Saturday 1 November 2008

The Great Don't Know Factor

That, folks, was the splash headline on the front page of the Daily Mail on May 1st 1997.

(My fellow anoraks can find it on page 179 of the 1997 Nuffield election study).

The suggestion was that the undecideds in the opinion polls could yet spring an election day surprise on Tony Blair. The McCain campaign has put out a memo pinning its hopes on something similar.

The US election is different from that in Britain in 1997. There is a similarity in that one side has had and executed a campaign strategy, while their opponents have often seemed to descend into acrimony and chaos in search of an argument.

But this is a closer election than that one, and a a two horse race with no incumbent. (Undecideds tend to break against the incumbent - as they have had plenty of time to be convinced by them: one can debate whether McCain, as the Republican candidate and a long serving national Senator has more incumbent-like features).

In truth, the stomach churning uncertainty of the final week is part of the wonder of democracy - how power is transferred peacefully through citizens casting their votes. Even so, perhaps some people knew in '97 even if Mr Paul Dacre did not.

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