On Election Day, the television networks' exit poll will survey roughly 80,000 voters and ask them to explain why they cast their presidential ballots for John McCain, Barack Obama, or someone else. Starting late on that November 4 afternoon and going deep into the night, media commentators will dissect and debate those results to divine the meaning of the outcome of the 2008 presidential race.
As a down payment on that discussion, National Journal asked 11 reporters, editors, and analysts who have been following this race from its inception to offer their assessments of what the contest will ultimately hinge on.
The vote for president is often said to be the most personal one Americans cast. People must decide what they care about more: a candidate's readiness -- in terms of background, intelligence, and temperament -- to answer the proverbial 3 a.m. phone call; or his personal attributes, whether he seems honest, likable, and down-to-earth. Presidential voters also tend to be performance based -- that is, the electorate renders a verdict on the previous four years and whether it is time for a major change or just a minor adjustment.
So, it shouldn't come as a surprise to readers that ideology and issues are not the focus of the following essays. That's not to say that such things as the economy won't be important factors in the calculus of the electorate, but voters understand that events often end up driving policy in ways that the candidates never envisioned during their long march to the White House.
This article appears in the October 4, 2008, edition of National Journal Magazine.