TURNOUT, TURNOUT, TURNOUT

November 6, 2012 - 7:33 PM
Colorado Votes

Colorado State students form a line down the hall to vote on campus during Election Day, Tuesday Nov. 6, 2012, in Fort Collins, Colo. (AP Photo/The Coloradoan, V. Richard Haro) NO SALES

Michael Oreskes, a veteran political journalist since the 1970s and now The Associated Press' senior managing editor for U.S. news, will be checking in briefly with Election Watch throughout the day. Here is his latest report:

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Sometimes the biggest clichés are also the greatest truths. Best example this Election Day: "It's all about turnout now."

You will hear it again and again. But don't discount it. Because it is totally true. Here is a simple explanation of why:

The polling that showed the election close, or even tied, going into Election Day is based on work by poll takers to identify who is "likely" to vote. After years of experience these poll takers are pretty good at this, yet it remains as much an art as a science

It is an art made necessary by a basic truth about politics in the United States. Americans do not vote as reliably or in the same proportions as voters in most other developed countries. If two-thirds of the Americans who are registered to vote actually did, that would be high turnout. So if you hear tonight about long lines to vote or estimates of high turnout, remember that still means millions of Americans who could vote are not.

Which brings us back to: "It's all about turnout."

All those polls have pretty consistently shown a gap between all registered voters and the ones the poll takers believe are likely to vote.

If everyone who registered to vote actually voted, Obama would likely win by several points, the polling has suggested. Young voters and minority voters are generally judged less likely to vote.

So the more poll takers refine their forecasts for who will likely vote, the closer the race gets.

That's why you will hear so much about Obama's "vaunted ground game" and accusations that Republicans want to "suppress" turnout.

The election really does hang on turnout — specifically who turns out.

— Michael Oreskes

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EDITOR'S NOTE — Election Watch shows you Election Day 2012 through the eyes of Associated Press journalists. Follow them on Twitter where available with the handles listed after each item.