2012 Electoral Math

Obama Likely Will Lose in 2012


We'll begin with the 2008 results adjusted for the post-Census reapportionment. I think we can all agree that this is a baseline -- the chances that Obama will win more electoral votes than he did three years ago is zero. Then we'll begin with what I think are fairly obvious adjustments -- we'll give the Republicans back the electoral vote they lost in Nebraska along with Indiana, North Carolina, and Virginia -- traditionally Republican states that he carried last time through a special magic the like of which we are not likely to see again.

Let's work from this base of 219 electoral votes and assume that the following states are potential battlegrounds in 2012: Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, and Florida. We'll throw in Maine and New Jersey as stretch states as well. This gives the Republican nominee an almost absurd number of paths to the White House:

Perhaps the most obvious one, in that it resembles the 2000 and 2004 battlefields most heavily, is that a Republican could win by taking just Florida, Ohio, and Nevada from that list of states.

Or, even, they could tie it -- and win in a Republican-controlled House -- by taking Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin from the rust belt and Nevada in the West.

Alternatively, they could win without taking a single rust-belt state by winning in Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado, Florida, and New Hampshire.

Another odd-looking way of doing it would be to take Pennsylvania, Ohio, Nevada, and Oregon.

More simply, working from this base, Obama has to take 2/3 of the electoral votes in battleground states -- a tall order even for ordinary times.

Comment: Cool interactive electoral map (screen shot above): 270towin.com


  1. I think you better not count your chickens before they hatch. The GOP hasn't even decided which clown to run yet!

  2. Also, the logic -- which seems based on how various states performed in the past -- is flawed. The basic demographic shifts in the country -- not the least the surge in the hispanic vote between the 2000 and 2010 census reports -- is not going to shift states to the Republican side of the isle. Maybe if the Republicans nominated a spanish speaking, pro-immigration conservative, then the hispanic vote (less homogenous that it might appear from polling data) might break up along cultural and religious lines. Otherwise, Obama's popularity and approval numbers of hispanics and the Republican's unpopular positions -- particularly the idea that 14th amendment natural birth citizenship does not apply to children of illegal immigrants and language that projects illegal immigrants as "illegals" -- guarentees that the basic dynamics here will not change.

    This changes the dynamics in New Mexico, Nevada, Colorado, Virginia, North Carolina, and Georgia. If you believe that his approval / disappoval numbers and the right direction / wrong track numbers (yes, I see the asymmetry in the question), then he has better chances up picking up states in this group than in the rust belt. I would put Colorado and Nevada as lean Democrat and New Mexico as solid Democrat. Virginia shows every sign of becoming a strong Democratic state for statewide national elections, but I would want to see more polling. The numbers showing North Carolina and Georgia as being competative (Georgia) or leaning Obama (North Carolina) are interesting but I don't really believe that they will play out that way on election day. That said, the fact that he is doing much better in North Carolina than Ohio tells an important story about demographic shifts. Thinking of the south as a given electoral win for the Repulicans may have worked in the 1980s and 1990s, but in 2012 Obama would have to win just one in five votes from white people in Georgia if hispanics and blacks turned out in comparable numbers and broke 80-20 for Obama (which is lower than the numbers from 2012).

    You are dead-on right in your assessment of the Rust belt. I think the state budget / union issues in that region will keep Wisconsin, Minnosota, and Michigan from becoming a battlefield states, but I would put Pennsylvia as a toss-up (which you would not guess from the historical data), Ohio and Iowa as leans Republican, Indiana and Missouri as solid Republican.

    I think you are dead wrong on the Pacific Northwest. If the Republicans re-invented themselves as a centrist party and ran an over moderate (and that the ran a much better campaign than McCain did who I think should have done much better than he did), then maybe. There have been very popular moderate or technocratic Republicans who won statewide elections there, but I do not think you will see a social conservative win a west coast state without a major demographic or cultural shift.

    Florida is critical to either party, but I think it is too confusing to game out and I still wouldn't rule out Jeb Bush as a potential candidate.

    So if the Republicans win Ohio and Florida, hold onto the Missouri, North Carolina and Georgia, pick up Indiana and Iowa and the Democrats hold onto Pennsylviania and Virginia then the final list of battlegrounds would be Colorado, New Hampshire, and Nevada. Obama would have to win two out of those three to win.

    Lean Republic or Better: Florida, Ohio, Iowa, North Carolina, Georgia, Indiana

    Lean Democrat or Better: Colorado, Virginia, New Mexico, Michigan, Wisconsin, Oregon, Washington

    True Toss-Up: Nevada, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania

    It may be an unusual breakdown, but I think it reflects both recent polling (look at Gallup's recent state-by-state national poll) and the demographic reality. That said, I doubt the Democrats are completely willing to conceed Iowa, Florida, or Ohio and I doubt the Republicans are willing to conceed Virginia or the purple states in the south west / rocky mountain region.


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