Skip to comments.Plan of Attack: Obama, Romney & The Electoral College
Posted on 04/26/2012 10:09:31 AM PDT by upchuck
[Long but interesting article]
The London Olympics isn't the only venue for world-class sport this year. Political gold is waiting to be won in November, and the only way to grab the top U.S.A. medal is to master Electoral College math. It is both deceptively easy and maddeningly complex. A candidate has to accumulate 270 votes in a tiny universe of 538, but those 538 will be generated by 130 million votes cast in 51 separate entities. A game that looks like checkers is really multi-dimensional chess.
Still, the deep polarization of party politics has simplified the process somewhat. Remarkably, about 40 states -- and maybe more -- have almost no chance of flipping from one party to the other in the 2012 Electoral College. If President Obama gets his way, the electoral map will look very close to the way it did four years ago; on the other hand, Mitt Romney needs to flip a relative handful of states to take up residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
Obama's 2008 performance was close to the high-water mark for a modern Democrat: 365 electoral votes (359 under the new 2010 census apportionment). Obama did the seemingly impossible by very narrowly pulling two long-time Republican states, Indiana and North Carolina, to his column and even winning an electoral vote in Nebraska's Second Congressional District, while narrowly losing Missouri and Montana. Those latter two states are widely believed to have moved out of his reach for 2012.
It is a little-known Electoral College tidbit that a president reelected to a second term has always added a state to his coalition that he did not win during his first successful run. Sometimes, in the early days of the Republic, it was a state that didn't exist during a president's first bid. But it appears that Obama, if reelected, will break this trend. The only state John McCain won that Obama appears to have a chance of flipping is Arizona, but that is a long shot that would require a massive turnout effort by the Obama campaign among Hispanic voters.
To compare 2012 politics to war for a moment, the current electoral map is akin to World War I's Western Front trench warfare: Massive amounts of manpower and resources will be needed to move the frontlines even a smidgen. And the less the lines move, the better it is for Obama.
Based on our analysis, Obama starts with a presumed base of 247 electoral votes, just 23 short of the magic number of 270 -- but not all of them are truly secure. Romney starts with a much firmer but not ironclad 206. The election will be decided mainly in seven states with 85 toss-up votes.
To show how little the presidential campaign turf has changed since 2008, all seven of the toss-ups are states that Obama won in 2008. Obama captured 28 states then (plus the District of Columbia), and in only eight of those did he win by less than 10 percentage points. Given Obama's middling approval ratings this year and the uncertainty in the economy, the two states where his 2008 triumphs were closest -- Indiana and North Carolina -- are now favored to go to Romney, and the other six states where Obama won by less than 10 points are toss-ups. Obama won the seventh toss-up, Nevada, by about 12.5 percentage points.
The states are generally stable enough in their political leanings that we can roughly rank them in order of how Democratic or Republican they are. Keeping this in mind will provide clues as to who the winner might be as the election gets closer. For instance, if Mitt Romney is spending a lot of time and money in Minnesota in the last few months of the election, then either he's probably going to win, or he is looking for a post-election lake house. That's because, perhaps surprisingly, Midwestern Minnesota has the longest streak of voting for a Democratic presidential candidate, dating back to 1976. Minnesota and Illinois should be slam dunks for President Obama in the Midwest. If Minnesota is competitive, then Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, all heartland states that have gone Democratic in the past five presidential elections, are surely competitive too. That would be bad news for Obama.
Chart 1 shows the percentage of the two-party vote the Democratic presidential candidate won in all 50 states (and DC) over the past five elections. We have subtracted out all third-party votes, which can have a distorting effect. Generally speaking, the states that have been the closest over the past five elections are the ones that will be competitive this time, although there are a few states that backed Bill Clinton -- most notably his home state of Arkansas as well as West Virginia -- that do not like Barack Obama at all. The Democratic candidate for president has done, on average, better in those states over the past five elections than in Virginia. However, Virginia is very competitive in this election, whereas Razorback and Mountaineer land is clearly Romney country. (A related trivia question: which four states supported Democrats Jimmy Carter in 1980 and Michael Dukakis in 1988? The answer is at the bottom of this article. )
Source : Calculated from Dave Leip's Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections,
These numbers will give us a sense of how Obama is faring come fall. If Obama is polling poorly in, say, Pennsylvania or Wisconsin before the election, than he probably isn't going to win Ohio, given that over the past five elections the Badger and Keystone states have been consistently a few points more Democratic than Ohio. Likewise, if Pennsylvania is coming in big for Obama on Election Night, then Ohio might lean toward Team Blue. Of course, these trends are not ironclad -- Ohio has gone Democratic when Pennsylvania has gone Republican before, such as in 1916 and 1948 -- but the more recent trend is for Ohio to be one of the least Democratic states in the Midwest. Only Indiana and Missouri in the Midwest performed worse for Democrats during the past five presidential elections.
