Election Day

The outcome of today’s US election cannot accurately be called a “toss-up”. The odds in favour of President Obama’s re-election are far better than 50-50. For Republican challenger Mitt Romney to assemble the required 270 electoral votes, there would have to have been a highly improbable “black swan” event between this writing, on Sunday, and today. Either that, or opinion polls in the key swing states where the election will be decided are statistically skewed.

Black swans do, of course, occur, as when Wall Street’s risk models were confounded in the sub-prime mortgage debacle.  As for polling error, it is true that pollsters are finding it increasingly hard to be sure if their samples are truly representative. But as Nate Silver, the New York Times’ resident political statistician, wrote at the weekend, “we’ve about reached the point where if Mr Romney wins, it can only be because the polls have been biased against him.”

To the extent that unforeseen events have played a part, tropical storm Sandy was surely a dea  ex machina in favour of Obama even though the states she hit hardest, New York and New Jersey, were already firmly in his camp. The Romney campaign was drowned out nationwide for several days. Natural disasters give presidents an opportunity to show they care and are in command. Obama seized on Sandy, reminding everyone by his actions how dismally his Republican predecessor behaved when Katrina whacked New Orleans in 2005.

It didn’t hurt that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a Romney surrogate hitherto seen as a likely contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, extolled Obama’s “proactive” performance. “I appreciate that type of leadership,” he said.  Repeatedly. Sandy was a reminder that in real, as opposed to ideological, life, Americans have reason to be grateful for a federal government that provides early warning of storms and looks after their victims.

President Bush showed his contempt for the Federal Emergency Management Agency by putting a completely unqualified crony in charge. Romney’s running mate, Paul Ryan, voted to slash funding for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’ s (NOAA) hurricane tracker programme. Another Republican, Senator Rick Santorum, proposed  having the National Weather Service give its data exclusively to private companies to sell to the public. One of those companies, surprise, surprise, was located in Santorum’s state, Pennsylvania.

Assuming no black swans, the political landscape America wakes up to tomorrow morning will not be greatly changed.

Record sums having been redistributed — around $1 billion by and on behalf of each candidate and hundreds of millions more on congressional races — to media companies, ad agencies and campaign consultants, we will be back where we started. The Republicans will control the House of Representatives while the Democrats retain a narrow blocking majority in the Senate.

Bankers have spent lavishly to rid themselves of Obama. Academics, techies and government employees have dug deep to keep him. As of last Thursday’s data release from the Federal Elections Commission, the Romney campaign’s top five publicly disclosed sets of contributors were associated with Goldman Sachs ($994,139), Bank of America ($921,839), Morgan Stanley ($829,255), JP Morgan Chase and Co ($792,147) and Credit Suisse Group ($618,941).  By contrast, Obama’s leading donors were individuals or groups with ties to the University of California ($1,092,906), Microsoft ($761,343), Google ($737,055), the US government ($627,628) and Harvard University ($602,992).

We know a lot about who gave what. But not all. According to the Sunlight Foundation, an open government lobby, “dark money” groups that do not have to disclose their funding sources spent at least $213 million through November 1 to influence the election.  $172 million or 81% of it was in support of Republicans.

This looks to be an unhappy day for companies regulated by the Securities and Exchange Commission which between them ponied up $19.6 million for Romney and less than a third of that for Obama. Hedge funds and private equity firms will also be disappointed. They bet $5.7 million on the Republican and only $1.3 million on the incumbent.

The legal profession should be a little more cheerful. Lawyers have found Democrats reliable allies in fighting tort reform. They gave Obama $25.1 million, Romney $12.3 million. Lobbyists, on the other hand, favoured Romney by $1.4 million to $400,000 for the president.

One category of citizen hedged its bets more effectively.  Retirees, who have a huge stake in how Washington resolves the country’s fiscal quandaries, divided an astonishing $106 million between the two candidates, $56 million for Romney and $50 million for Obama.

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