Nik Nanos is The Globe and Mail's pollster and chairman of Nanos Research.
Although most U.S. presidential elections are billed as epic battles, Tuesday is likely to truly meet expectations. The campaign has been filled with personal attacks ranging from Hillary Clinton's use of a private e-mail server for government secrets through to Donald Trump's inappropriate locker room talk denigrating women. There's been big talk and big promises because of the very big stakes.
Two weeks ago, a Clinton victory looked like a lock. Ms. Clinton was coming off of a string of respectable debate performances in contrast to Mr. Trump who was reeling from his most recent denigrating musings on women. For progressives, there was a short-lived sigh of relief.
And then the FBI rekindled, then tried to put out, the Clinton e-mail controversy – both validating Mr. Trump's relentless attacks and giving Ms. Clinton an out.
There are a number of key factors to consider as one tries to sort through what may or may not happen in the close of the campaign.
First, one should not underestimate the impact that law enforcement announcements may have on the electorate. In the January, 2006, Canadian federal election, a month of battering by the Conservatives through an ad campaign on the sponsorship scandal did not move the numbers. But then the RCMP announced between Christmas and New Year's that it was investigating claims that major Bay Street players were tipped in advance of the Liberal government's announcement that it would not tax income trusts. That caught the attention of voters, validated the Conservative attack lines and changed the direction of the campaign in favour of Stephen Harper.
This close to the U.S. election day, there is not enough runway to reverse the impact of the FBI announcement.
Second, the candidate who is the focus of the campaign usually is the one in trouble. In Canada, the last campaign was about Mr. Harper – he lost. The previous campaign was about Michael Ignatieff – he lost. The U.S. campaign has witnessed similar ebbs and flows – when the focus was on Ms. Clinton, her numbers suffered; when the focus shifted to Mr. Trump, his numbers dropped. Right now, the focus is on Ms. Clinton.
Third, a party divided usually loses on election day. The one factor the Democrats have in their favour is that they are comparatively more united than the Republicans. However, the latest FBI foray may start coalescing the Republicans. The question remains: do the Republicans hate Clinton enough for Republicans to overlook the imperfections of Trump.
These three factors represent the unknown. Although the popular support is certainly now narrowing compared to two weeks ago, the distribution of support still favours Clinton in the Electoral College.
Perhaps the one safe prediction one can make is that there will be no real winner on election night. Both candidates have wrought considerable damage on themselves and their opponent and America will sadly be even more divided than it has been in recent memory.
This election reminds one of Shakespeare's famous quote: "a pox on both your houses." That might be the one message American voters have for those that aspire to be President in 2016.