Gwen’s Take: Election Countdown: By the Numbers

BY Gwen Ifill  October 26, 2012 at 7:00 AM EDT

I’ve got to admit I could not contain my excitement when an aide to a Massachusetts Senate candidate shared with me her campaign survival secret: an app that counts down to Election Day.

Regardless of whether it’s 25, 14, 12 or 10 days, hours, or minutes — what’s not to like about knowing the end is in sight?

And in an election year where no outcome is certain, hard numbers provide a certain comfort, or at least the illusion of control.

It takes only a quick search through the political headlines or a scroll through my Twitter feed to come across a whole mess of numbers that, taken together, explain why campaign 2012 is giving so many political operatives (and political reporters) such fits.

Here are a few of the numbers that caught my eye this week:

1,014,484

That’s the number of general election television ads that have hit the airwaves courtesy of the Obama and Romney campaigns, and the supportive outside groups backing each of these candidates. Kantar Media/CMAG, the ad-tracking firm collaborating with NPR and the NewsHour to keep track of the inundation, helpfully adds that it would take 352 days to watch one million 30-second commercials. Ground zero for the most ads airing in a single year? Las Vegas, with more than 70,000.

21

That’s the record number of percentage points President Obama is lagging behind Governor Romney among white voters, according to a Washington Post/ABC News tracking poll.

It’s not all about the race of the candidate. Democrat John Kerry lost among white voters to George W. Bush in 2004. But it does demonstrate that the polarization we spend so much time discussing goes deeper than politics. The president is winning 80 percent of non-white voters; Romney only gets 18 percent of that vote. What does that say in a nation that is becoming less, not more, white?

7,958,354

This is the number of votes already cast as of October 25, according to the United States Election Project. In a close election, this number matters. Depending on which voters are turning out early, these numbers in the bank could save us all another trip to the Supreme Court.

131

That’s the number of field offices the Obama campaign has up and running in Ohio. Compare that to the Romney campaign’s 40. The campaigns are aggressively spinning the strength of their respective ground games going into the final weeks. The Obama campaign’s field director Jeremy Bird says in Ohio Democrats outnumber Republicans two-to-one in early voting. Romney national political director Rich Beeson has numbers (see forwarded memo) of his own. He says that by the end of this week the Romney campaign will have knocked on two million doors and made six million voter contacts in Ohio alone.

$2 billion

That’s the record-breaking amount that, as of this week, the campaigns and their partisans will have spent on the 2012 election. Outside groups that do not disclose their donors have spent $200 million of that, 88 percent of it on negative ads.

The numbers can make your head spin. And that’s without even factoring in the breathless daily tracking polls.

It seems to me the only thing worse than getting too caught up in the competing narratives is deciding to opt out entirely.

Vote.