Election Day is finally here! Campaign volunteers are going door to door across the country to get out the vote, lines are spilling into the street at polling places nationwide, and little children are running to find ballots wrapped in paper below a glistening Voting Tree. It's all very exciting, except for one thing: We pretty much already know who is going to win. Not for certain, mind you. But the polls are not ambiguous. The Real Clear Politics poll average has Obama winning 303 electoral votes. Nate Silver has Obama accruing 314.6 electoral votes and gives him a 91.6 percent chance of winning the election. Not only that, but, thanks to Hurricane Sandy/Chris Christie or something else (Pitbull?), Obama has the momentum. Nevertheless, Romney's White House hopes aren't completely toast. Here are five ways he can pull off an upset.
1. The pollsters are making the wrong assumptions: Pollsters don't know for sure who is actually going to vote, and they can't call every single person in America, so they make assumptions about who will turn out on Election Day in terms of race, gender, and age, and adjust their samples until they reflect those assumptions. But these assumptions can be wrong! Maybe certain Obama-leaning demographic groups just don't vote as much as the pollsters expected them to, or, similarly, certain pro-Romney groups (namely, white people) show up in greater numbers than anticipated. The polls are, ultimately, fallible. Perhaps the real predictor of tonight's results will be the number of yard signs that Peggy Noonan has seen and/or heard about.
2. Mitt Romney wins Ohio or Wisconsin somehow: The electoral map is a lot tougher for Romney than it is for Obama. Romney starts with a smaller base of solid red states, so he has almost no margin for error in the remaining swing states. If you give Obama Ohio (where he leads by about three points) and Wisconsin (where he leads by about four points) and Nevada (where he leads by about four points), then Romney can run the table on Florida, Virginia, Iowa, New Hampshire, and Colorado, and still fall short of 270 electoral votes. But if Romney somehow plucks Ohio or Wisconsin from the Obama column, then a win becomes a bit more realistic. (Nevada is an unlikely upset — as Silver writes today, "perhaps 70 percent of the state has already voted, and Democrats have locked in roughly a 7-point advantage over Republicans from the vote so far." Plus, it only has six electoral votes, compared to eighteen and ten, respectively, for Ohio and Wisconsin.)
If Romney wins Ohio, he can stand to lose Virginia, or Colorado and Iowa/New Hampshire, and still reach 270. If he wins Wisconsin, he can lose either Iowa or New Hampshire and still beat Obama. In either case, though, he still needs to win the majority of the swing states.
3. Mitt Romney wins Pennsylvania somehow: Pennsylvania is more of a Hail Mary for Romney than Ohio or Wisconsin, but it would deliver a richer bounty of 20 electoral votes. Republicans always try to steal the Keystone State away from the Democrats, and they never succeed, at least not since 1988. So can Romney win there? Probably not! Some polls show him within three points, others more like six or eight. But it's not impossible in the way that, say, Romney winning Vermont is impossible, or the Mets winning a World Series is impossible.
4. Obama voters get complacent: Until we can vote by app, there are going to be millions and millions of people who simply aren't motivated enough to put in the time and effort it takes to vote. And if these people think their vote isn't needed anyway, then, well, all the more reason to not stand in line for, potentially, hours. Considering the polls and the conventional wisdom, this kind of voter complacency is much more of a danger for Obama than it is for Romney.
5. Obama voters get distracted by Halo 4: The latest installment of the hit Xbox franchise is being released today. You know how playing video games can be — "Just one more level, and then I'll go vote." Fourteen hours later, you're still playing and you never voted.