2012 Electoral Math -- Obama's Debate Cliff

[ Posted Monday, October 15th, 2012 – 18:41 UTC ]

Welcome back to our now-weekly Electoral Math column series. In the introduction to last week's column, I warned that the full effects of the first televised presidential debate had yet to fully appear. This week, the effects showed up in a big way -- which (as you can probably guess) was mostly good news for Mitt Romney and bad news for Barack Obama, as some of his numbers fell off a rather large cliff.

By the end of the week, however, Obama was doing a bit better, and Romney showed some signs of weakening in states that he really should have "closed the deal" in by now. Perhaps this had to do with the good news on the unemployment front, but that's just sheer speculation on my part, I admit. In any case, by week's end the picture was slightly more mixed for both candidates.

Let's take a look at our new charts for the week:

Electoral Math By Percent

[Click on any of theses graphs to see larger-scale versions.]

In the chart of total electoral votes (or "EV"), Obama's dropoff is quite noticeable (in blue). The worst news Obama got this week was the loss of Florida (with its whopping 29 EV), all the way over to the Romney column. Added together with the loss of New Hampshire (4 EV) to Romney, and Colorado (9 EV) to the "Tied" column, Obama saw a steep downward spike in his total. Last week, Obama held 62 percent of the total EV, but this week he's only at 54 percent. Romney (in red, above, from the top of the chart downwards) broke through the 40 percent barrier for the first time since mid-August, finishing at 44 percent. [Note: The numbers don't add up to 100 percent because Colorado is still a tie.]

Twelve states shifted around in the categories this week. Eight of these were good news for Romney, and only three were good news for Obama (one wobbled, but wound up where it began).

Romney strengthened his standing in one state he previously held (Montana), and Obama weakened in four of the states he continues to hold (Connecticut, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin). Colorado, as noted, went from Obama's column to Tied. But the really good news for Romney was that he finally managed to flip two states from Obama's column to his. Florida and New Hampshire put 33 EV into Romney's total while subtracting them from his opponent.

Obama's good news was minor, as Minnesota was the only state to firm up for him. Two Romney states weakened, but Georgia hasn't been polled in quite a while, offering a possible explanation (old polling data rather than true movement). Arizona is more worrisome for Team Romney, as Obama is showing surprising strength for so late in the game. Michigan showed signs of weakening for Obama as well, but had bounced back by the end of the week.

Let's take a closer look at the movement for each candidate, beginning with Mitt Romney:

Romney Electoral Math

[Definition of terms: "Strong" means 10% or better in the polls,
"Weak" means 5% or better, and "Barely" is under five percent.

Overall, Romney's numbers have dramatically improved since last week (vertical lines in the graph mark when each of these columns appeared), with the addition of Florida and New Hampshire. But at the end of the week, Romney was showing weakness within what should be his stronghold states at this point. Montana moved from "Weak" to "Strong," but Montana only has 3 EV, so it didn't move the graph much. Georgia moved from Strong to Weak, and (more significantly) Arizona moved from Weak to "Barely." This continues a downward trend for Romney in Arizona it bears pointing out (two weeks ago, it was in Romney's Strong column).

But the good news in Romney's Barely column more than made up for his weakness elsewhere. Romney started the week with a total of 206 EV, and by week's end he had moved up to 239 EV. While not an all-time high, this is a better number than he's seen since August, and the trend looks pretty good for him as of now.

Digging deeper into Romney's numbers presents a more sobering picture for Team Romney, however. Romney's Strong total fell to 134 EV (this one is hard to see, as it just happened, so the falloff in the chart isn't obvious yet). Two weeks ago, he was at 158 EV in Strong, for comparison. The number we always find to be the most significant one to track is "Strong Plus Weak," and here too the news for Romney is not good. Two weeks ago, he was at 191 EV in Strong Plus Weak. One week ago, he was at 181 EV. This week finds him down to 170 EV -- which is Romney's all-time low in this crucial category. Romney is doing much better overall, but his support among the redder states seems to be slipping, to put this another way.

