When thinking about who is likely to win a presidential election, it is important to focus on the tallies of the Electoral College rather than the popular vote. On that basis, it’s safe to say that if Mitt Romney can take Ohio, Florida, and Virginia, this race looks extremely promising for the former governor. And I would suggest, on the basis of fairly simple reasoning, that the president should be extremely worried about his chances in those states.
Looking back at the results of 2008, we know that the races in each of those states were all won by Obama by a margin of about 200,000 votes in each state (Florida, Ohio, Virginia). That means that approximately 2% of the entire voting population decided the contest in Florida and less than 4% in Ohio. That’s an extremely small margin for President Obama, and one that seems almost impossible to defend given the complete reversal of enthusiasm and momentum across parties. To put it another way, it’s hard to see how Obama could pick up nearly as many McCain voters as Romney will secure from 2008 Obama backers.
The evidence for this is everywhere. Take the endorsements of major newspapers across the country as a bellwether: the New York Times reports that Romney has picked up 18 papers that previously endorsed Obama in 2008, compared to Obama’s capture of just three. Among voters, the Washington Post reported on the “Obama defectors” who plan to switch their vote to Romney this time around. More precisely, 16% of Obama's 2008 backers are either switching to Romney, another candidate, or remain undecided, a rate that the president cannot possibly overcome in Florida and Ohio (see above) if he hopes to take those states.
This doesn’t mean Obama cannot win, it just means I don’t see how he hangs on in those three key swing states when the margin last time – for an election that was basically a blowout – was already razor thin. Sure, more of his base may show up this time, or fewer Republicans, but that seems unlikely given how excited Democrats were last time to show the country they were sick of President Bush, his policies, and his party. Anyone who thinks Democrats can draw more reliably left-leaning voters out in 2012 than in 2008 must have some serious amnesia about how excited that bloc was to vote against Bush’s successor last time.