THE ELECTION: D-DAY, AND ONLY ONE POLL MATTERS

Soon, with a climactic barrage of TV and radio pitches, it would all be over. Each candidate would make his final, election-eve television appeal—Jimmy Carter from a relaxed setting in his study in small-town Plains, Ga.; Gerald Ford from a site to be selected at the last moment, depending on his hectic closing schedule. Then, relieved that the campaign had ended, millions of Americans would cast ballots. Other millions, unmoved by it all, would stay home—and perhaps decide the outcome.

By the pollsters' reckoning, the result remained...