While, from the perspective of the calendar, it is obviously very early in the presidential race, the outcome may be far more set in stone than most observers are willing or able to admit. I have said during the primaries that a presidential election is far more like a poker game where most of the cards have already been drawn, than like a sports contest where, theoretically, anything can happen after the start of play (for the record, I have worked as a polling analyst at a major university and commissioned two major polls for a feature documentary film I did after the 2008 election).
For all intents and purposes, the only cards yet to be dealt in this 2012 race are the VP pick, the debate and the economy cards. Frankly, there is a very good chance that Mitt Romney's VP pick will purposely not move the needle, that the debates will be a wash, and that the perception of the economy (no matter how hard the media tries) will remain pretty much what it currently is. Given these assumptions, it is quite possible to make an educated prediction about how the election will turn out.
What is most amazing about all of this is how incredibly likely an electoral college tie currently appears to be. Last night I went to www.270towin.com and predicted the election state by state. Without concern for the overall outcome my map resulted in a 269-269 tie. Remarkably, my map doesn't contain anything close to a massive upset and makes perfect sense as a broader narrative for the election (in other words, there are no results which contradict one other like Romney winning Pennsylvania but somehow losing Virginia, which wouldn't make a lot of sense).
This is not to say the map I came up with doesn't need some explaining.
The most "surprising" outcomes I predicted are probably Romney winning Iowa, Nevada, and New Hampshire, while also losing Virginia. Each has a logical rationale.
Romney has campaigned heavily in Iowa twice now and the people there know him fairly well. President Obama only won Iowa in 2008 by nine points and, given the state of the economy, there is little doubt that he could easily lose five points off his vote total in any given state. That would make Iowa a true toss up.
Nevada has a heavy Mormon population and Romney has won it easily twice in primaries. Meanwhile, the state has been hit as hard as any other economically and Obama has twice made damaging statements about businesses not going there to visit. Romney has a real shot here.
New Hampshire is Romney's second home and neighbors (with lots of its refugees) the state he governed. While its motto "Live Free or Die" is somewhat overrated, there is still an anti-government bent there. Obama only won the state by nine points in 2008. Per electoral college vote, I think New Hampshire is the most important state in 2012 as many of Obama's paths to 270 are blocked without him winning it.
The most significant state overall will likely be Virginia, and here I think it will be very close with Obama ultimately prevailing. The reasoning here is that the intensity of the federal workers in the northern part of the state to come out and vote against Romney will be stronger than the urge by the heavily evangelical southern section to vote for a Mormon. If I were working for the Romney campaign, I would urge them to buy at least a couple of houses (with, or without, car elevators) in southern Virginia.
So, as you can see, an electoral college tie is hardly far-fetched. It may even be likely. If this scenario were to transpire, it would mean that the newly-elected House of Representatives would chose the president (assuming the media didn't convince a Romney elector to bolt to Obama) in a state-by-state vote, which would almost certainly mean that Obama would be sent packing. Interestingly, the Senate would chose the vice president, which could mean chaos if the Republicans don't take over complete control.
Again, this is an early, though educated, predication. No ones knows for sure what will happen, but barring significant and surprising events, this particular scenario is far more likely (as well as potentially dangerous) than anyone seems to currently realize.