Moving onward, let's take a look at Barack Obama's chart:

Obama 2012 Electoral Math

That's a pretty scary plunge, for Team Obama. Now that enough time has gone by since the first debate, the effects can truly be seen. So much for all those pundits who said "debates never change anything," eh?

Obama's numbers had started falling in our last column, and they continued to fall off a small cliff during this week as well. This dropoff wasn't quite as bad as the crater John McCain dug for himself during the economic crash of 2008, but it was at the very least comparable. Overall, Obama lost three states this week, Florida, Colorado, and New Hampshire. This dropped his total from 332 EV down to 290 EV. This is the lowest Obama's been in this category since the end of August (the last time he dipped below 300 EV). Two weeks ago, Obama was at 347 EV, for comparison -- a huge net loss of 57 EV.

Peering into the microscope, the news was still pretty bad for Team Obama. His Strong numbers fell from 204 EV to 187 EV, as Pennsylvania and Connecticut weakened -- partially offset by Minnesota firming up. In the Weak category, Obama lost Michigan but then regained it by week's end. Three states left Weak downwards, Nevada, New Hampshire, and Wisconsin. Two states were added, Connecticut and Pennsylvania, but this news was actually bad, as they fell from Strong. The only good news here was Minnesota leaving to move upwards to Strong.

When taken together, the Strong Plus Weak showed the most dramatic dropoff. Two weeks ago, Obama was at almost his all-time high here, with 284 EV in Strong Plus Weak. One week ago, he had fallen to 257 EV. Obama began the week watching this number fall to an all-time low of 215 EV, only to be replaced the next day by an even lower all-time low of 201 EV. This is a dropoff of 83 EV in less than two weeks' time. By week's end, Obama had recovered in Michigan and Pennsylvania, and their beefy EV totals had boosted him back to 237 EV in Strong Plus Weak. This is still down almost 50 EV from where he started, however.

Some debates, it appears, do matter to the public. That's the lesson to be drawn, here. The overall picture isn't as dim as you might think for Obama, however. He started with such a massive lead that even though he's slipped, he still has a goodly lead even with all the falloff. Right now, Obama holds 290 EV to Romney's 239 EV -- an edge of 51 EV. This is down from last week's lead of 126 EV, though, which is sobering news indeed for Obama. On the more critical Strong Plus Weak metric, Obama holds 237 to Romney's 170, for a lead of 67 EV. This is only down slightly from last week's 76 EV, due to Romney slipping in this category as well.


My Picks

We finish, as always, with my picks, which are a bit more subjective than just tracking poll numbers. Different categories are used here, to avoid confusion. Full lists of each category can be found at the bottom of the column, along with our explanation of where we get our polling numbers from (which has been added by popular demand).


Likely States -- Obama

Safe Obama (16 states, 194 EV)
One state left this category this week, and two states were added. Connecticut weakened for Obama, most likely due to a sort of "reverse coattails" effect from the very close Senate race (in which the Democrat is not doing nearly as well as you would think). Counteracting this was New Mexico and Minnesota moving into safe territory for Obama. Even with all the bad news, this meant an increase of 8 EV here.

Probable Obama (3 states, 43 EV)
Connecticut moved into this category from "Safe Obama," changing places with Minnesota and New Mexico, as I just mentioned. But Wisconsin has to be seen as only "Lean Obama" at this point, and Michigan and Pennsylvania seem to be hovering on the brink of moving down as well. For the time being, I'm feeling good about Obama's chances in both states, so I'm leaving them here. Net loss for Obama here: 18 EV.


Likely States -- Romney

Safe Romney (20 states, 154 EV)
Georgia moves down to "Probable Romney," while Montana and Indiana move up to take its place. Net loss for Romney is only 2 EV.

