Friday, September 21, 2012

2012 U.S. Presidential Election: Ten States to Watch

At the end of 2010, I posted about the 2012 presidential race. As it turns out, that post has held up quite well over time: the 9 states that I held up then as "Tossups" are pretty much the states to watch now. The one addition to make is Wisconsin, due to Paul Ryan's presence on the ticket. Those 10 states are exactly the top 10 likely "tipping point" states today as identified by the FiveThirtyEight blog.

The score in the 40 other states and D.C. is Obama 207, Romney 206. Considering that Romney would likely win in the case of a 269-269 Electoral College tie (which would be broken by a vote in the House of Representatives where each state gets one vote, a formula that overwhelmingly favours Romney), this election comes down to winning a simple majority of the 125 electoral votes in the remaining ten states. They are:

Florida (29)
Pennsylvania (20)
Ohio (18)
Virginia (13)
Minnesota (10)
Wisconsin (10)
Colorado (9)
Iowa (6)
Nevada (6)
New Hampshire (4)

To be sure, the outcome in some of the other states isn't set in stone. But if Obama wins North Carolina, or if Romney wins Oregon, then the election isn't even close. So the above 10 states are pretty much the only useful ones to look at in order to see who is likely to win.

Currently, Obama leads in all ten of these states, though his advantage is often tenuous. Not surprisingly, PA, MN and WI, the three states carried by both Gore and Kerry, are the strongest for Obama, who has a lead in the mid-to-high single digits. In the seven other states, Obama's lead is in the low single digits.

Assuming that Obama wins PA, MN, WI and his 207 "base" electoral votes, he needs any one of the following:

- Florida
- Ohio and any one state below other than NH
- Virginia and any two states below
- CO, IA, NV and NH

Let's focus on the big three, FL, OH and VA. Conveniently, polls will close earlier in these states (7 or 7:30 ET) than in the four smaller ones (8, 9 or 10 ET). We see that, out of the 8 possible win/loss combinations, only 3 keep Romney alive:

1. Florida and Virginia
2. Florida and Ohio
3. All three

Option 1 still leaves Romney in a tough spot, as he'd need to win all of CO, IA and NV. Option 2 still leaves him at a disadvantage, as he'd still need to win 3 of the 4 small states (but now NH can be one of them). Option 3 is the only one that gives Romney the upper hand, as Obama would then need to run the table on the smaller states.

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