Presidential Scorecard ‘012

Presidential Scorecard ‘012
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With only two days to go before the 2012 presidential race (finally) concludes, I thought I should whip up yet another election night scorecard. If you click here you can download a big version to print out and color the states either red or blue as Tuesday night progresses. Or, if you’re good at coloring with Photoshop, give that a try. If anyone does some really great work I’ll be sure to post it on the site.

There’s been a lot of gossip recently about whether the race is really tightening in its final days and whether the 11th hour phenomenon of “Mittmentum” is real, but as this scorecard helpfully illustrates, a strict analysis of electoral college math continues to define 2012 as “Obama’s to lose” rather than “Romney’s to win.”

The Governor’s path to the presidency — the so-called 3-2-1 strategy — is precise and unforgiving. It’s based less on an optimistic adventure for a couple swing states and a handful of undecided voters than an extremely narrow gamble that a seeks a series of very particular variables to unfold in perfect sync.

The first step in the sequence, the one considered so overwhelmingly likely it’s barely worth mentioning, is that Romney will win every single state John McCain won in 2008 — which is to say, America’s 22 reddist red states.  It should hopefully go without saying that conservative America has not wavered in its loyalty to the Republican Party over the last four years, so this is an outcome that even good ol’ biased Nate Silver gives odds around 99%.

Mr. Silver also gives 99% odds that Obama will lose at least one state he carried in 2008, and this represents phase two of 3-2-1. To cobble together the necessary 270 electoral votes he needs to win the White House, Romney must pry back some of the nine states Obama wrestled from George W. Bush’s 2004 electoral coalition. GOP analysts identify Virginia, North Carolina, and Indiana as the three most achievable — and mathematically useful. Though the race in Virginia remains tight, most polls put a Romney sweep of the three strongly in the realm of possibility. Not much to fret about yet.

It’s phase two that starts to drift into the realm of wishful thinking. After prying back the Ginny-NoCa-Indy trifecta, Romney must then proceed to win not one, but both of America’s biggest, juiciest swing state prizes — Florida and Ohio. Watching this will be the most exciting part of Tuesday night.

The polls in both states are exceedingly close at the moment, and neither candidate appears to have done much during the course of the campaign to push either any closer to their party’s “safe” column. In fairness, this is partially due to the fact that that both states are quite stark outliers within America’s broader political map — Florida, whose voters are never predictable thanks to the state’s amazingly transient population (less than a third of Floridians are Florida-born); Ohio, because its anachronistic industrial culture has bred a strange combination of social conservatism and economic liberalism that grinds against the options afforded by the two party system — but it’s this very fact of mutual hopelessness that makes the contest so compelling.

Should Romney manage to win both of the biggies, his scramble to the finish line becomes a bit more relaxed, but still tricky.

Of the eight “marginal” swing states — that is, smaller states that could conceivably go for either party, but are usually not of much consequence to either — Mitt needs to pick up at least one. In 2008, all eight (Colorado, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin) went for President Obama, and it could easily be argued that at least half of these are actually closer to outright “blues” at this point. New Hampshire, for instance,  for all its much-popularized libertarianism, seems to be drifting more reliably Democratic, having only supported one GOP presidential candidate of the last five, while Michigan has not voted Republican since the first George Bush in 1988. It may thus be a little more honest to say Romney’s “phase three” is really more about winning Colorado, Iowa, or Wisconsin, but of course that sounds a bit dour for a campaign clinging desperately to a narrative of being “competitive everywhere.”

In short, the Romney victory scenario basically hinges, as so many underdog scenarios often do, on an unusually high turnout that’s big enough to tip the scales in at least three states presently designated “too close to call.” By contrast, the Obama strategy merely entails bumbling along and screwing up the Mitt Romney plan in some minor fashion, most likely by winning Ohio, but just as easily by sweeping the eight “maybes” or even, possibly, by holding one of the initial three 2008 take-aways. Either way, the Democrats’ opportunities for sabotage seem far more ample and comfortable than the delicate Republican conditions for victory.

