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Associated Press/Photo by Charlie Neibergall

Presidential tea leaves

Politics | News organizations begin forecasting election outcomes in a close race that’s impossible to predict

If you’re considering how you’ll follow election results next Tuesday night, the Associated Press could save you time: The news organization has already all but called the race for President Barack Obama.

Consider the first paragraph of an Oct. 29 AP story: “President Barack Obama is poised to eke out a victory in the race for the 270 electoral votes needed to win re-election, having beaten back Republican Mitt Romney’s attempts to convert momentum from the debates into support in all-important Ohio. …”

The fifth paragraph did offer this caveat: “The AP analysis isn’t intended to predict the outcome.” But the rest of the story explained why it’s nearly impossible for Gov. Romney to win, despite close polls.

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The Associated Press isn’t alone. News organizations all over the country are indulging in the election season tradition of shifting from covering the race to predicting the outcome.

In 2008, the task was easier: President Obama had a relatively clear lead over Sen. John McCain heading into the final stretch of the campaign. This time, it’s less clear: National surveys show the race between Obama and Romney locked in a dead heat. And a handful of polls in the critical swing state of Ohio are all over the map: Some show Obama ahead by five points. Others show Romney with a slight lead.

Still, news agencies range from conservative to confident in predicting the outcome. A story in The Hill on Wednesday announced, “Obama still likely to emerge as winner.” The Boston Herald proclaimed, “Mitt set to win, maybe by a mile.”

Political junkies have always enjoyed the thrill of constructing electoral maps and paths to victory or defeat for both candidates. If-this-then-that predictions are always abundant.

That dynamic will likely grow only more intense over the next six days. For Christians watching the events unfold, mapping political strategy is intriguing, and encouraging voter turnout is critical, but a higher principle prevails that might allow for less hand-wringing in the week ahead: “For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” (Romans 13:1).

In the meantime, it might be helpful to shelve predictions and follow the lead of the The New York Times, a newspaper conservatives don’t always trust, but that seems on target with Wednesday morning’s headline: “Obama and Romney in exceedingly close race.”

Jamie Dean
Jamie Dean

Jamie lives and works in North Carolina, where she covers the national political beat and other topics as news editor for WORLD.

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