With election day right around the corner, voters and politicos alike are on the edge of their seats, wondering what could happen to tip the scales in their favor.
American University government professor Jan Leighley said with most voters already cemented on a candidate, day-of disasters aren't likely to make a huge difference.
But could a "last-minute piece of information that's surprising or scary affect how someone who's undecided votes?" Leighley asked. She answered her own question, saying, "Could be!"
Read on to see which six factors could keep Democrats, Republicans or both parties at home and out of the polls.
It's about to get wet on the East Coast, thanks to an approaching storm.
What might Hurricane Sandy mean for voting? AccuWeather.com reports Hurricane Sandy could prevent some voters who depend on pre-election day openings from casting their ballots in the weeks leading up to November 6. Early voting is allowed in six of the eight swing states.
Early voting is scheduled to start in Florida on Saturday, where Sandy could bring blustery winds and rain towards the end of the week, according to AccuWeather.com. Friday morning the National Weather Service issued a Tropical Storm Warning to Florida's East Coast. There is a Tropical Storm Watch in effect for other parts of Florida and North Carolina - another early voting state.
Gov. Rick Scott sent out a warning Thursday urging Florida residents to prepare an emergency plan and a disaster supply kit.
"As always, FEMA officials are in touch with their local counterparts in anticipation of a storm like this," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters aboard Air Force One Thursday. "FEMA and federal partners are prepared to deal with a storm like this because, of course, hurricane season does not end until November 30th. We encourage citizens living along the eastern seaboard to listen to local officials and monitor weather reports in the days ahead."
|Election Day Downpour|
It's common knowledge that torrential rain on election day means a lot fewer voters in the booth.
A downpour could be disappointing for Democrats, because some say most Republicans aren't flushed out by rain, but blue voters are.
"I think it's more folklore than anything else," Leighley said of the partisan side to weather patterns, but she acknowledged bad weather could hinder voter turnout.
In swing state New Hampshire, Deputy Secretary of State David Scanlan said wind and rain wouldn't keep Granite Staters away from the polls.
"We're a northern state. We're used to a lot of raw weather," Scanlan said.
The exception would be if a storm knocked out power to the polling stations. But New Hampshire does not allow early voting, and with less than two weeks until election day, Scanlan said there was plenty of time to address that before the first ballots are cast on Dixville Notch at midnight.
|Middle East Catastrophe|
The September 11 attack on the American embassy in Benghazi, Libya already shook up the political landscape this election season.
What if the rockets fired into southern Israel by Hamas fighters lead to retaliation from the Israeli army and an all-out war? Or if talks between Iran and the U.S. broke down further, bringing the threat of an impending nuclear attack?
Either of these situations could drive up the need for a foreign policy president.
Leighley described how foreign affairs lost the election for Jimmy Carter in 1980. Deemed the October Surprise, when hostage negotiations fell through in Iran, it helped ruin Carter's election chances.
That conflict "framed the decision-making," Leighley said.
She thought the same type of switch could take place in 2012, but she guessed that this year's disaster would more likely be related to the economy.
|Stock Market Stumble|
This election season the biggest issue isn't foreign policy; it's the economy, stupid!
So if a "scary or surprising event" were to change the minds of undecided voters, Leighley said it would likely be in the financial realm.
And she said an economic event can limit the number of lower class voters at the polls.
"When the economy's bad the little evidence that we have suggests poor people at least tend to be home," Leighley said. "They're discouraged. They're working two jobs."
In an ABC News/Washington Post poll released yesterday, Mitt Romney took the lead in who voters trust most to handle the economy. Back in February, half of voters preferred Romney, and after battling it out for the rest of the year, he is back up to that mark now. In contrast, only 44 percent of voters think the economy is better off in Obama's hands.
That means if an economic catastrophe like a stock market crash were to happen, it would likely tilt the election in favor of the Republican candidate.
|Gas Price Dip|
Average gas prices in November 2011 were $3.31, according to Consumer Reports. With gas prices predicted to go under $3 a gallon next month in some parts of the country, it's safe to say they could lead voters to favor Obama.
In the year Ronald Reagan was elected to his first term, gas prices were much higher than the year before, which was bad for incumbent Jimmy Carter.
When Reagan ran for reelection in 1984, gas was cheaper than in 1983, and Reagan won.
This political wisdom doesn't hold up for some other years, however. When incumbent George H. W. Bush lost to Bill Clinton in 1992, gas prices were slightly lower than 1991. And when his son, George W. Bush beat John Kerry in 2004, gas prices had risen by more than a quarter from the year before.
|Candidate Coming Down with a Cold|
Flu season is fast approaching. With candidates out in the cold, shaking millions of hands and kissing hundreds of babies, they're exposed to more germs than the average American. And with both Romney and Obama picking up the pace of their campaigns in these last couple weeks, they're likely even more exposed than usual, not to mention missing out on the restorative powers of a good night sleep.
During his rally in Ohio on Thursday, the president sounded a little hoarse. Could he be coming down with a case of laryngitis?
If a candidate lost his voice in the last days of the election, it would make it harder to get his message out to the American people.
But with both Romney and Obama in good overall health, neither gets an outright advantage at this point.
|Win for the Home Team|
Ever wondered what college football has to do with politics?
A study out of California found voters in towns where the local college football team won within 10 days before an election gave the incumbent an average of 1.61 percent more of the vote. In towns with super fans, the wins for the incumbents were even stronger.
But by reading this now, you're less likely to fall prey to the politically-blinding effects of post-win euphoria. The authors said the win was less effective for candidates when voters were told that win was why they felt so good about the sitting president.