The math keeping the Obama campaign up at night

President Obama’s electoral college “firewall” is a paper tiger. Even without Ohio and Pennsylvania, the Republicans have several clear paths to victory. A change of a point or two in the polls – caused by the hurricane, a slip up, a bad jobs report, or simply the passions of the moment, could mean waving goodbye to a second Obama term.

The average of popular vote polls has Governor Romney leading by one percentage point. For better or for worse – that’ll be an issue for after the election – that number doesn’t matter more than symbolically. The electoral college, the collection of 51 winner-takes-all (except in Nebraska and Maine) popular vote competitions, tells a different story. As of now, Nate Silver of Five Thirty Eight predicts that President Obama will win 295.5 electoral votes and the election by a reasonably comfortable margin. Drew Linzer of Votamatic is even more bullish. He predicts that the President will win 332 electoral votes, including those of Florida and Virginia. With little over a week left until the Presidential Election, it’s impossible not to obsess over the possible electoral college scenarios. 


At this point in the race, polls have stabilized significantly. The Obama campaign has dedicated a huge proportion of its resources on Ohio and it seems to be working. Barring some huge shift before election day, it seems as if the President will carry both Ohio and Pennsylvania. Even with these states, though, there are a number of paths to a Romney victory that some recent polls have hinted at. Florida seems to have sunk into the Republican column, and Virginia – never a considered swing state before 2008 – is close to going that way as well.

In other bad news for the Obama campaign, 3 out of 5 polls show New Hampshire, a state with old-fashioned conservative leanings in which Romney has always done well, going red. On Sunday, the Des Moines Register endorsed the Republican nominee. Both states are small – 10 electoral votes combined – but they could be part of a bigger problem. If President Obama were to lose them both, he would be down to a 12 point margin of victory. The most recent polls in Michigan and Wisconsin, two states that have fallen into the Democratic Column for the last several elections and which have received little attention this time around, show the race tied there. The same is true for Colorado, although it has gotten plenty of focus from both campaigns.

If Governor Romney wins Michigan – the state of his birth and the state where his father served as a popular governor – he can win the election without New Hampshire or Iowa. Michigan has been underpolled this election cycle compared to other close states. Polls early in October showed President Obama with a healthy lead, but the most recent poll by Democrat-affiliated Baydoun/Foster poll showed a tie.

Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan is from Wisconsin, which could give the GOP ticket a bit of a boost there. If Governor Romney wins Wisconsin, Iowa, and Colorado he will win the election. He could also win Wisconsin, New Hampshire, and Colorado.


On the positive side for Obama supporters, polls have also tightened in Arizona. Although it’s often considered one of the most Conservative states in the country, its significant Latino population could change that. Latino Democratic Senate candidate Richard Carmona has done much better than expected against Republican Representative Jeff Flake, and that race has moved from a likely Republican victory to a toss-up. A Carmona victory could bring more Democrats to the polls and significantly improve the outlook for President Obama. Some pundits claim that pollsters this year are under sampling the Latino population, a group that went overwhelmingly for President Obama last time around (and George W. Bush before him). If so, the President could do better than expected in states with large Latino populations, including Florida, Arizona, and Colorado propelling him to a virtual electoral college landslide (even if the popular vote remained close). This presents possibly his best case scenario.

Heavy Latino Turnout With little over a week until election day, either scenario is equally plausible (or implausible). The outcome of this election remains very much uncertain, although the most likely result seems like a razor-thin Obama victory that will do nothing to shift or reset the partisan lines in this country. Either way, it seems nearly certain that Democrats will control the Senate and Republicans will control the House after the election. The two candidates have a fairly similar outlook on foreign policy, so the Presidential election – surprise! – may not be nearly as important as the hype would suggest. I don’t want to listen to 4 years of Romney doing the State of the Union, but either way, the result will probably be another term filled with gridlock.



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