Polls and Paradoxes: Obama’s Path to Victory in a Tight Election

obama cafeOne thing about the current campaign has been clear and consistent for months: opinion about Obama is sharply and evenly divided, with only a handful of voters who have no opinion. Nearly half the population seems to have a durable negative view of the President. This certainly suggests that the election will be close.

And many polls confirm this when we look at a hypothetical matchup (“If the election were held today, for whom would you vote?”) between Romney and Obama. Projected margins in most national polls are within, or barely outside, the margin of error. Although most polling lately shows Obama slowly gaining ground, this trend could easily be reversed by a new batch of bad economic news, or by an unforeseen crisis abroad.

Yet, it is essential to remember that this is not a national election, but 50 state elections, and winner-take-all in the Electoral College (except in Maine and Nebraska). So the results could quite easily bear only a passing resemblance to the national popular vote.

Unlike the 2000 election, when George W. Bush was able to eke out an Electoral College victory (with the help of a 5-4 Supreme Court majority), while losing the popular vote decisively, this year the advantage lies with Obama. The reason is that as the Republican Party has become increasingly right-wing, its support has become ever more geographically concentrated.

RealClearPolitics.com (RCP) estimates that Romney is likely to win 20 states with 159 electoral votes, while Obama is likely to win 12 states, plus the District of Columbia, with 175 electoral votes. But 10 more states, with 105 electoral votes, are currently rated as “leaning Obama,” enough to put him over the top. Only two states (Arizona and Indiana, with 22 electoral votes) are rated as “leaning Romney.” Of six “toss-up” states with 77 electoral votes, Obama is polling narrowly ahead in most of them, except for Missouri.

The Republican Party as presently constituted does not poll well outside the South and the Heartland (the Great Plains and northern Rockies). Even in states considered likely to go for Romney, the margins are not always overwhelming: Texas, usually conceded to the Republicans, had Romney up by only 7 points in the most recent state poll cited by RCP, the same margin found in Georgia. In contrast, most of Obama’s likely states show double-digit leads. So if this pattern holds, Romney’s backers will give him solid support in his base, but won’t be able to deliver much outside the base.

A similar pattern could also hold in elections for the House, where generic congressional ballots have again been consistently close for months. But with Republicans having controlled redistricting in far more states than Democrats, there are a great many solid Republican districts, especially in the South and Heartland. So about half the votes for members of Congress might be cast for Republicans, but they won’t necessarily elect a Republican majority because they’ll be too concentrated.

john peelerThis is all just educated speculation at this point: much will change between now and November. But barring a major reshuffle, the cards will go against Romney and the Republicans. They would have been well advised to accede to Democratic demands, after the debacle of 2000, to abolish the Electoral College.

John Peeler


  1. JoeWeinstein says

    (1)  The Congressional Republicans have done their damndest to re-elect Obama.  To summarize both their record and their message: 

         To:   the 99%, women, environment and science
         Message:  Drop Dead!

    (2)  However, Romney does have a chance, because meanwhile Obama has done his damndest to reject Americans’ common-sense expectations about leadership, and in particular about consistency and how you deal effectively with closed-minded bullies.  

    For Obama abroad, you ‘lead’ ‘from behind’.  Rather than directly upholding liberty or other perceived American interests (such as non-genocide or non-proliferation) you refer matters to groups of other nations (many of whose regimes are oppressive and corrupt) – the UN, the Arab League, European Union, Org of African Unity, etc.  You take umbrage with a fellow liberal republic like Israel which declines to make concessions to those who openly admit that their objective is to destroy her, you go to lengths to support and delight in the triumph of supposedly ‘moderate’ Islamic fanatics in places like Turkey and Egypt, and you play ‘helpless giant’ hand-wringing toward repressions in Iran and Syria – not to mention Tibet.  
    For Obama at home, you ‘lead’ by silence, e.g. saying nothing for worker rights in Wisconsin.  You also ‘lead’ by casual disregard or outright reversal of promises.  You accept and then reject public campaign finance.  You ‘lead’ against climate change and then work for MORE climate change and environmental degradation via more fossil fuel projects.  You denounce Bush and continue his anti-wildlife policies.  You pledge to respect state drug laws and then step up persecution of  California med pot users. 

    For Obama everywhere the apparent ultimate goal is not to uphold principles but to work out compromises – between good and evil, between victims and bullies, between rational Democrats and intransigent closed-minded and robber-baron Republicans, between us who want liberty and survival and those – from monopolists to ayatollahs – who just as soon would have us all enslaved or dead.   

    Yes, Romney does have a fighting chance.   

  2. Jay Levenberg, Esq. says

    If Obama keeps up with this class warfare business, he is going to get clobbered in the suburban areas of the big cities which he carried in 2008. It’s going to be a very close election and the last days headlines may decide the race altogether. Romney has 45%, Obama 45% (roughly) and the 10% that are still undecided have a favorable rating for Obama at the moment at 20%. You do the math. Unless something changes drastically, Romney is the next President.

  3. says

    I think these pols are extremely inaccurate. Most of my friends on the left are extremely dissatisfied with President Obama, but will be voting for him because once again the Republican alternative is wretched.

  4. Thomas Cleaver says

    I don’t know what polls “within the margin of error” you’re reading, but they’re at least three months old.  Most contemporary polls from non-Rasmussen polling operations show Obama leading Romney by double digits in most swing states and nationally.  Even down south in North Carolina he leads by 5 percent, outside the margin of error.  He leads by 8 percent in Virginia.  Of course, these are southern states where the statewide IQ has grown in recent years due to migration from the intelligent parts of the country.  Down in Peckerwood World – Jawja, Al’bama, Mizzippi, Loosiana and the whole other country of Texico, it will be different, as well as hillbilly world in Arkinsaw and Mizzoori, but outside of JeebusLand and Greater Utah, Romney’s dead meat and likely dead meat in some of those places too, since the Good Christians are averse to voting for some Mormon whackadoodle (and even in the rest of the country, no one is ready to have a Mormon running the show). What’s going to happen is Romney and the gargoyles he serves have had their masks ripped off, you don’t need to wear special sunglasses to see them as the alien killer lizards from outer space that they are.  Romney and his fascist base are going to get their ass whipped worse than Barry Goldwater got whipped in 1964.

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