The bigger question, however, is whether an Obama triumph in the electoral college will occur alongside a Romney majority in the popular vote, a la Bush-Gore in 2000. Since Romney is doing quite well in the national polls at the moment, such an outcome is far from unimaginable, and has received a far bit of coverage in the press as of late (though I grant much of this may just be bored reporters grasping for a fresh angle).

Should that occur, in any case, one imagines the movement to abolish the electoral college outright will finally gather the bipartisan steam it’s so long lacked. Democrats may have resented Bush’s asterisk victory in 2000, but their long-term rage was ultimately tempered by the fact that the Texas governor was still a somewhat uncertain property. One can’t imagine Republicans and Tea Partiers being nearly so gracious towards an incumbent president they’ve already had four long years to loathe.

So who knows? Maybe this will end up being the last scorecard I ever produce.


  1. drs

    Where on earth are you getting Indiana being a tight state? Indiana’s solid red now. Its Senate race might be tight, but everyone’s calling it for Romney. Virginia now, that’s up.

    And you’re cherrypicking national polls;… is more representative. Close, but Gallup’s an outlier.… is fun to play with.

  2. TC Green

    Yeah, Indiana is in the bag for Romney. NC probably is too but that is less clear. Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, New Mexico and Michigan are also safe for Obama, despite some Republican wishful thinking on Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

    The race is down to Ohio, Nevada, Iowa, Virginia, Colorado, New Hampshire and Florida. Obama only needs Ohio and one other to win. Or just Florida to win. Romney needs Ohio and Florida and a few others.

  3. Nobody

    The Obama campaign is suddenly flooding a lot of money into Wisconsin and Pennsylvania for supposedly solid states…

  4. J.J. McCullough

    You're right, I just typed the wrong name by mistake. FIX'D

  5. CoSLaK

    Well J.J. (if I can call you that) we can only wish upon the largest star in all the heavens that the US of A develops a good, happy, working political system. At least, that's what I think.

  6. Dan

    Compared to a Westminster Parliamentary system, the USA's is already good and working.

  7. @RicardoB

    Ohio's "strange combination of social conservatism and economic liberalism"? Isn't that par for the course for most red states & the GOP? I'd think Ohio's Dem interest is from the urban decay that is choking the state.

  8. @AshburnerX

    It's more that we have incredibly strong unions in our state. People still respect and value the work that unions do here in Ohio, mainly because they make their presence felt strongly. You really can't get any kind of professional work done in Columbus (or Franklin county as a whole) without dealing with a union unless you want your place of business picketed during business hours. It's the same in all the cities, as well as Marysville (because of the Honda plant) and Dayton (which does a lot of aviation related work).

    The urban decay is an issue though. Cleveland is all but lost and Columbus is banking heavily on the new Hollywood Casino to bring life back into the Westside. People remember what Ohio was like in the past and they want it back… and they really aren't convinced that ether party can do it. Still, the unions are highly motivated and any restoration project invariable gets done in a city. This tends to bolster blue numbers when it matters.

    Ohio's still got a lot of red though. The bible-belters are still a force to be reckoned with and the aging white population is kind of freaking out over all the immigration (legal or otherwise) Ohio's had since the 90's. Worse, young people have been leaving in droves since the mid 90's because of falling wages, unemployment, poor schools, and crime. It's not exactly hard to see why it's such a hard fight in Ohio ether way.

  9. Dan

    The USA is drifting to a balance of social liberalism and economic conservatism, so Ohio is quite the outlier.

  10. Jake_Ackers

    I would say social libertarianism more so than liberalism.

  11. Etc.

    Aren't the fasces you've placed near Obama supposed to not have the blade portion because of some deal about the government not having arbitrary power over the citizens, or something?

