Election Day is typically rather frustrating for political junkies because "today's the day!" quickly gives way to "ugh, the polls don't close for hours." In the interim, we latch onto reports of voting disruptions and anecdotal turnout reports, which are promptly spun into broader lessons about what to expect later that night. Most of it amounts to frivolous time-fillers. To help pass the time, let's see if we can examine a few tea leaves as voters head to the polls:
(1) As Kevin noted last night, the tiny town of Dixville Notch, NH cast the first votes on November 6th, as residents split the tallies evenly among the two candidates. The tally was five votes for the challenger, five votes for the incumbent. Barack Obama won the village by nine votes four years ago.
(2) Suffolk University pollsters micro-targeted two swing cities in New Hampshire, and one swing county in Ohio. All three jurisdictions are considered significant bellwethers, typically predicting how the state will eventually vote. The results?
Two New Hampshire towns, Epping and Milford, have mirrored the statewide New Hampshire vote in four out of four presidential elections going back to 1996. In Milford, Romney led Obama 51 percent to 46 percent and in Epping, a closer bellwether, Romney led Obama 49 percent to 47 percent.
In Lake County [Ohio], Romney led Obama 47 percent to 43 percent with Independent Richard Duncan receiving 4 percent and Stewart Alexander (Socialist Party) receiving 1 percent, while 2 percent were undecided and 4 percent refused a response. Romney led 49 percent to 44 percent among those planning to cast ballots and led 43 percent to 41 percent among those who had already voted.
Each mini-poll featured 300 respondents -- fairly thorough samples, considering that many polls of entire states only include 500-700 voters. For a chart of how closely these bellwethers have mirrored the statewide results dating back to 1996, click through.
(3) Jim Geraghty passes along some unscientific data from one of the longest-standing bellwether counties in America:
Vigo County, Indiana, is a county that has voted for the winner in every election since 1956 and is being mentioned as a bellwether again this cycle — except the Obama campaign hasn’t really contested Indiana this cycle, and Romney’s expected to win the state by a healthy margin — so perhaps the dynamics in Vigo won’t be quite as representative of the country as a whole this cycle. One local station did call 100 residents, a quite small sample: “The result: 42 residents planning to vote for President Barack Obama and 48 in favor of Governor Mitt Romney; which matches other polls across the country.”
Given that all three bullet points above are relatively meaningless (I suppose item two is the most useful of the bunch), I'll leave you with links to a thorough, five-part analysis of tonight's possible outcome contingencies. They range from a fairly smooth Obama re-election to a surprisingly resounding Romney victory. I personally find options two and three most likely, though many conservatives are projecting scenario four. This Gallup tracker option was based on the margin before the national survey was suspended due to the hurricane. In its final poll, Gallup registered a Romney margin of a single point, down from five. Appearing on the Hugh Hewitt Show last night, Real Clear Politics data maven Sean Trende noted that virtually all of Obama's gain in the truncated Gallup number came from the Northeast, where the phone and power situation remains in flux. The data held relatively steady in all other regions of the country.
UPDATE - For what it's worth, Obama's Bruce Springsteen rally in Madison yesterday drew roughly 62,000 fewer attendees than John Kerry's 2004 party with The Boss in the same city. Kerry very narrowly defeated President Bush in Wisconsin that cycle.