Probable Romney (1 state, 16 EV)
As just mentioned, Georgia swapped places with Montana and Indiana, but the bad news for Romney here is Arizona moving down to only "Lean Romney." Net loss for Romney: 9 EV.


Tossup States

Lean Obama (4 states, 40 EV)
Wisconsin was added here, moving down from "Probable Obama," but two states dropped all the way to "Too Close To Call" -- Colorado and New Hampshire. Iowa stays put this week. An argument could be made that two states -- Ohio and Nevada -- really belong in Too Close To Call, but for now I'm confident enough of both to keep them here. Net loss for Obama for the week here: 3 EV.

Lean Romney (3 states, 50 EV)
Arizona moves down from Probable Romney, but the big news for Romney is Florida moving up to Lean Romney from Too Close To Call. Romney, at this point, has to be seen as holding a small but persistent edge in the Sunshine State, although this is one of the most volatile states so we'll see what happens next week. Missouri stays put this week, resulting in a gain of a whopping 40 EV for Romney in this category.

Too Close To Call (4 states, 41 EV)
Colorado and New Hampshire move down to the true tossup category this week, and a case could even be made that New Hampshire belongs in Lean Romney. North Carolina stays put, although a similar argument could be made that Romney has a true edge in the state. Virginia also remains almost tied, although Obama may indeed have an edge here which reappears next week. Although there is one more state in this category since last week, there was a net loss of 16 EV due to Florida's movement to Romney's column.


Final Tally

Mitt Romney got an enormous bounce out of the first debate. This translated into him flipping two states to his column -- something he hasn't been able to do in quite a while. Obama's numbers fell off a small cliff, but were beginning to recover over the weekend. The effects (if any) of the vice-presidential debate may be the cause of Obama's rebound, especially in blue-collar states Obama's going to need in November. Which way this trend moves next week may indicate how close a race this will truly be. If Romney keeps gaining, election night is going to be very, very close. If Obama builds on his rebound, he could get to the point where Romney's path to 270 EV is almost blocked.

The second debate is going to be crucial, and we'll even be able to see the effects by next Monday.

Barack Obama now has a pretty firm hold on 19 states which contain 237 EV. Mitt Romney has a grip on 21 states, or 170 EV. Obama's lead of 67 EV is almost exactly what it was a week ago (66 EV). Both men fell in their totals, here, though -- putting more states into the tossup category.

Out of the 11 states up for grabs and their 131 EV, Obama now needs a lot more than he used to -- 33 EV in all. Winning Florida and New Hampshire would do this for him, as would winning Ohio, Virginia, and one additional state. He's still got many paths to victory, although he's now got to pile up more electoral votes to get there. Mitt Romney has to win 100 EV of the total 131 EV within reach, which is a mighty tall order. Romney would need all his Lean, all the Too Close To Call, and a further 9 EV from Lean Obama to win. Romney would have to either Ohio or Wisconsin to put him over the top. At this point in time, the odds still strongly favor Barack Obama.

But, as we've seen, one debate could change all of that in significant fashion.


[Program Note: I will be interviewed on Jamaican radio tomorrow morning at 5:30 A.M., Pacific Time. Topics for discussion will be: the fallout from the first debate, what to expect in the second debate, and Obama promises which have and have not been kept. I will post a sound file of this interview as soon as I get it, on my site.]


[Electoral Vote Data:]
(State electoral votes are in parenthesis following each state's name. Washington D.C. is counted as a state. This column series relies on for state polling data, as we did four years ago.)