    Oh, well. I kinda wish we had the popular vote set-up. People would probably be more likely to vote if they knew that their conservative/liberal vote would actually matter in a liberal/conservative state, right? There's no point for me voting either way in TN, since Romney will win unless tomorrow we find that he has been consuming babies for sustenance, and even the number of Romney voters within the state won't actually matter for anything.

  12. OldsVistaCruiser

    I, too, noticed the fasces. A Roman device, the word "fasces" itself became the etymological origin of the word "Fascist," which in no way could possibly describe Obama. Fascists were ultra-right wing (like today's tea party), while Obama leans toward the left.

  13. J.J. McCullough

    It's a common symbol of the American republic too, though. Check out this old lithograph, for instance:

  14. OldsVistaCruiser

    Yes, the fasces was also found on the reverse of the "Mercury" dime (1916-1945). It was removed for 1946 when the dime was completely redesigned to honor the recently-deceased Franklin D. Roosevelt. At that time, Italy, the home of the Fascist Party, had recently been defeated in World War II, and the feeling at the time in the United States was to get rid of a symbol that was the symbol of one of her enemies. See the back of the Mercury dime here:

  15. Yannick

    I wish ads were more like this – a bitching eagle on a spectacular view, just screaming "NATIONALISM!" in your face. Content schmontent!

  16. Dan

    I predict a Romney popular vote victory and an Obama Electoral College victory, followed by the Democratic Party becoming the leading champions of the Electoral College.

    JJ, f you could write the constitutional amendment that replaced the Electoral College with a popular vote, how would you handle the instances when no candidate wins a majority? Would the candidate with the plurality of votes win? Would there be a French-style runoff? Would you keep the current system of having the House of Representatives pick the President and the Senate pick the Vice President?

  17. J.J. McCullough

    That's such a good question. But also, I suspect, why this idea will never get anywhere. Can you imagine a constitutional debate in today's polarized universe? The parties would pick arbitrary positions on the small details and refuse to relent and the thing would never get anywhere.

    I personally like the run-off idea best. I think it's just the easiest and most clearly democratic.

  18. @SideshowJon36

    Best solution to Electoral College: Do what Maine does. Get rid of "Winner Take All." Every House District's electoral vote is up for grabs, and whoever wins the popular vote in the state gets the two Senatorial electoral votes.

  19. @SideshowJon36

    Never happen tho, because the Democrats would lose half of their automatic 55 votes from California

  20. SES

    That would be a terrible idea in most states unless they dramatically reformed redistricting. Maine and Nebraska can't really be gerrymandered a whole lot because they're small and relatively homogenous, but states like Ohio and Illinois have districts that are just horrible.

  21. Jake_Ackers

    Might as well have a Parliament then.

  22. Monte

    Well i would hope they would do a lot of restricting since the current system is a mess. Under the current system, if neither candidate got the majority it would theoretically be possible for a third party to be picked even if that third party got the least number of votes in the general election. I think it was john quincy Adams who won his election even though he did not have a plurality in the electoral college OR the popular vote.

  23. loroferoz

    I expect and hope that the electoral college will not be abolished because some Party, of which they come and go through the history of any nation, the U.S.A. included, was not happy with the outcome of an election. It's a practical and psychologically important part, along with the Senate, of the political system of a nation that is called The United States of America, emphasis on STATES, UNITED.

    In fact I think that Presidential power and influence in the U.S.A. has become too huge nowadays and would not want to think of what that would become if a President could directly claim the mandate of the masses of people, emphasis on MASSES, AMORPHOUS, the kind that can at times prop demagogues and populists.

  24. Jake_Ackers

    Agreed. If the electoral college is taken out then small swing states will be useless. It will become mega partisan with California getting a ton of cash and federal money so Obama turnouts every vote there. Same with Texas for the Republicans.

