Could it be true? Is all of this endless campaigning, a billion dollars in advertising and 24/7 blanket coverage of every word, gesture and sneeze by the candidates all a gigantic waste of time in an election which has essentially already been decided? That’s one possibility suggested by Dave Helling of McClatchy Newspapers who suggests that, “People’s minds are made up, unlikely to change.”

[A] growing number of political scientists and campaign consultants – backed by the latest polling data – think the daily campaign back-and-forth is having no significant effect on voters.

Most Americans have locked in their presidential decisions, polls released Thursday suggested, and the already small number of persuadable voters shrinks by the hour. Put another way: America could vote for president next week, and the outcome would probably be the same as it will be in November.

“That’s accurate, barring some really big, big event or change in the political environment,” said Alan Abramowitz, a political science professor at Emory University in Atlanta, who has studied presidential voting patterns.

OK… so if the election is over, tell us who won so we can all get back to the important business of getting ready for the NFL pre-season games. Sadly, the analysis breaks down at that point, saying only that a rolling index of poll averages shows that the numbers are so tight that they’re within the margin of error. (And if you’ll pardon my saying, I think we already knew it was going to be close.)

Not for nothing, but telling us that the election is over but it’s going to come down to a handful of voters is pretty much akin to saying that the gun pointed at you is really close to being on target, so the bullet may or may not hit you. I think you’d want to have that information at hand in advance so you could still duck.

The author also goes on to point out that all of this depends on things staying pretty much as they are. A “big mistake” or a critical change in either domestic or foreign circumstances could still tilt the scale. I found that admission to be a rather blunt blow to the premise of the entire article.

But there is still a valid and interesting phenomenon being described in this study which is worth mulling over. Are Americans making up their minds much earlier than they did as little as fifteen years ago, and if so, why? It’s possible, at least for a percentage of the available voting pie. One reason cited by Helling is that campaigns and their well funded surrogates have the money to begin running saturation advertising much earlier in the cycle than in the old days, when candidates would jealously hoard much of their war chest for the critical final weeks and then launch an all out ad blitz.

If the voters are already living in a deeply divided nation (politically speaking) and begin seeing reinforcing messages on a daily basis as much as a year in advance, I’m guessing it can have an effect. If you’re already leaning one way or the other, the constant flood of “information” can serve to bolster those feelings. If you’re already leaning in Romney’s direction, all those ads from Obama about Mitt’s “shady” overseas dealings, investments and outsourcing will probably roll off your back as little more than poorly spun side effects of a successful, competent business career. If you’re pretty well leaning toward Obama, ads talking about massive spending, debt and unemployment will probably be interpreted as “just the way things are now” after the GOP broke the system before Obama took office and the way they “won’t work with him” to fix anything.

It’s easy to see how the “undecided vote” could be pared down to a far slimmer margin much earlier than it used to. And those unfortunate enough to live in the roughly ten or so swing states have doubtless grown accustomed to the constant presence of the candidates on their TV screens and in their public squares as little more than a bothersome fact of life.

Sure, the election may be over for a vast majority of Americans… possibly as much as 90 to 95 percent. But it’s that last little bit who will decide which side of the razor this election lands on. And with that in mind, the two sides are going to be fighting all the harder from now until election day morning.