There's a lot riding on the outcome of Tuesday's election. Will the United States prosper or perish? Will Warren Buffet finally pay more taxes than his secretary? Will Sam Wang, Princeton scientist and presidential prognosticator, eat a big bug, a small bug or no bug at all?
Wang has made what you might call a rash campaign promise. If he's wrong in his prediction about President Obama's electoral college score in a few banner states, he will eat insect. (The apparent default for the rest of us, blue and red, if our bets don't pan out: Emigrate to Canada. Just Google it.)
Wang is a biophysicist and neuroscientist who has been applying his expertise in probability and statistics to a "meta-analysis" of the electoral college vote. His website, the Princeton Election Consortium, lacks the slick, art-director graphics of Nate Silver's 538 blog on the New York Times website, but their results are about the same.
Wang's latest calculations put Obama in the win category with 303 electoral college votes. Over the weekend, he pooh-poohed the Romney camp's last-minute flurry of advertising aimed at toppling Obama in Minnesota and Pennsylvania: If the GOP candidate "wins either of those states," wrote Wang, "I will eat a bug. Ohio … a really big bug. And yes, I will post a photo."
For his part, Silver too has been drawn out of the ivory tower and into a controversial wager. When MSNBC's "Morning Joe" Scarborough called him an ideologue and a joke (this was back when Silver had Obama at about a 75% chance of winning; now it's more like 90%), the statistician offered these terms: He would pay the American Red Cross $2,000 if Mitt Romney wins; if Obama wins (and Silver's methodology is vindicated), Scarborough forks over the $2,000.
Fittingly, in these hard times, economic rewards dominate the "If Obama/Romney wins I'll ..." vow-making. Frank Duffy, who owns a real estate agency in Atlanta, promises to invest in 100 new agents if Romney wins -- that's how confident he is in his candidate's ability to turn America around. The flip side of that promise: Westgate Resort's CEO David Siegel sent his employees a letter threatening layoffs if Obama won. "Of course," he added, "as your employer ... I certainly wouldn't interfere with your right to vote for whomever you choose."
Obamaphiles are also putting money on the line. Forbes reports that hedge funder Whitney Tilson offered up this wager to his Romneyite friends: If Obama loses, Tilson will pay $25,000 to charity; if Obama wins, they pay, all told, the same amount.
Other Democrats have a different kind of skin in the game. Obama's campaign guru, David Axelrod, swears he will shave his mustache -- in place for 40 years -- should his man lose Minnesota, Michigan or Pennsylvania. Joe Trippi, another Democratic strategist, offered to shave his entire head under the same scenario.
Conservatives are, well, more conservative. No name-brand Republicans appear to be laying themselves physically on the line for their candidate. (There is one guy, on the gaming website warrioRLink5, who says he will post nude photos of himself if Romney loses. But is warrioRLink5 really a GOP loyalist or an Obamaphile? Would a bare-naked Instagram be a display of grief or joy?)
Finally, there are those for whom any outcome will do. LeGrand's Steak and Seafood in Jacksonville, Fla., backs Romney but is offering free dinners Tuesday night to anyone with a valid voter registration card and an "I voted" sticker. "We're just glad this election is over," says owner Ron LeGrand.
That's a nice bipartisan gesture, at least as long as the steak and seafood lasts. But consider this: What if the election just won't end? Who's eating what in the event of a recount?