  25. StephenM3

    I've never understood why there would be a problem with govenment trying to appeal to places where people actually live, instead of appealing to vast empty tracts of land? Why should a square mile with three people in it have as much of a say as a square mile with thirty people in it? That is, why should places get votes instead of people?

  26. Jake_Ackers

    Not necessarily. Florida is big but NH is small. Is demographics not size that determines attention. Swing states are swing not because of size but because of demographics. If you win the 10/11 largest states you win the election. Yet those aren't the ones targeted because of demography. Some of them are like Florida but others are not in play.

    Parliaments do the same thing as the electoral college. We least we have primaries and pick our leaders and the election is directly for them. Parliaments you are voting for the party and you get who you get.

  27. Iokobos

    Because we are the *United States* of America, not America. The head of our executive branch is the President of the United States, not the President of the People nor the President of the most populous areas.

    A square mile with 3 people has its own culture and priorities which will be different from a square mile with 30 people. Your premise that a more populous are should have more influence is exactly *why* the Electoral College was created. Letting population zones have the most influence directly trends to mob rule.

  28. StephenM3

    But that attitude directly leads to a system where isolated people are *worth more* than urban people. I don't see how that is any way just! It's still mob rule, just one where your individual opinion matters more if you live somewhere with fewer neighbors!

  29. StephenM3

    And in any case, either with or without the electoral college, California has 20 times more influence over this election than Wyoming does. But with it, 55 percent of California gets to control 100% of that influence. How is that preferable to the alternative?

  30. Patrick_K

    The electoral college is made up of house + senate. Senate is 2 per state, and house is determined by population of state. Higher-density states will be "worth" more electoral votes.

    Example: Delaware is worth 3 electoral votes: 2 senators, 1 HoR. It's population is relatively small. California is the most populous state and also has the most electoral votes: 55, 2 senators and 53 HoR. This was done to balance the "will of the people" with the different cultures that is our melting pot.

    I personally don't like the idea of 55% of California getting 100% of the electoral votes and I also like the way Maine can divide votes. I definitely agree with one of the above posters who said we would need to reform the redistricting system. I think we should do it anyway. How about a grid? I'm super creative, I know…

  31. Etc.

    California already has an automatic Obama turnout every time, as does Texas with Republicans. In those states, there's no point for the millions of conservatives in California or the millions of liberals in Texas to vote, since they're inevitably going to be drowned out by the other folks and the winner will take all.

    If anything, going for a popular vote would require a more general campaign than it is; the number of 'safe bases' with guaranteed large votes would be decreased, so politicians would actually have to care about the states that are now firmly red or blue rather than solely the concerns of Ohio, Florida and the like.

  32. Jake_Ackers

    Not really. Because like I said the incumbent will simply flood the largest states with federal money and grants in order to buy votes. Now how is that different from now? At least now its being aimed at a ton of different states. That can benefit people from across the spectrum.

    Moreover, the US would split. The smaller states would get forgotten and the larger states would get a ton of attention and resources. Both by electoral and by popular votes the top 10/11 most populated states give you a majority. That's only 1/5 by area. Imagine if only those states got attention.

  33. Etc.

    How is it being aimed at 'a ton of different states' as it is? There are a couple of swing states like Ohio that can be swayed to either side, but the majority of states are pretty locked in. No one's expecting places like Tennessee to go for Obama or California to go for Romney, so neither side really cares about campaigning there. The swing states get all the ads and the like, while everywhere else tends to… not.

    At any rate, I really disagree with the fundamental part of your argument, that the incumbent are going to be outright bribing the population into voting for them. A sitting president cannot just flood a place with federal grants, that's not in their power and it would clearly piss off pretty much everyone not on the receiving end to its blatant illegality. When people talk about money in the elections, it's generally more in the sense that a candidate with more money can do more advertising to establish their presence, can have more people work to get out the vote, have nicer ads, that sort of thing. Beyond the point where the general public recognize that the candidates exist, this doesn't have too much of an effect beyond swaying the undecided.

