Monday, December 27, 2010

The Map for the 2012 U.S. Presidential Election

With the new census counts published last week, the numbers of congressional districts and electoral votes for each state for the upcoming elections have been set. Above is a map for the 2012 presidential election, with the following color-coding:

- Dark blue: Obama won by 19.25% or more in 2008
- Light blue: Obama won by 13.25% to 19.25%
- White: Obama won by 1.25% to 13.25%
- Light red: Obama won by less than 1.25% or McCain won by less than 4.75%
- Dark red: McCain won by more than 4.75%

These ranges are symmetric with respect to Obama's national margin of victory in 2008, 7.25%. The only adjustment was for Arizona, to remove the McCain home state effect. Obviously, the GOP may receive a boost in other states once their ticket is set.

The light blue states the Democrats are probably most worried about are Wisconsin (smallest margin among those states in 2008) and Michigan (due to the economic situation there). As for the Republicans, the most vulnerable red state is probably North Carolina, which Obama carried. Obama also carried Indiana, but he will have a hard time in the rust belt this time.

Assuming all colored states go to the favored party (otherwise, it's probably a blowout), the electoral count is 217-206 for Obama. He therefore needs 53 of the 115 remaining EVs. The Democratic senate successes in NV and CO and their gubernatorial win in MN this fall are encouraging for the White House; that's 25 EVs. On the flip side, I would be quite pessimistic about OH (rust belt) and FL (a mere 2.8% win in 2008). The remaining four states, PA, NH, VA and IA and their 43 EVs would probably be the toughest to call in a close national race. Obama needs PA and either VA or both NH and IA. He will need to activate his networks in NH and IA without the help of a primary race, and might want to make frequent trips across the Potomac while Republican hopefuls go at each other during the coming year.

As for PA, well if Pennsylvanians thought they got a lot of attention in 2008, they better get ready this time. As Pat Toomey showed in November, it is a state where the Tea Party can win...


Anonymous said...

By 2012, The National Popular Vote bill could guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

Every vote, everywhere, would be politically relevant and equal in presidential elections. Elections wouldn’t be about winning states. No more distorting and divisive red and blue state maps. Every vote, everywhere would be counted for and directly assist the candidate for whom it was cast. Candidates would need to care about voters across the nation, not just undecided voters in a handful of swing states.

The bill would take effect only when enacted, in identical form, by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes–that is, enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538). When the bill comes into effect, all the electoral votes from those states would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

Historically, virtually all of the major changes in the method of electing the President, including ending the requirement that only men who owned substantial property could vote and 48 current state-by-state winner-take-all laws, have come about by state legislative action.

The bill has been endorsed or voted for by 1,922 state legislators (in 50 states) who have sponsored and/or cast recorded votes in favor of the bill.

In Gallup polls since 1944, only about 20% of the public has supported the current system of awarding all of a state’s electoral votes to the presidential candidate who receives the most votes in each separate state (with about 70% opposed and about 10% undecided). Support for a national popular vote is strong in virtually every state, partisan, and demographic group surveyed in recent polls in closely divided battleground states: CO– 68%, IA –75%, MI– 73%, MO– 70%, NH– 69%, NV– 72%, NM– 76%, NC– 74%, OH– 70%, PA — 78%, VA — 74%, and WI — 71%; in smaller states (3 to 5 electoral votes): AK – 70%, DC – 76%, DE –75%, ME — 77%, NE — 74%, NH –69%, NV — 72%, NM — 76%, RI — 74%, and VT — 75%; in Southern and border states: AR –80%, KY — 80%, MS –77%, MO — 70%, NC — 74%, and VA — 74%; and in other states polled: CA — 70%, CT — 74% , MA — 73%, MN – 75%, NY — 79%, WA — 77%, and WV- 81%.

The National Popular Vote bill has passed 31 state legislative chambers, in 21 small, medium-small, medium, and large states, including one house in AR (6), CT (7), DE (3), DC (3), ME (4), MI (17), NV (5), NM (5), NY (31), NC (15), and OR (7), and both houses in CA (55), CO (9), HI (4), IL (21), NJ (15), MD (10), MA(12), RI (4), VT (3), and WA (11). The bill has been enacted by DC, HI, IL, NJ, MD, MA, and WA. These 7 states possess 76 electoral votes — 28% of the 270 necessary to bring the law into effect.

Election Watcher said...

Thanks for this detailed comment! (Maybe too detailed: Blogger marked it as spam, so I had to manually approve it.) I was aware of the NPV campaign, but have not followed it closely.