Barack Obama Likely Easy Wins -- 19 States -- 237 Electoral Votes:

Safe States -- 16 States -- 194 Electoral Votes
California (55), Delaware (3), Hawaii (4), Illinois (20), Maine (4), Maryland (10), Massachusetts (11), Minnesota (10), New Jersey (14), New Mexico (5), New York (29), Oregon (7), Rhode Island (4), Vermont (3), Washington D.C. (3), Washington (12)

Probable States -- 3 States -- 43 Electoral Votes
Connecticut (7), Michigan (16), Pennsylvania (20)


Mitt Romney Likely Easy Wins -- 21 States -- 170 Electoral Votes:

Safe States -- 20 States -- 154 Electoral Votes
Alabama (9), Alaska (3), Arkansas (6), Idaho (4), Indiana (11), Kansas (6), Kentucky (8), Louisiana (8), Mississippi (6), Montana (3), Nebraska (5), North Dakota (3), Oklahoma (7), South Carolina (9), South Dakota (3), Tennessee (11), Texas (38), Utah (6), West Virginia (5), Wyoming (3)

Probable States -- 1 State -- 16 Electoral Votes
Georgia (16)


Tossup States -- 11 States -- 131 Electoral Votes:

Tossup States Leaning Obama -- 4 States -- 40 Electoral Votes
Iowa (6), Nevada (6), Ohio (18), Wisconsin (10)

Tossup States Leaning Romney -- 3 States -- 50 Electoral Votes
Arizona (11), Florida (29), Missouri (10)

Too Close To Call -- 4 States -- 41 Electoral Votes
Colorado (9), New Hampshire (4), North Carolina (15), Virginia (13)


No polling data since July:
(States which have not been polled since the beginning of August, with the dates of their last poll)

South Carolina (1/13), Tennessee (5/9), Utah (6/21)

No polling data at all, yet:
(States which have not been polled so far this year)

Alaska, Delaware, Kansas, Mississippi, Washington D.C., Wyoming


Electoral Math Column Series Archive:

[Oct 08] [Sep 26] [Sep 17] [Aug 22] [Aug 8] [Jul 18] [Jun 25]


-- Chris Weigant


Cross-posted at Business Insider
Cross-posted at The Huffington Post

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


18 Comments on “2012 Electoral Math -- Obama's Debate Cliff”

  1. [1] 
    tinsldr2 wrote:

    Ok by the numbers, again using RCP Poll Averages:

    CO .6 Romney a state Obama won in 08 by 9.0%

    NH .7% Obama where he won by 9.6% and kerry won also

    VA .8 Obama he won by 6.3 in 2008

    NV 1.6% Obama but he had 12% in 2008

    OH 2.2% Obama a crucial must win state for both sides

    WI 2.3% Obama but he had almost 14% in 08

    FL 2.5% Romney a state Obama won in 08 and would love to carry

    IO 2.7% Obama a drop from his 9.5% in 08

    MI is 4.4 % Obama he had 16% in 08

    NC is 4.7% Romney again it was an Obama state in 08

    PA is 4.7% Obama but when that state gets close it is trouble.

    So yes, Obama still has a slight lead but most of those states are true toss ups. The numbers show a huge drop from his 2008 popularity and a trend of movement towards Romney.

    It is interesting to see what tonight's debate brings after the VP debate.

    Also we have the late night news of Hillary taking one for the team. But will hiding behind her skirt tails help?? Remains to be seen.

    As always you present a "relatively" unbiased look and that is appreciated.

    (cross posted to Huffpo)

  2. [2] 
    Michale wrote:

    I wonder how much joy and glee we'll be seeing from Weigantians this week with the RCP + numbers for Obama going down and going down fast.. :D

    Florida is DEFINITELY not going to go for Obama this time around..

    Matter of fact, most states that went Obama in '08 are channeling their inner Scotty..

    "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me."
    -Scotty, STAR TREK, Friday's Child

    It's like I said before in the Biden Unleashed commentary..

    If you hired Obama Inc to build a back deck and it was a lousy job and cost 10 times more than it was supposed to.......

    WHY would anyone want to hire Obama Inc to build a front deck???

    It simply makes NO sense...

    As always you present a "relatively" unbiased look and that is appreciated.

    here, here.... :D


  3. [3] 
    Michale wrote:

    I am not sure if the following simply regurgitates what was already posted or if it's new territory.