In the South, Obama will be heavily targeting both Virginia and North Carolina. But as the chart shows, even though Virginia and North Carolina have supported the same candidates in each of the past five elections -- Republicans from 1992 to 2004, and Democrat Obama in 2008 -- the numbers tell us that Virginia has been friendlier to Democratic candidates than North Carolina in that time frame. It's one of the reasons why we call the Old Dominion a toss-up, while we have the Tar Heel State leaning Republican.
In the West, Obama will try to keep three crucial states in his column: Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico. We have New Mexico in the "leans Democratic" column, and Colorado and Nevada as toss-ups, in part because New Mexico has been a few points more Democratic than other Western states, and Al Gore (barely) carried it in 2000, while George W. Bush carried Nevada and Colorado twice (and New Mexico in 2004). Another factor: in 2008, New Mexico's electorate was 41% Hispanic; Nevada (15%) and Colorado (13%) had much lower Hispanic participation, so given that Hispanics supported Obama by about a two-to-one margin in 2008, Obama has a bigger base of support in the Land of Enchantment.
Now, if New Mexico is heavily in play in late fall -- as it was in both of Bush's contests -- Romney is probably winning Colorado and Nevada, if history is a guide. Similarly, if Arizona truly is competitive as the election is winding up -- some recent polling shows Obama might have an opening there -- one would expect Obama to be doing well in the other competitive Western states. Remember, though, that Arizona is historically very Red territory: since 1952, Arizona went Democratic only once, a close win for Bill Clinton in 1996, aided by a three-way race that included Ross Perot. Were it not for that surprise, Arizona would have the longest ongoing streak of voting Republican in the country. As it stands now, nine states have gone Republican in every presidential election since 1968: Alaska, Idaho, Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming.
Some other considerations as we evaluate the Electoral College:
Somewhat predictable trench warfare in presidential elections has defined the past five cycles in a large majority of the 50 states, but it hasn't always been this way. As friend of the Crystal Ball Richard Skinner, a political science professor at the New College of Florida, pointed out to us, only two states from 1964 to 1976 -- Massachusetts (D) and Arizona (R) -- voted for the same party in all four presidential elections.
Meanwhile, in the four most recent elections -- 1996 through 2008 -- 33 states voted for the same party in all elections, as shown in Map 3. And that number would increase to 40 if we only counted the 2000, 2004 and 2008 elections.
Map 3: Predictable America: The 33 states that backed the same presidential party from 1996-2008
The American electoral map will surely change in future elections: perhaps the Southwest will become more Democratic as minority populations grow, while the Midwest becomes more Republican because of a larger group of white seniors and working class voters. Or maybe minority groups will become less Democratic, or whites will become less Republican, which would jumble the map massively. It's hard to foresee exactly what will happen in the long term, but in the short term, the nation's basic regional partisan split -- Republican in the Southeast and interior West, Democratic in the Northeast, West Coast and parts of the Midwest -- appears likely to persist.
-- Crystal Ball interns Douglas Colby, Saeid Kian and Chris Monioudis contributed to this article.
*Trivia Answer: The four states that supported Carter in 1980 and Dukakis in 1988 were Hawaii, Minnesota, Rhode Island and, perhaps surprisingly, West Virginia. West Virginia was once heavily Democratic at the presidential level, and it still is at the state level -- though that may be changing, too. But the Mountain State has moved firmly into the Republican column in presidential contests.
Larry J. Sabato is the director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.
Kyle Kondik is the House Editor at the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.
Obama got 50.2% of the NC votes and “WON” North Carolina’s electoral votes because over 25,000 NC Voters voted for Barr.
Third Party, Write in’s and stay-at-homes plan on gifting NC to Obama again this year.
I’m a non factor
This doesn’t seem to factor whether previous Obama voters are as likely to vote as they were in the 2008 election frenzy. I suspect that there will be fewer democRat leaning voters going to the polls. At least I hope so.
So looking at the map it seems we need to be active in PA to flip it to Romney.............That will be a hard one to due.
If ORomneybama needs my vote in Tennessee, he has already lost.
The map is going to look different this time now that we are running a Massacheuttes liberal. I wouldn’t concede PA, NJ, MI, CO, NM, or NV to Obama. I also wouldn’t be so quic to give GA, NC, FL or even TX to Romney.