I'm skeptical of the NPV's chances of garnering 270 EVs by 2012. The 7 states (well, 6+DC) having passed the law have 74 EVs (your numbers are old), and other states where the measure passed both houses have 71. Even including the 98 EVs of states with one house passing the measure only gets the total to 243 EVs.

Most of the above states are blue. I think the NPV will have a much better chance of succeeding after a Democrat is elected despite losing the popular vote. This may happen in 2012: a uniform swing of 8% against Obama relative to 2008 would leave him losing the popular vote by 0.75% and yet winning the election with 272 EVs.

I'm generally supportive of NPV, though I worry about recounts. Sure, they become much less likely, but I have trouble envisioning a national recount being completed in time for inauguration given that it would be conducted under 51 different sets of rules...

Anonymous said...

The idea that recounts will be more likely and messy is distracting. Recounts are far more likely in the current system of state-by-state winner-take-all methods.

The possibility of recounts should not even be a consideration in debating the merits of a national popular vote. No one has ever suggested that the possibility of a recount constitutes a valid reason why state governors or U.S. Senators, for example, should not be elected by a popular vote.

The question of recounts comes to mind in connection with presidential elections only because the current system so frequently creates artificial crises and unnecessary disputes.

A nationwide recount would not happen. We do and would vote state by state. Each state manages its own election. The state-by-state winner-take-all system is not a firewall, but instead causes unnecessary fires. The larger the number of voters in an election, the smaller the chance of close election results.

Recounts in presidential elections would be far less likely to occur under a national popular vote system than under the current state-by-state winner-take-all system (i.e., awarding all of a state's electoral votes to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in each separate state).

Based on a recent study of 7,645 statewide elections in the 26-year period from 1980 through 2006 by FairVote:
*The average change in the margin of victory as a result of a statewide recount was a mere 274 votes.
*The original outcome remained unchanged in over 90% of the recounts.
*The probability of a recount is 1 in 332 elections (23 recounts in 7,645 elections), or once in 1,328 years.

Election Watcher said...

Um, if you read my comment carefully, I do mention that recounts become much less likely. You do not address my concern at all: while we know how to handle statewide recounts, we don't know how to handle national recounts because they would involve 51 different sets of rules. The problem becomes especially acute when the case goes to the Supreme Court: it would have to essentially issue 51 distinct rulings based on each state's laws. This problem does not apply to any current election in the U.S., or, as far as I know, anywhere.

The sensible thing to do would be to have a national election law, or, even better, a national electoral commission administering the election in a uniform way right across the land - something like Elections Canada. Of course, that's very unlikely to happen.

A second-best solution would be to remove electoral recounts from the jurisdiction of federal courts. That way, each state's court system deals with the recount on its own, and you don't end up with the Supreme Court being overwhelmed. Now, this may or may not be allowed by the Constitution. But even leaving those issues aside, what if a state court disallows votes cast a certain way while another one counts them, even though both states have similarly worded laws?

I agree that all this is very unlikely. But my point is that *new*, difficult and potentially time-consuming problems come up. So while I support the idea of NPV, I'd feel much more comfortable getting behind the project if it had better answers than: a) a national recount is very unlikely; and b) we'd just do what we currently do.

Anonymous said...

Answers to many of your questions can be found at

The U.S. Constitution specifically permits diversity of election laws among the states because it explicitly gives the states control over the conduct of presidential elections (article II) as well as congressional elections (article I). The fact is that the Founding Fathers and the U.S. Constitution permits states to conduct elections in varied ways.

The genius of the federalist approach (as specified in the U.S. Constitution) is that no single political party is ever in a position to impose politically advantageous voting procedures on the entire country and thereby lock in a self-perpetuating advantage on the national level.

Of course, if a national consensus emerges in favor of uniform federal control of elections at some time in the future, the U.S. Constitution can be so amended to eliminate state control over elections at that time.
Meanwhile, the National Popular Vote plan is based on the constitutional system that actually exists in the United States and on the reality that there is widespread public and legislative support for state control of elections.

It is important to note that neither the current system nor the National Popular Vote compact permits any state to get involved in judging the election returns of other states. Existing federal law (the "safe harbor" provision in section 5 of title 3 of the United States Code) specifies that a state's "final determination" of its presidential election returns is "conclusive"(if done in a timely manner and in accordance with laws that existed prior to Election Day).

The National Popular Vote compact is patterned directly after existing federal law and requires each state to treat as "conclusive" each other state's "final determination" of its vote for President. No state has any power to examine or judge the presidential election returns of any other state under the National Popular Vote compact.

The U.S. Constitution, existing federal statutes, and independent state statutes guarantee "finality" in presidential elections long before the inauguration day in January.

