Despite the best efforts of Mitt Romney's campaign to close the gap, it may be impossible for the Republican challenger to overcome what has become a numbers game in the Electoral College. Understanding how the Electoral College works, particularly in light of conflicting daily polling results, is a task that is even more daunting than predicting the election itself. With 17 days until the election, the combination of confusing polling data and the memory of Obama’s margin of victory in swing states in 2008, make it very difficult to bet on a Republican candidate. The deck just seems stacked.
Let’s start by looking at a swing state that is not in play. Michigan, a state in which Romney would have undoubtedly liked to mount a serious challenge, was abandoned by the McCain campaign in 2008. The Obama campaign has deftly pushed the perception that its administration has saved the auto industry in Detroit. Given that in the latest Rasmussen Poll has Romney trailing by 7 points, even the most adamant Romney supporter would have a hard time arguing the campaign is really competing in the state.
Looking at the broader picture, Real Clear Politics currently puts 10 swing states in play for the 2012 Presidential Election. Excluding Michigan, the states (in order of electoral size) are Florida (27), Pennsylvania (20), Ohio (18), North Carolina (15), Virginia (13), Wisconsin (10), Colorado (9), Nevada, (6), Iowa (6) and New Hampshire (4).
270towin.com is a very useful site that shows electoral maps for all U.S. Presidential elections, as well as providing an interactive map that predicts the electoral college for the 2012 election. If the October 15 polls become a reality in the forty non-swing states, Obama holds a 217 to 191 edge over Romney in the Electoral College, thus leaving 130 electoral votes from the remaining ten swing states up for grabs.
270towin.com also has the latest polling for then ten swing states listed above. If the election were held today, and those polling numbers became a reality, President Obama would defeat Mitt Romney 270 to 268 in what would be the closest presidential election ever. Even with the ever-changing polls, the intricacies of the Electoral College, and the unpredictability of elections in the United States, where is Mitt Romney going to get the votes necessary to drastically change the outcome of this electoral map?
Lets start in Paul Ryan’s home state of Wisconsin. While the Republicans have been quick to point Ryan’s congressional record, as well as the re-election of Scott Walker after a recall, the state has not voted for a Republican in the general election since Ronald Reagan won his first term in 1984. In the 2008 election, Obama had a 13.91% margin of victory, winning the state by 412,293 votes. Combine this number with the fact that Obama is up 4 points in the latest American Research Group Poll (270towin.com), and the Romney campaign might have to look elsewhere for those ten electoral votes.
The hottest state in which the Obama camp seems to be losing ground is Pennsylvania. Forget the fact that the state hasn’t voted for a Republican to take the oval office since 1988, or the fact that Romney is trailing Obama by roughly four points according to The Morning Call Muhlenberg. In 2008 Obama’s margin of victory was 10.4%. With the number of Democrats in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, that margin of victory was 405,820 in actual votes.
While Republicans have cited possible voter fraud in the state of Pennsylvania, studies have proven that there is no credible evidence that upholds the idea that conclusive voter fraud cases have affected recent election results in the state. The new voter registration laws upheld in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court will make it difficult for some citizens to register to vote, and will help to decrease Obama’s stronghold over the state. Yet, it is still unlikely to definitively swing the state in Romney’s favor.
While pundits waste their time talking about how no Republican has won the White House without Ohio, this election’s most important state is easily Florida. According to the latest Public Policy Poll, Romney holds a one-point edge in the state. While Obama only won the state by a mere 2.5% margin, the Romney camp faces two critical issues in the state.
First, according to the latest ImpreMedia & Latino Decisions Poll, 67% of Latino voters are fairly certain they will vote for Obama. That number compares to only 23% of Latinos who are fairly certain they will vote for Romney.
According to the U.S. Census, in 2011, nearly 23% of the population of Florida is of Hispanic or Latino origin. If the national trend translates over to the state level, coupled with the fact that 16.5% of the population in Florida is African-American, then you could estimate nearly 31.4% of the population are highly likely to vote for Obama (assuming they vote).
Paul Ryan’s Catholicism should bring back some independent Hispanics back into the fold, but his threatening views on Medicare create a second problem. According to the Office of Economic and Demographic Research, Florida has 4,720,799 people between the ages of 45 and 64. Medicare is clearly a cause for concern among these voters. According to The Sun-Sentinel “Florida's fast-growing Medicaid program — which cares for the state's impoverished children and for most senior citizens in nursing homes — would lose roughly a third of its federal money under budget plans embraced by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his running mate Paul Ryan.” If Romney is polling less favorably with Hispanics than John McCain (who also lost Florida), and his vice president is driving away arguably the state’s most important voting block, where does his campaign hope to make up ground?
Romney also needs to close the 11% gap (Gallup polling) that Obama held over McCain in winning independent voters. Given the state of the economy, the Obama administration’s handling of Libya, and Obama’s performance in the first debate, the Romney campaign has swiftly seized the opportunity to reduce the overall seven point lead Obama held in most polls as late as the month of July.
In 2004, Democratic challenger John Kerry missed out on the Presidency by losing the state of Ohio. For Kerry to prevail in that election, he would have only needed twenty states plus the District of Columbia to do so.
For Romney, the ideal Republican victory map would have him winning a whopping seven of the ten swing states, with Obama holding onto just Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Colorado. That means, that counting the last election, Romney would need to win back those seven states plus Indiana (which went for Obama in 2008), thus marking more than a one hundred point swing in the electoral college.
It is clear that Romney’s campaign, for numerous reasons, has gained ground in this election season. It is equally transparent that the Obama campaign is a shadow of a 2008 campaign that was supposed to be a paradigm for future presidential campaigns. Will this combination of factors be enough?
The blame for Romney’s plight extends further back than just the previous Republican administration. The electoral strategy of cementing the socially conservative southern and mid-western base voters is not a new concept. That idea was started by Ronald Reagan’s presidential campaigns and further solidified by both Bushes and John McCain. While successful in the short term, the strategy will limit this Republican candidate’s ability to win this election.
Couple the Republican’s limited strategy with Obama’s electoral domination in 2008, which increased the number of target states (North Carolina, Iowa, Colorado, and Indiana) for the Democrats, and you are left with a Republican campaign that is exponentially more challenging.
Is it possible, that voter turnout (a number that has gone up at least fifteen million votes since 2000) could negatively affect Obama? Is it also possible that economic hardships knock out Obama just as they did with the re-election campaigns of Presidents’ Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush? Is it possible that thousands of independent voters in ten very different swing states see Mitt Romney as the moderate who was Governor of Massachusetts, rather that the right wing-pleasing Republican that has muddled his message? The answer to all of these questions is, yes, it is possible.
Yet, given the state of the electoral map, the current volume of polls, the remaining political issues facing his campaign, and the path that was forced on him since the Reagan era, it is difficult to imagine a Romney victory. The fact is, in this election, the results are not about what is fair, possible, or even right, but rather what the numbers gap says is almost certain.