    If it's the former, my apologies...

    Since the last time we visited this chart, Obama has stayed the same at 201 EVs.

    Romney went UP by 10 to 192 EVs.

    And the Toss Ups went down by Romney's 10 EVs...

    Ya'all said you wouldn't be worried until and unless the RCP polls would warrant it...

    Are ya worried yet?? :D


  4. [4] 
    Michale wrote:

    Romney went UP by 10 to 192 EVs.

    Uh... That would be 191 EVs..

    My bust...


  5. [5] 
    Michale wrote:

    Here's another interesting poll...

    39.8% of the electorate likes the back deck...

    54.8% of the electorate doesn't like the back deck, thinks it's shoddy workmanship and cost WAY too much...

    So, how many of those 54.8% would hire the same company to build the front deck???

    All standard caveats re: polls are in place...


  6. [6] 
    michty6 wrote:

    The amazing thing for me is (quoting parts from your piece CW):
    Mitt Romney got an enormous bounce out of the first debate + Obama's numbers fell off a small cliff = Obama holds 290 EV to Romney's 239 EV -- an edge of 51 EV(!)

    For all the media talk of how 'close' the election was pre-debate (it really wasn't), it is only now 'close' and even in this 'close' scenario Obama has the edge, especially in the Electoral College where the path to a Romney win without Ohio is limited. Romney still has a lot of work to do but is running out of time: Ohio was +5.5 Obama pre-debate, is +2.2 (and trending back to) Obama now.

    The good news for Romney? I think he will win tonight's debate. The interesting part will be the media reaction, if they call him out on his lies this time. I used to do a lot of debating and it's pretty hard to come up with a strategy to defeat someone who will just openly lie and change every single thing they believe in to make you look bad.

    For example, in debate 1 Obama used a lot of the fairly standard tactic of the 'pre-rebuttal' - this is where you predict your opponents argument and denounce them before your opponent talks on the subject, putting them in an awkward position if they have a prepared speech that you just ripped apart. For example 'my opponent believes X/Y/Z about taxes, which is wrong because of A/B/C'.

    Except since Romney just flat out lied about his policies it didn't work and made Obama look stupid:
    Obama: 'My opponent has a tax cut...'
    Romney: 'I don't have a tax cut'
    Obama: 'My opponent thinks regulation is not necessary'
    Romney: 'I love regulation!'
    Obama: 'My opponent has no plan for pre-existing conditions'
    Romney: 'My plan covers pre-existing conditions and does all the things Obamacare does, plus everyone gets a free Unicorn'

    If Obama does this again he will 'lose' again. I just can't think of any strategy, other than calling your opponent out on his lies (which apparently is 'Un-Presidential'), to beat an opponent who is willing to do or say anything and has absolutely no principles. It's a sad state of affairs when a large chunk of the viewers are so ignorant they haven't even a vague idea what the policies of Romney are. Let's hope Obama has something up his sleeve.

    One thing I'd do if I was him would be to ask every single person who asks a question what they do for a living and if they are a '47%er' (which the law of averages would suggest half would be!) drill this point home about how Romney doesn't give a crap about them. I still haven't heard Romney or Ryan successfully rebut the 47% comments other than to say 'I will govern for 100%', 'I misspoke' or 'I didn't speak elegantly' which are hardly proper rebuttals.


  7. [7] 
    Chris1962 wrote:

    So, how many of those 54.8% would hire the same company to build the front deck???

    It's hard to say, what with 53% having hired a totally inexperienced contractor in the first place, which doesn't exactly reek of sound judgment. But since the contractor was the biggest bullshoot artist ever to hit the home improvement scene, there's hope that there are enough dissatisfied customers out there who won't allow themselves to be duped by him a second time around.

    It sure would be nice to have some reliable polling to go by. But since pollsters are committed to under-sampling Republicans... can safely assume that the numbers are actually higher for Romney than the skewed polls are showing.

