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  Politics and Elections
Monday, October 10, 2011
2012 Elections - First look at the Electoral College
Three years ago, Barak Obama breezed into the White House winning 28 states, the District of Columbia and one electoral vote in Nebraska.  That's 365 electoral votes total.  In the process, he amassed 69.46 million votes, over 7 million more votes than any presidential candidate in United States history.  His margin of victory over GOP nominee John McCain surpassed 9 million votes.  Simple math would predict a large erosion of support would have to befall President Obama for him to fail to attain a second term.  However, looking at the Electoral College map, it isn't all that hard to see a Republican challenger getting the needed 270 EVs to unseat the incumbent.

Let's start with the closest of state races from 2008.  President Obama won North Carolina (0.32%), Indiana (1.04%), Nebraska's 2nd congressional district (1.19%) and Florida (2.82%) by less than 3%.  Assuming equal distribution across the nation, a GOP-ward swing of a mere 1.5% in the popular vote would flip these states to red and narrow Obama's EV margin to 305-235.  And if his portion of the popular vote were to decline just 3% more, Ohio (4.59%), Virginia (6.29%) and Colorado (8.95%) would give their 40 electoral votes and an electoral victory to the Republican nominee.  So, in light of the numbers, it is clear that the 2012 election will be won or lost in these three states.

Conspicuously absent from this winning GOP scenario are any of the traditional battleground states of Iowa, Nevada, New Mexico, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Minnesota and New Hampshire.  In 2000, George W. Bush needed all the states mentioned previously as well as Nevada and New Hampshire to get to a scant 271-267 electoral vote majority.  Next year, the GOP candidate can lose both Nevada and New Hampshire (10 EVs total) and still reach a more comfortable majority with 275 electoral votes.  Redistricting over the last two censuses has shifted at least 14 electoral votes to redder states and made electing a Republican president structurally easier.

Compounding Obama's re-election difficulties are his dismal approval numbers.  Realistically, a sitting president with a job approval rating under 45% has very little chance of winning 4 more years in office.  These numbers could improve, but with 13 months until Election Day, the odds are long that they would improve enough to for him to win.  Nate Silver actually posted the following graphic in an article he wrote back in January concerning this very phenomenon.

From Silver's analysis, Obama's current approval of 40% maps to about a 40% chance of re-election.  Considering the structural changes due to redistricting, I'd peg his chances at 35% or so right now.

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