The returns aren't quite all in, but from CNN's latest numbers, John McCain won 46.9% of the two-party vote. Back in the middle of the summer, I predicted McCain would get 47.7% of the two-party vote. That's pretty close.
Now, my point here is not to brag -- many political scientists forecast roughly the same thing. The question is, why were we able to do this? How could we come so close to predicting what would happen just using variables like the economy, incumbency, and the current president's popularity? And if we can do this, what does this say about the role campaigns play? The implication is that campaigns don't amount to much.
If ever we should have seen campaigns mattering, it was this year. I can't recall a presidential election in which there was such an asymmetry between the two major campaigns in terms of money, skill, message discipline, enthusiasm, volunteerism, and basic competence. And yet that all apparently amounted to less than one point.
Of course, maybe the campaign asymmetry really did matter, but the effect was countered by Obama's race, McCain's history of moderation, etc. But still.
The fact that the poll trends were essentially flat throughout October, amid the debates, Joe the Plumber, William Ayers, cries of socialism, and everything else, suggests that the fundamentals really held despite all the sound and fury.