What the GOP-e should do this election cycle is use all the influence money and power they can muster to help the most liberal Republican possible to get the nomination. This will ensure great enthusiasm within the conservative base and the turnout will be record breaking. Shocking really. /s
Is there another competition where the other
side gets to pick the Team's quarterback or center?
Looking at the maps, I think Rubio as VP will help him most.
12 of our 20 electoral votes would have been genuinely competitive, with 4 each solid GOP or Democrat. Then our Quisling state GOP chair lobbied against it on the basis that it would diminish GOP-e influence and the bill went nowhere.
Which is to be expected, if Willard Romney is the best candidate you can come up with.
Or massive amounts of cheating...which is much more likely this time around.
This is all interesting, but there is one glaring omission from the analysis. There were 700+ Rats swept out of power nation wide in the ‘10 midterm. A very significant event when you consider that these were the people that ran the get out the vote apparatus for the Rats. For example, there is no more Ed Rendell machine in PA. All levels of it were destroyed. Same can be said for other swing states that had GOP sweeps. This landscape can not be compared to ‘08 or any time back to ‘96.
Obummer is in heaps big trouble. They will not have anywhere near the organization on the ground they had last time. The people in the states that ran it last time don’t exist anymore.
Unopposed in Pennsylvania Romney couldn’t muster 60% of the Republican vote. I don’t think flipping Pennsylvania is likely with this lackluster candidate.
“..........Which is to be expected, if Willard Romney is the best candidate you can come up with.............”
It’s the Conservative voters in the Republican Primary who once again give us the weak candidate - Mitt.
By splitting the conservative vote in the Primaries Mitt wins it with less than 40% of the votes. The other 60% that could have beaten Mitt was split between the conservatives.
Anyway - our NC primary is still a week and a half away - early voting is ongoing - and I’ll be voting there for anybody but Mitt. Looks like I’ll have to vote for Ron Paul since Newt is dropping out.
But in the General I’ll be voting for the R not the D.
Uh, no... the GOP gifted NC and other states to Obama by nominating Romney.
See my post just above yours.
Conservatives gave us Mitt.
As a resident of the Garden State, I don't think it will flip to "R". Even if Romney picks Christie as Veep.
Newark, Camden, Paterson, New Brunswick, and any of the other 'hoods I may have missed will be too much to overcome ... and that's only the breathing voters there. Add in the dead ones, and Joisey is a lost cause, I'm afraid.
I don't really see how Boston politics is any improvement over Chicago politics.
I don't know if there is any real info you can get from that. I have been talking to people here. Solid GOP voters who didn't bother to vote because they said that the selection of a nominee was settled with Romney and why bother wasting gas to do something that didn't matter. Apparently the people voting here were folks like me voting against Romney on principle. Not a true sampling of the voters.
Let's be honest, Presidential Primaries in PA are lame because we vote so late. It is settled before it ever comes time for us to vote. People are programmed not to care. I do know that the people I talked to are ready to stand in a 5 hour line to vote Obummer out, even if the other choice is a carton of orange juice.
Consider voting Green, whoever the heck they run.
If we could create a viable Green Party, we might be able to split off the enviro-fascists and the “environmental justice” from the Democrats, we could see them falter in the national elections.
I recall saying that way at the beginning of the primary campaign season. The conservative candidates, Perry, Bachman, Cain, etc., were going to divide the conservative vote and we’d end up with a “moderate.”
Didn’t know that Romney was going to do so well, though.
That is PRECISELY why all 50 states and territories should go simultaneously with a single primary. And NO "proportional" distributions of delegates. Schlubs such as Romney benefit from the status quo, because their funding and organizational advantages carry them further through the long haul.
Not all at once, but a lottery. All 50 Govs meet in Washington and pull a number out with John Roberts officiating. No more locks for Iowa or New Hampshire. we could all matter.
I don’t think NJ will flip either, but it is not impossible. Bush came within 6 points of taking it in 2004 and he was not a MA liberal and he did not have Chris Christie. I think ROmney will do better than Bush with the suburban vote, which is much of NJ.
That works, too... or perhaps by region. Either would be far superior to the system we have now.
Consequently, Obama could pull out a state like Georgia that has a high black population if enough white conservatives stay home/vote 3rd party/write in. As I said, this map could look much different.
If I haven't told you lately how much I enjoy your posts, then I have been remiss.
I used to not agree with that position because an all at once Primary would leave little time for campaign building for poorer candidates, but if it were structured with some sort of run off system between the two top guys, it would be fairer in the end. What we have now, letting a handful of corrupt and Liberal states selecting our nominee, is not working.