The U.S. Constitution (Article II, section 1, clause 4) provides:
"The Congress may determine the Time of chusing the Electors, and the Day on which they shall give their Votes; which Day shall be the same throughout the United States."[Spelling as per original]

The common nationwide date for meeting of the Electoral College has been set by federal law as the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December.

Under both the current system and the National Popular Vote approach, all counting, recounting, and judicial proceedings must be conducted so as to reach a "final determination" prior to the common nationwide date for the meeting of the Electoral College. In particular, the U.S. Supreme Court has made it clear that the states are expected to make their "final determination" six days before the Electoral College meets.

Election Watcher said...

Thanks for your response.

I read the webpage to which you provided the link, but it does not address my concerns. Both you and the website explain that each state would be responsible for its own recount. This is an argument that I understood - see the second-best solution I propose in my previous comment.

The problem comes because if there's a dispute, the Supreme Court of the U.S. becomes the final arbiter. You would get 51 different cases that need to be ruled on separately, within 2 months. Supreme Court justices are not superhuman, and cannot be expected to do so.

This is why I mentioned that "second-best" solution of removing recount jurisdiction from federal courts, including the Supreme Court. That way, the 51 recounts would be truly parallel as you argue; that is NOT the case now because they all converge to the Supreme Court. Unfortunately, this solution may be unconstitutional.

If NPV is enacted without other changes, I guess what will end up happening is that the Supreme Court would have to refuse to hear challenges from all but a few states due to the time constraint. So it may well be that the second-best solution that I propose gets enacted through the back door. If that is indeed the thinking of the NPV campaign, it should be made clear.

I think this scenario is workable, and its drawbacks may well be outweighed by the benefits of NPV. But I don't think it's accurate to claim that our current constitutional and statutory framework provide for a smooth recount under NPV.

In any event, although it may not be necessary to the implementation of NPV, I hope that you agree that a national election procedure would be beneficial, whether NPV happens or not.

Anonymous said...

One way to remedy the existing practical difficulties of obtaining a timely recount in a presidential election in most states would be to amend state election laws. However, there is a more expeditious way.

Congress has constitutional authority over both the count and schedule for presidential elections.

Thus, Congress could pass a law guaranteeing presidential candidates with the availability of a timely recount.
Such a law would address the fact that the current state-by-state winner-take-all method for awarding electoral votes has resulted in a high frequency of disputes in presidential elections (five litigated states counts in a mere 56 presidential elections). Such a law would also be beneficial under the national popular vote approach, even though the probability of recounts would be substantially reduced because there would a single national pool of votes (instead of 51 separate pools) under a national popular vote.

Such federal legislation might include the following:
● Require each state’s chief election official to prepare a plan for conducting a timely initial count and a full recount involving a one-by-one examination (to the extent possible given the state’s voting equipment and procedures). The plan would list all reasonable costs associated with accelerating the initial count and conducting the recount. Such plan should include standards for determining voter intent for all cases that may be reasonably anticipated given the state’s voting equipment and procedures.
● Give any presidential candidate on the ballot in the state the opportunity to call for a full statewide recount in the state, provided the candidate pays for all reasonable costs of accelerating the initial count and conducting the recount. This right would have to be exercised within six days after Election Day. In practice, this choice would be made (in most states) on the basis of available unofficial returns. This right should be extended to the candidate’s successor if the candidate dies or resigns. The recount would be a full statewide recount—in order to avoid the appearance of selectivity, in order to avoid the delay that would be necessary to allow other candidates to select additional parts of the state to be recounted, and in order to limit the complexity of the cost estimate to be developed by the state’s chief election official to just one overall statewide number.
● Give the presidential candidate on the ballot (or his successor) the right to sue to enforce all the provisions of title 3. To avoid forum-shopping within the state, the action should be brought in the federal District Court located in the state capital (or the district court located nearest to the state capital if no federal district court is located in the capital).
● Make clear that the recount made available by the federal legislation is an option in addition to any procedure available under state law, administrative procedures, or judicial determinations.
● Move the uniform national day for the meeting of the Electoral College (currently established as the Monday after the second Wednesday in December) to December 30 (or to the previous Friday, if December 30 falls on a weekend). If there is no controversy, the meeting date of the Electoral College is ceremonial and irrelevant to a presidential transition. If there is a controversy, as much time as possible should be allowed to arrive at an accurate presidential vote count.

Election Watcher said...

Now we're talking! This is the type of answer I was hoping for. Although no solution is perfect, what you outlined seems like a pretty good plan.

Happy New Year!