  8. [8] 
    michty6 wrote:

    This is the Romney I expect to see tonight:


  9. [9] 
    michty6 wrote:

    39.8% of the electorate likes the back deck...

    54.8% of the electorate doesn't like the back deck, thinks it's shoddy workmanship and cost WAY too much.

    I wonder who they blame for the poor deck? Let's see:
    Obama approval rating: 50.5%
    Congress approval rating: 13.8%

    Seems to me like 49.5% blame the President, while 86.2% blame Congress. I'd be worried if I was an incumbent in Congress...

  10. [10] 
    michty6 wrote:
  11. [11] 
    akadjian wrote:

    Dangit, Michty ... you beat me to it!

    Ok, here's something you may not have seen yet.

    This is good news for voting!

  12. [12] 
    michty6 wrote:

    David - the main thing to note with that 'decision' is that it wasn't even a decision. This time the Republican voter suppression attempts in Ohio were so bad the Supreme Court said it wasn't even worth their time to hear the case!! Unreal. That's like the 4th or 5th case of voter suppression attempts by Republicans that the courts have had to boot out in the last few months too. Insane.

  13. [13] 
    michty6 wrote:


    They've bought advertising on Google so when you Google 'Romney tax plan' this is the number 1 hit. I expect this is deliberate to catch the people Googling this during the debate tonight. Very clever.

  14. [14] 
    akadjian wrote:

    This time the Republican voter suppression attempts in Ohio were so bad the Supreme Court said it wasn't even worth their time to hear the case.

    You know it's bad when the conservative Supreme Court is even saying it's ridiculous

  15. [15] 
    Michale wrote:

    It sure would be nice to have some reliable polling to go by. But since pollsters are committed to under-sampling Republicans... can safely assume that the numbers are actually higher for Romney than the skewed polls are showing.

    And that is exactly why Weigantians are in for a rude awakening on 7 Nov..

    It's actually ironic. The In-The-Bag-For-Obama MSM is actually doing Team Obama a grave disservice. By over-sampling Democrats and under-sampling Republicans, the MSM is giving the Left a false sense of complacency. Making the Left feel that they don't have to work hard to win...

    David, michty, et al..

    Remember how ya'all felt after the Great Democrat Shellacking Of 2010??? Ya'all were totally astounded, wondering how this could have possibly happen..

    It's going to be just like that on 7 Nov only 20 times worse. Because THIS time around, ya'all had fair warning on how a biased MSM can screw with your heads...


    The "Told Ya So"s will be flying... er.. Fast And Furious around here on 7 Nov.... :D


  16. [16] 
    michty6 wrote:

    Remember how ya'all felt after the Great Democrat Shellacking Of 2010??? Ya'all were totally astounded, wondering how this could have possibly happen.

    You mean when polls said Republicans were going to win by 9 points but they won by 6? Yes it's funny, you don't hear that mentioned often in Republican conversations about the polls lol.

    But yes keep hoping this is 2010, Presidential elections and midterms are the same thing. Keep repeating it and it might come true: it will be like 2010, it will be like 2010, it will be like 2010.

  17. [17] 
    Michale wrote:

    But yes keep hoping this is 2010, Presidential elections and midterms are the same thing. Keep repeating it and it might come true: it will be like 2010, it will be like 2010, it will be like 2010.

    Who said that 2012 will be just like 2010??

    Not me..

    *I* am saying it's going to be 20 times WORSE for Democrats....

    2012 is going to make 2010 seem downright PLEASANT for Democrats by comparison...

    We'll know in just 3 weeks who'se right and who'se wrong.. :D

    I hope ya'all can take it.. :D


  18. [18] 
    Michale wrote:

    Election 2012 Likely Voters Trial Heat: Obama vs. Romney
    GALLUP: R 51% O 45%

    Since I know ya'all SWEAR by polls...

    At least by the ones that say what ya'all want to hear.. :D


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