There's only one good bet in Britain's razor-edge election: It's likely to reshape the country's politics in historic ways. Should Gordon Brown cling to power, his Labour Party will have pulled off one of the most unlikely political comebacks in modern times. Victory for the Conservatives' David Cameron would return his once-discredited party to office after 13 years.
More likely in an election with important consequences for everything from the war in Afghanistan to the global economy there will be no clear winner, and a good showing for Liberal Democrat upstart Nick Clegg.
Only months ago, most thought the election would be the Conservatives' for the taking but that was before the perfect political storm emerged. An embarrassing expense scandal last year enraged voters after lawmakers were caught being reimbursed for everything from imaginary mortgages to ornamental duck houses at country estates, bringing trust in British politics to a record low. Although lawmakers from all three parties were involved, the backlash was most severe for Britain's old guard, the Conservatives and Labour. Labour's popularity, slipping since Tony Blair's landslide victory in 1997, took a nose-dive after the unpopular Brown took the reins.
Then came the surprise success of Clegg, an affable 43-year-old who called for a complete overhaul of British politics during the country's first-ever televised election debates. His impressive performance thwarted Cameron and added to nagging worries over the extent to which the Tory leader has actually overhauled the stodgy Conservatives.
The 43-year-old Cameron has also been hampered by his own elite background. Eton-educated and married to an aristocrat's daughter, many question whether he can relate to an electorate that has endured 1.3 million layoffs and tens of thousands of foreclosures over the past year and a half.
"This could go down as one of the most revolutionary elections in the history of this country," said Bill Jones, a political analyst at Liverpool Hope University.
The stakes are high, both domestically and internationally. As Europe grapples with Greece's financial crisis, global markets are waiting impatiently for Britain's election outcome to know how quickly work can begin to cut the country's record 153 billion-pound ($236 billion) deficit, and whether the parties will be able to cooperate to pass key legislation.
A Conservative majority would likely lead to a stock market rally and a boost for the British pound because the Tories favor more aggressive, and immediate, cuts than Labour to Britain's huge budget deficit. But even a Labour majority could see a rally purely because it would erase market uncertainty. The impact of a hung Parliament, in which no party wins enough seats to govern outright, is far less certain.
Some analysts suggest that fears about delayed action on the deficit could weigh on Britain's currency and stocks. Others say the markets have already factored that in and believe rapid action on the deficit is possible as long as a new government is formed quickly.