Race to 270: A Look Into the Numbers of the Presidential Race

Race to 270: A Look Into the Numbers of the Presidential Race

Note: These numbers were gathered at the end of last week. 

We’re only one day away from Election Day and media attention on the race has been full throttle for a couple of months now.  You’ll hear a lot of numbers thrown around on the national news tonight—national polls being the most deceptive of them—but only a few of them mean much at all.  Just about all of the spending in the presidential race is being spent in 11 states, and among swing states, a few are more important than others.  When you hear “Obama wins Massachusetts” or “Romney wins Texas,” it’s not something to really take note of.

Before we even start down the path of battleground states, President Obama has 201 electoral votes essentially locked up—from liberal states largely on either coast—and Governor Romney has 191 locked up, the majority coming from the south and west.  We’re not going to delve into the scenarios that give one Maine vote to Romney or one Nebraska vote to Obama (note: both of these states assign one electoral vote for winning each Congressional District and two for winning the state).  The President winning Omaha’s district as he did in 2008 doesn’t really change his best win scenario nor does Governor Romney winning a district in Maine.  Therefore, the 11 states to focus on, the battlegrounds, are Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Before we even start looking too closely, it’s safe to say that if either candidate is going to win the election, they’re going to have to pick up a few of the battleground states.  The President will have to win Michigan and Pennsylvania, placing him on 237, and Governor Romney will have to take North Carolina, placing him on 206.  Obama leads comfortably in Michigan and Pennsylvania, with ~5 point leads in each state. While Romney’s lead in North Carolina is probably less than 3 points, it’s a state he desperately needs.

So that leaves us to focus on eight remaining states.  President Obama is polling very well in Wisconsin right now, around four points up, so we’ll have to give him the Badger State, leaving him with just 23 electoral votes left to get.  In order for anything to matter, Governor Romney must win Florida, a state where he holds a slight lead and one where it is simply mathematically difficult for Romney to win the election without winning the state.  If Romney does well enough to swing some states he currently trails in, he’ll win the state he’s marginally ahead in.  This brings Romney to 235 electoral votes, 35 away from the presidency.

While this may sound neck-and-neck from where we’re at now, President Obama currently leads in the polls in every other battleground state, and that gives him 305 electoral votes, many more than the required 270.  Granted, Obama’s leads are marginal in many of the battlegrounds, but Romney’s path to 270 is tough.  He’ll have to swing Virginia, a state where the President leads by about the same margin Romney does in Florida (slightly less than 1%).  That would bring Governor Romney to 248, 22 from victory.  Colorado’s the next closest race for the Republican candidate to get, where he trails by around 1.3%.  If he can get the Centennial State, he’d be sitting on 257.

Now let’s pause for a minute.  There’s actually a decent chance coming from here to end up with a tie vote in the Electoral College.  If Romney from here were to win Nevada and Iowa, with the President taking Ohio and New Hampshire, we end up level on 269 votes, with Governor Romney likely to win the presidency on the House of Representative’s vote.

But let’s ignore that—the President leads by over three points in Nevada and Iowa right now—something’s going to have to change.  Romney’s path to victory without Ohio is very slim, and quite frankly, so is the President’s.  While Obama has a more plausible one—he could still win the election without Ohio if he gets Colorado or Virginia—it’s unlikely that he would lose the lead in Ohio where he has a sizeable lead (~2.8%) and win a state where he’s ahead by around a point.

This election is simple.  Whichever candidate wins the state of Ohio likely takes home the 270th vote.  If it’s Governor Romney, he’s going to be on at least 275, as his momentum in making up a nearly three point deficit in Ohio will surely lead him to victory in Virginia, Colorado, Florida, and North Carolina – the quintet that is most likely to give him the presidency (also five of the six battlegrounds” that are most valuable when you take out virtual Obama locks in Michigan and Pennsylvania).  The President just has to get to 33 of those final electoral votes, and winning Florida is game, set, and match to Obama.  All he would need from there is one other state, and it’s naïve to think that he can make up a slight deficit in Florida without winning states where he’s as many as 4 points up.  Realistically, his easiest path to victory is Wisconsin, Ohio, and one of Nevada or Iowa.  That gets Obama to 271, which while a tight margin, is enough to get him another four years.

Ultimately, I think President Obama will have done enough to win another four years.  If Governor Romney wins this election, it’s because he’ll have a much better turnout on Election Day than the polls are currently predicting.  However, (if we’re throwing out MI and PA, which we should) the President only needs to get three states that he leads by at least 2.8 points in at the moment.  That’s why he’s likely to be taking his second Oath of Office on January 21.


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