    That small percentage sway is absolutely vital in swing states, though, where it may be that one candidate is at 51% with the other at 49% and the winner still takes all the electoral votes. With a popular vote system, devoting huge amounts of campaign money to ads solely in Ohio and Florida, etc. while ignoring the rest of the country would be a bad idea.

    Why should the eight or so swing states be more entitled to being the sole true focus of the presidential election rather than the top ten, anyway? What makes it so infinitely more important to you that the campaigns bank around indecisive folks in New Hampshire rather than the general population of America?

  34. Etc.

    For the people thumbing this down, would you mind telling me why this is such a bad idea? Please, I honestly want to hear your reasoning.

  35. Jake_Ackers

    It's down to Ohio. If Romney loses Ohio there is no way he is going to be win.

    Let me put it this way: Ohio is 18 votes. He would need to win WI, MI or PA plus at least one minor swing state like Iowa, Colorado, NH or Nevada. All lean to the left of Ohio. So if he isn't winning in Ohio that means his appeal to voters isn't going far enough. To reach into those swing states who are to the left of Ohio, he has to have appealed more. It's not like PA or WI suddenly shifted a few points to the right. Most states still fall within an order to liberal/conservative ratio. And none have shifted enough to the right to allow a Republican pickup without winning Ohio.

    The only swing state to go Republican is Colorado or NH. Which aren't enough. Romney needs Ohio or PA. Or some major freak happening like WI or MI with some swing state like CO. Ryan is unlikely to deliver WI. The Romney name in MI might be enough but I only say that because the latest RCP poll is the only one above 1400 LV. And it has Romney up by one and the polling is done by a left leaning organization.

  36. Kwyjor

    Argh, wake me up when it's over and the delightful new Political Kombat cartoon is out. I can't take the suspense.

  37. EBounding

    Looks like Nate Silver is backtracking:

    Obama has 80% chance to win if popular vote tie and only 30% if it's plus 1 Romney.

  38. StephenM3

    …That's not backtracking in any way, though. That's further elaboration that's entirely consistent with the probabilities he's already been giving.

  39. Iokobos

    The biggest problems with Mr Silver's probabilities:

    1) People are not defined by numbers
    2) Using polls when less and less people answer polls (9% in the last article I read) is not a good cross section of the country's mood.

  40. Jon H

    I think he's always been clear that he's just making probabilities based on the information available, of course such an enterprise is problematic since there's no system of polling that's 100% accurate.

    If you have a better system I'd love to see it, honestly!

  41. Iokobos

    Nah, I just wait for the only poll that matters: the election.

  42. Jake_Ackers

    Going by the RCP point spread: CO, NH, NV are all closer than OH. Even if he wins all those states it's still not enough. Thus meaning he needs OH anyway. He isn't close enough. Suppose he wins those 3 states he would need IA, WI, MI, or PA to magically swift to win if Ohio doesn't. Still IA, WI, MI, and PA are all to the left of OH. No way he is going to win those.

  43. Iokobos

    I keep thinking back to 2004 when everyone in the media was upset that the Election outcome did not match the Exit Polls, and were calling for recounts. I think this election will be the same vein, the outcome is not going to match what all the polling has suggested and people will call the most reliable poll of all (the actual election) into question *again*.

  44. ThePsudo

    It's like using polls to call the census into question: in the absence of material methodological failures, actual counts should always override statistical samples.

  45. Jack B Nimble

    No chance for New York magically going red on account of the voting disruption caused by superstorm Sandy?

  46. Jake_Ackers

    More likely NJ than NY. Because even if most of NYC doesn't vote a chuck of it still can and its way more people in and around NYC (liberal) than in upstate (conservative/moderate Republicans).

  47. SES

    Even upstate New York isn't HUGELY Republican. Obama carried most of the substantial population centers in 2008.

