Saturday, January 14, 2012

Obama versus Romney - The Big 2012 Electoral Map

There is a marathon to go and then some before we pick our next President.  Mitt Romney still has to quash the not Mitt crowd in South Carolina and Florida, and then there are conventions, debates, possibly a billion dollars in money to spent, an almost uncountable number of campaign stops and a 24 hour news cycle that will be blaring non-stop for the next 10 months.

Some would say it's a fool's errand to even put up an electoral college map when there is this much distance between now and the election.

I've often been called a fool and been willing to run errands.  Turning our focus to the 2012 general election and the electoral map is instructive not necessarily in its accuracy at this stage in projecting a final result, but more so in how it helps us understand how the battlegrounds will develop over the coming months.

The starting point for any electoral battle is the map of the last election, and in that, President Obama should take some comfort.  The President in 2008 successfully expanded the Democratic map out of the west coast, the northeast and the mid-west to create new strongholds in the southwest and the new south, bringing such states as Virginia, North Carolina, Colorado and New Mexico into the Democratic fold.

The classic battlegrounds of Florida and Ohio have been swing states for most of my life and hold large electoral prizes. 

Those states are still in play in 2012, but there will be new battlegrounds.  New Hampshire, once a swing state, but recently a Democratic stronghold, appears back in play this cycle, thanks to a neighboring ex-governor.  Michigan, long a blue state, has been ravaged by the recession and appears to be at least nominally in play.  Pennsylvania, which John McCain thought was a swing state in 2008, but really was pretty safe for the Dems, may be back in the mix, having taken a right turn, particularly outside of Philadelphia. 

On the flip side, Romney is polling shockingly weakly in South Carolina and Texas (I remember being called an idiot 4 years ago for speculating that Texas might one day be a battleground state.)  I doubt President Obama wins either of these, but he might force Romney to play some defense on his home turf there.

For my current map, I'm using a 50% weighting to an adjusted view of the 2008 election and a 50% weighting to available statewide general election polls, where such a poll exists for a Romney vs. Obama match-up.  For categorization purposes, a "safe" state is a state a candidate is likely to win by 20% or more, a "strong" state is a state a candidate is likely to win by 10% or more, a "likely" state by 5% or more and a "lean" state is a state within 5%.  The results are as follows:

Safe Obama States (68 Electoral Votes)
District of Columbia, Hawaii, Vermont, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Maryland, Delaware, New York

Strong Obama States (115 Electoral Votes)
New Jersey, California, Illinois, New Mexico, Minnesota, Washington

Likely Obama States (40 Electoral Votes)
Oregon, Connecticut, Nevada, Maine, Wisconsin, Iowa

Lean Obama States (49 Electoral Votes)
Pennsylvania, Michigan, Colorado, New Hampshire

Lean Romney States (96 Electoral Votes)
Virginia, Ohio, North Carolina, Florida, Indiana, Missouri

Likely Romney States (50 Electoral Votes)
South Carolina, Montana, Texas

Strong Romney States (50 Electoral Votes)
Arizona, Georgia, South Dakota, North Dakota, Kansas, Mississippi, West Virginia

Safe Romney States (70 Electoral Votes)
Nebraska, Tennessee, Kentucky, Louisiana, Arkansas, Alabama, Alaska, Idaho, Utah, Oklahoma, Wyoming

Net Result: Obama 272 Electoral Votes, Romney 266 Electoral Votes
States Needed to Swing Result: 1 (New Hampshire is closest)
Current National Polling Average of Averages: Obama +2.2%

Note: Electoral map generated with the help of

Some observations about the battleground:
* Romney his 170 safe, strong or likely electoral votes.  Obama has 223.  The remaining 10 states comprise the effective battleground, with Obama needing to find 47 votes among that group for victory.
* 48 out of 50 states have "winner take all" systems for their electoral votes.  In Maine and Nebraska, 2 electoral votes are awarded to the winner of the state and 1 each to the winner of each congressional district.  Maine has never had a split in its electoral votes - both its congressional districts are solidly Democratic.  Nebraska split for the first time in 2008, with President Obama winning 1 congressional district narrowly in this otherwise solidly Republican state.  Given how close that win was, I'm assuming this time that Romney sweeps Nebraska and that Obama continues the Democratic trend of sweeping Maine.  A Republican proposal to apportion Pennsylvania's electoral votes in this manner, which had a lot of backing from state Republicans, hoping to give the GOP candidate some of the votes, appears to be dead at this point.
* The battleground states can be divided into a few basic categories.  Virginia and North Carolina from the new south have become swing states as their urban centers have grown and northeasterners have migrated South.  They are still economically conservative places, but are becoming increasingly socially progressive.  Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Indiana are rust-belt Catholic states, that tend to be very economically sensitive places, given high unemployment and are very politically bifurcated between their large, black urban centers and their more white rural regions.  Colorado stands out as a western border state, with a growing hispanic population and more liberal cities, surrounded by culturally conservative Mormon and evangelical rural areas.  Missouri is the classic swing state, the intersection point between the south and the mid-west, with cultural and political elements of both in parts of the state.  Florida, the home of the 2000 recount, is a mix of southerners in the northern part of the state (a little counter intuitive, but true) and Cuban-dominated population in the south, with the moderate I-4 corridor in the middle.  And then there is New Hampshire - a libertarian-leaning, tax-hating state nestled among the liberal states of New England.
* Whether President Obama can replicate record-setting black voter turnout could well swing many of the swing states: Virginia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Michigan all have large African-American populations.
* The Hispanic vote will be critical in Colorado and Florida.  This is one of the reasons that freshman Senator Marco Rubio of Florida is widely considered a front-runner for the VP slot on Romney's ticket.  That and his tea party credentials, good looks and strong speech-giving skills.

The polling data aren't very deep at this point and a lot of independents haven't thought very seriously about the race yet.  Once Romney has wrapped up the nomination (which seems a near-certainty at this stage of the game), picks a VP and we head towards convention season, we could see big swings in the votes.

In the early going, this is a close race.  It could stay that way all the way to election day or we could see a major development - economic, geopolitical or otherwise that sets the arc of the race in favor of one candidate or the other and leads to a solid victory for either Romney or Obama.

We'll all have to stay tuned.

If you like this site, tell your friends.

No comments: