With voters set to begin voting in some places in the country in less than 24 hours, many of the biggest questions about the size, shape and attitude of the 2012 electorate will soon be answered.
Of course, if you're anything like the Fix, you can't wait that long. So we spent some time poring over the last NBC-Wall Street Journal national poll of the election and jotted down five -- yes, it's always five -- takeaways that told us something about where this election is headed. They're below. (And you can check out the full NBC-WSJ poll questionnaire here.)
1. Sandy helped Obama: Roughly two-thirds (67 percent) of likely voters in the NBC-WSJ survey said they approved of how Obama handled himself in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, while just 16 percent disapproved. Those approval numbers are slightly lower but broadly consistent with the large majorities of voters who expressed approval of Obama's handling of the storm in Washington Post-ABC News tracking polls. And, given that a majority of likely voters said that Obama's actions in Sandy's aftermath would be either a major (23 percent) or minor (28 percent) factor in their vote, it's hard not to conclude that the storm wound up being a net political positive for the president.
2. Gender gap re-emerges: A majority of voters (54 percent) in the NBC-WSJ poll said that Obama was better equipped to deal with issues of import to women while just 30 percent named former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. That finding comes on the heels of a new Pew Research Center poll that showed Obama leading Romney 53 percent to 40 percent among women. If Obama winds up winning the female vote by double digits on Tuesday, it would represent a marked change from even a month ago when the same Pew poll found the two presidential candidates tied at 47 percent among women voters.
3. There are (still) some undecided voters. Even at this late hour, the NBC-WSJ poll reveals some level of fungibility -- awesome word! -- in the electorate. Among those voters who said they planned to vote for Romney, 4 percent said they were just "leaning" in that direction and that they might change their mind. Ditto Obama supporters, 4 percent of whom said they, too, might switch allegiance before Election Day. Those numbers, while not large, do suggest that some volatility remains in the electorate -- and that a final burst of momentum could well matter in what is expected to be a very close race nationally.
4. Romney won the economic fight...: Two numbers from two different questions in the poll suggest that the Republican presidential nominee got the better of Obama when it comes to the economy. A majority of voters (51 percent) disapprove of Obama's handling of the economy, and Romney has a five-point lead on the question of which candidate is better equipped to create jobs and improve the economy.
5. ...But may have lost the bigger message war: In spite of Romney's edge on the economy, Obama has the advantage on virtually every other "attribute" question. Obama leads Romney by four points on who is better prepared to lead the country, while the incumbent enjoys a six-point edge on who would be the better commander-in-chief and an 11-point bulge on who is looking out more for the middle class. What those numbers suggest is that, if the race winds up as a straight referendum on Obama's handling of the economy, Romney will win. But if the vote on Tuesday is a broader choice about the person who is most ready to do what needs to be done over the next four years, Obama will be reelected.
Republican heavies blame Sandy: Before Tuesday's election is even held, Republicans are offering a preemptive excuse for losing: Sandy did it.
On Friday, Karl Rove told the Post's Michael Leahy that the natural disaster was a political blessing for Obama.
“If you hadn’t had the storm, there would have been more of a chance for the Romney campaign to talk about the deficit, the debt, the economy. There was a stutter in the campaign. When you have attention drawn away to somewhere else, to something else, it is not to his [Romney's] advantage,” Rove said.
"It’s the October surprise,” he added. “For once, the October surprise was a real surprise.”
Former Mississippi governor and national party chairman Haley Barbour agreed.
“Any day that the news media is not talking about jobs and the economy, taxes and spending, deficit and debt, Obamacare and energy is a good day for Barack Obama,” Barbour said on CNN’s “State Of The Union.”
“You had a blackout on all of those issues,” Barbour said. “That is what really was good for Barack Obama. Now, whether it will be good enough remains to be seen.”
The fact that two highly regarded GOP graybeards are offering this as a reason for a potential loss suggests they've seen some negative movement because of it. And remember: you don't make excuses when you're winning.
The New York Times breaks down the 512 most likely scenarios on Tuesday.
The final Columbus Dispatch poll of Ohio shows Obama at 50 percent and Romney at 48 percent.
A new USA Today/Gallup swing state poll shows both Obama and Romney at 48 percent in the 12 most competitive states.
Paul Ryan says Obama's policies threaten Judeo-Christian values.
The "Redskins Rule," which has predicted 17 of the last 18 presidential elections, says Romney will win.
New Jersey voters who were displaced by Sandy will be allowed to vote by e-mail.
Heavily Democratic Miami-Dade County had to shut down its in-person early voting operation because it was overwhelmed by the number of people showing up. It soon re-opened, but Democrats are suing for extended hours.
The Wisconsin State Journal, which backed Obama in 2008, flips for Romney.
Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.) has opened a slight 49-45 lead on Sen. Jon Tester (D) in a new Mason-Dixon poll.
Democratic-leaning automated pollster Public Policy Polling shows Rep. Todd Akin (R) within four points of Sen. Claire McCaskill (D).
Connecticut GOP Senate candidate has printed door-hangers that say "President Barack Obama and Linda McMahon will fight for us." Democrats have cried foul over McMahon's effort to woo crossover voters.
A new Siena College poll shows Rep. Kathy Hochul (D-N.Y.) at 47 percent and Republican Chris Collins at 48 percent.
"Video revives debate over Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith" -- Peter Wallsten and Jason Horowitz, Washington Post
"Voice Is Strained, but Support on the Trail Unstinting" -- Mark Leibovich, New York Times
"Romney’s Reason to Play for Pennsylvania" -- Nate Silver, New York Times
"Obama and Romney begin final push with only hours until Election Day" -- Felicia Sonmez, David Nakamura and David A. Fahrenthold, Washington Post
"Four years after Obama’s election, a tale of two journeys that began full of hope" -- Eli Saslow and Stephanie McCrummen, Washington Post
"As Election Day looms, it’s survival vs. citizenship for storm-hit communities" -- Dan Zak and Colum Lynch, Washington Post