There are many ways to analyze Election 2016 and project how things might turn out.
A conventional analysis on the Electoral College, for example, might note that Donald Trump currently has only a very narrow path to winning the needed 270 Electoral Votes. With little margin for error, he must win all the states won in 2012 by Mitt Romney and then add Florida and Ohio to the total. That would get the GOP nominee to 253 Electoral Votes. From there, he has a handful of more challenging options to pick up the final votes he needs.
Another traditional approach would be to talk about turnout. Will Hillary Clinton be able to generate enthusiasm from young voters and minorities? If not, low turnout among these core Democratic voters could cost her some key states. On the other side of the coin, will Donald Trump really increase turnout and support among white working class voters?
In a race that now looks very close nearing the finish line, those lines of thought are reasonable but somehow fail to capture the flavor of this campaign season.
Instead, a better handle on the race might come from the world of football. I am a New York Giants fan and proud to cheer on my team. Because I am a Giants fan, it's tough when the Dallas Cowboys play the Washington Redskins. I want both teams to lose.
In Election 2016, the final decision will be made by people who want both candidates to lose. At this point in the race, we have a little over 40 percent committed to backing each of the major candidates. The remaining 15 percent to 20 percent dislike both choices. Many of them loathe both choices. This makes the dynamics of the race much more volatile. When you are committed to a candidate, nothing the other side says is likely to change your mind. No single event or speech can cause you to vote differently. But when you have no commitment to either candidate, it's much easier to change your mind or even decide to stay home.
As a result, this election will most likely be determined by events yet to unfold. Some will be planned such as Monday night's debate. The conventional wisdom and betting markets seem fairly confident that Clinton will win the debate. But, since both candidates have the proven ability to say the wrong thing at the wrong time, anything could happen. Monday's debate could be the most significant in decades and might even establish one of the candidates as a real front-runner.
And, of course, there are also events in the real world. News like last weekend's terror attacks could convince undecided voters to dislike one candidate more than the other. The change might come from the event itself or possibly from the way that the candidates respond to it. Because those who are still on the fence don't have strong attachments to either Trump or Clinton, even smaller events could create big changes in the state of the race.
The race might remain close to the end, but because of the volatile circumstances, it seems equally likely that one candidate or the other might open a sizable lead. We're tied heading into the fourth quarter and the winner will be determined by what happens next.