This election's X-factor may be a gift to Romney from the mainstream media. It is the suppression of public expression of support for him. However, while pre-election polls may not have been fully recording it, Election Day may finally capture Romney's true support level for the first time -- to Obama's ultimate detriment.
If this theory of media-suppressed Romney support sounds unlikely, think again. The enormous fluidity of Independents' support has been the hallmark of the last two national elections.
In 2008, Obama carried Independents 51% to 43%, en route to a 6.3% popular vote victory margin over McCain. In 2010, Independents swung heavily rightward, carrying Republicans to a stunning victory.
Current polling shows Independents again favoring Republicans. According to a 10/31 CBS News/NYT, a 10/30 NPR, and a 10/30 Pew Research Center poll, Romney has an average 11% lead among Independents. This is the reason this race is so close.
Despite this clear lead among Independents, it is still quite possible their support of Romney is undercounted.
For one thing, evidence of an 11% Independent advantage for Romney is still well below 2010's Republican margin. For another, there is a logical reason why this is happening.
The media's fawning coverage of Obama from 2008 until today has always signaled their "correct choice" when it comes to candidates. It was not Hillary or McCain in 2008, and it assuredly is not Romney today.
People know the conclusions that the media want them to reach. They also know the answers they are supposed to give. For both reasons, they may still be giving that answer to pollsters now, suppressing Romney's support.
Not until people had some seemingly valid way to "cover" their inclination did they feel comfortable being explicit in it. The debates certainly gave some such cover. However, the anonymity of the Election Day voting booth could give decidedly more.
Such voters may also not be being candid with friends -- friends, who like them, supported Obama four years ago. Peer pressure is real, especially in circles where Obama is still publicly lionized.
Such voters may also not be being candid with themselves. They may have had growing doubts they could avoid prior to November 6 -- doubts made doubly difficult because of their support for Obama in 2008. Now they will face them in the privacy of the polling place.
We know some of this is taking place because the election is so close -- something 2008 never was. And we know that media coverage matters -- why else would total campaign spending on this presidential race have almost reached $1 billion in just this year alone? It is entirely plausible that the visible movement we have seen toward Romney is still not its full extent.
One thing we do know: Any positive surprise on Election Day is going to be for Romney, not for Obama.
Four years ago, Obama got new voters to the polls when he stood broadly for "Change." After four years, "Change" has become status quo, for all but diehard Obama supporters. Once he was a blank slate upon which voters could write what they wanted. Four years in office has filled that slate.
Certainly, Obama's voter turnout operation can be impressive and cannot be underestimated. But while it can perhaps squeeze the same relative amount of juice from a smaller orange, it can't make the orange bigger.
Ironically, the media that helped make Obama, may well be what unmakes him on November 6. It may have been masking the true level of Romney's support all along. If so, it may have inadvertently influenced how Obama and his campaign addressed this election.
Had they known this race was already close, would Obama's ill-fated first debate performance have been prepared for differently -- as it was after-the-fact when it became clear that Obama had a fight on his hands? We will never know. But on Election Day we all may get a surprise -- most especially the media that did the most to create it.