiders today, the US media has been remarkably restrained in dealing with this issue. But it's plausible that the outcome will be much tighter than the polls predict: what people say is not the same as what they do, and there's surely a lot of people who will nominate Obama in the polls, but will find it harder to actually vote for a black man. On the other hand, the grassroots efforts of Obama's people will see a much larger turnout than usual, predicted to match that of 1960 - where Kennedy, too, presented an option of hope and charisma.

Yet there remains the usually unsaid: Obama is and will be a target for domestic extremists. So far, this has been restricted to those without a clue or a plan. But as events move forward, those with more determination will be a constant threat - throughout Obama's presidency. That remains a pall on what will bring new hope globally - even if he is able to deliver only a part of what he promises.

Good luck.

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