  48. M_T_Cicero

    I love the scorecard, and I desperately hope it isn't the last one you produce.

  49. phlinn

    Here's what I would like to see: go back to 1 rep (or at least one vote in the house) per 50,000 people, round up. There is no particular reason that the house has to be an in place vocal debate. I think a message board debate system would actually be preferable in numerous ways, and it would automatically make the electoral college more responsive to the popular vote as well.

  50. M_T_Cicero

    What do you call all those messages their staffs are posting on Twitter? In many senses, between that and press releases, it's not too far off of a message board already, just with incidental speeches thrown in for the cameras. Of course, the problem is that unlike 50 or 100 years ago, those speeches don't really do much except mug for the cameras now; there was a time when they'd sway one another, and that might still happen on occasion, but it's been rare for the last few decades.

  51. ThePsudo

    Fun idea! A Congress of 6,000+ people seems… bizarre, though. If some neat, online technology can make that manageable, I'd like to see it tried.

  52. @Cristiona

    Never gonna happen. The last thing they want to do is dilute their power.

  53. @ChrisV82

    Good ol' biased Nate Silver carefully analyzed the polling data and gave an accurate projection of the election results. I guess that's what happens when you put your faith in science.

  54. Eddie

    Typical LIE-BERAL colouring job. Fire him. If we can’t trust him to stay in Nevada’s lines, how can we trust him to dare say Florida will be (a lightly pressed) blue?!

  55. Zulu

    What a glorious day this was.

  56. Fasces wut?

    Wait a second…did you just put a fasces on Obama's side? A fasces is not part of the Great Seal of the United States – it's 13 arrows. Honestly, that seems to be on the same level as putting a swastika down there. What are you trying to say?

  57. M_T_Cicero

    Well, one /has/ been on the US dime before…

  58. Drew

    The fasces was a Roman republican symbol before being jacked by Mussolini's thugs. It's the former aspect JJ is probably aiming for, especially with Roman symbolism and traditions being so important to the early republic.

  59. Etc.

    Not to mention how it's still official symbolism… though, apparently sources are divided as to whether or not it's supposed to have the blade part?

    Anyway, that cap in the upper right should be red, not white.

  60. Zulu

    The fasces is a common symbol in American government. JJ probably used it because the fasces is in the official seal of the Senate, which the democrats managed to keep blue this election.

    Just because Mussolini used it doesn't mean it's fascist. That's like saying the cross is Nazi because it is commonly viewed as a German war decoration.

  61. Fasces wut?

    Welp, I looked it up, and you're totally right. My bad.

  62. SteveOrr

    StephenM3, it’s all about retail politics.

    Politicians would prefer to focus exclusively on large population centers. All they’d have to do is broadcast a lot of vague TV commercials. Whoever produces the slickest commercials, wins. Campaigns would be mostly celebrity endorsements & snappy catch phrases. No thanks.

    In less populated states, candidates have to attend town-hall meetings & answer specific questions about policy. As a life-long urban dweller, I could care less about the concerns of a bunch of grumpy dirt farmers. But as a voter, I get a good sense of how politicians can work with others. That’s important.

    I completely agree on your point about CA & WY, though. This is a major reason why CA is such a poorly run single-party state. If national Republicans felt like they had a legit shot at 40% of their electoral votes, they’d pay more attention to the state. And the CA Democrats might not be so slavishly attached to their party.

  63. Spencer Goodman

    Its such a shame the course the country has taken with our re-elected president. I am not sure if that was a good thing or not, either way we will be proceeding with the future of the people of this country, and deal with those that want to become citizens of this great nation. As touchy as that subject may be, the american opportunity to gain the dream of the american dream, for if that dream truely lies within the capatalistic structure that is available to every person who applies themselves in a manner worthy of attainment, then I guess the other true concerns are our supplemental governmental system,such as: SSI,WELFARE, MILITARY DEFENSE, and other things of that careful nature.