Unravelling the US election – or not, as the case may be…

There are just 16 days to go until the US Presidential election. Liberal Democrat Voice will be live-blogging the election results as they come in on the night. Hopefully, the count won’t go on as long as it did in 2000, or we might be in for a very long live blog.

I should declare, up front, that I am inveterately Obama-optimist in my views. My predictions, over time, have been less reliable than those of Dick Morris.

The race has always been extremely close but Obama was beginning to pull away after a merciless summer campaign against Romney. The first televised debate in Denver blew all the cards up in the air and now it’s too close to call.

There are scores of polls everyday plus pundits giving vent to every conceivable angle to the election. It’s very difficult to make head or tail to what is going on.

I would offer a few elements which might help provide some clarity as to the current situation.

The national polls are important but can be a tad irrelevant. A recent Gallup poll had Romney ahead by seven points at a stunning 52 per cent. However, an analysis of that poll showed that it had Obama ahead in the North, East and West, but Romney ahead by 22 points in southern states, such as Mississippi, which won’t (with the exception of Florida) make a ha’peth of difference to the outcome of the election.

To really know what is going on you have to look at the polls for the “swing states”. Then it gets a bit complex. You can do your head in trying to work out the various permutations in the electoral college vote needed to get the crucial 270 seats to win.

John Cassidy in The New Yorker makes sense of the maths in one snappy paragraph:

For the sake of argument, let’s assume Romney carries Florida and Virginia. According to my map, that would leave him with 248 votes, still twenty-two short of victory. If he also wins Colorado and New Hampshire, both of which I have listed as toss-ups, he would get to 261 votes, leaving him needing nine more to reach 270. That means he would have to win Ohio or Wisconsin, or Iowa and Nevada. The good news for Democrats is that Obama appears to be holding onto his leads in all four of these states. That’s his firewall.

So, it’s all eyes on six or seven states. The rest are relatively safely predictable for either side.

The New York Times has a great political calculus blog run by Nate Silver called Five Thirty Eight (which happens to be the total number of seats in the electoral college). Most days they do an excellent review of the latest polls using their (apparently) highly sophisticated model.

Currently, they give Obama a 67.9% chance of winning. They have Ohio way ahead as the state most likely to give the deciding electoral vote. Far behind, in that regard, are Nevada, Iowa, New Hampshire and Wisconsin, in that order.

They have an interesting prediction called the “return on investment index” which shows “the relative likelihood that an individual voter would determine the Electoral College winner”. Currently that voter lives in Ohio, or close behind in terms of probability, Nevada.

Let’s take their “adjusted polling average” (as of Saturday 20th October) on the eight key states mentioned by John Cassidy for a Romney path to victory:

Assumed for Romney:
Florida – Romney +1.9%
Virginia – Romney +0.7%

Needed by Romney:
Colorado – Romney +0.1%
New Hampshire – Obama +0.2%

Also needed by Romney:
Scenario 1:
Ohio – Obama +1.8%
or Wisconsin – Obama +2.3%

or:
Scenario 2:
Iowa – Obama +1.5%
and
Nevada – Obama +1.8%

That doesn’t look too bad for Obama. But we could have another 2000 “dimpled chads” scenario or an “October surprise”. Or Obama could do badly in the third debate. Everyone is saying he should do well, because he’s good on foreign policy. I take that as a bad sign that he could actually cock it up. And independents are starting to break strongly for Romney.

But one thing that should give a little comfort to Obamans, is the state of the ground war. The Obama team have been beavering away on the ground in the key states for several years, while Romney was still chasing the GOP nomination. They have a strong lead in the number of local field offices, over the Romney campaign, in all the key states.

Whether that will make any difference, only time will tell.

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist in Newbury and West Berkshire. He is Wednesday Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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3 Comments

  • Paul McKeown 22nd Oct '12 - 3:16pm

    The thought of a Romney presidency scares the living daylights out of me. The Republican party has lost any sense of balance or proportion, taking extremely conservative positions on most of the social issues of the day and doesn’t even pretend to care about the economic issues affecting the urban poor or middle classes. In the longer term it will have to change, as its current small town whites only ticket will ultimately prove electoral suicide in a country whose demographics are changing rapidly.

  • The Huffington Post has got a great dashboard that shows the state of play.

    http://elections.huffingtonpost.com/2012/romney-vs-obama-electoral-map

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/us-elections-2012

    See the latest polls section for all the most recent polls.

    Obama is still ahead but it has shifted slightly in Romneys direction.

    I think a Republican victory will be terrible as it will lead to poor economic policies and war with Iran to distract its population from the inevitable mess its economic policies create. I really hope that Obama wins.

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