It’s going down to the wire as an extremely close election, but a majority of Americans (54 percent) believes Barack Obama will beat Mitt Romney, according to Gallup, even though the same polling outfit shows Romney in the lead.

Here’s what Gallup makes of the data:

Though it has been a long campaign season with various twists and turns, Americans by a clear margin still predict that Obama will win re-election. This in the face of presidential preference polling that has consistently demonstrated a close race. The apparent inconsistency may be the result of Obama’s status as the incumbent and reflects a somewhat lower level of confidence among Republicans that their candidate will win.

Even though polls show a tight election, stat guru Nate Silver has consistently given Obama the advantage. The New York Times blogger puts the president’s chances of re-election at 77.4 percent as of this posting. So perhaps Americans are as expert as the experts in their assessment of the race.

Expectations that Obama will win could actually hurt the president. If his supporters assume victory, they have less incentive to vote, and the opposite holds true for Romney.

It’s officially a horse race, and whatever the expectations, it still looks, feels and smells like a photo finish, although the results will surely have seemed obvious to every pundit broadcasting on Nov. 7.

— Posted by Peter Z. Scheer.

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