Are you worried that Frankenstorm will restrict your access to up-to-date polling numbers? Do you know more about the state of the race in places you’ve never been to, but haven’t decided what to do for Hallowe’en yet? Then you have come to the right place! With one week to go before Election Day dawns, the race for president is about as tight as it can get, so let's get right to it.
First, a look at the overall state of the electoral math:
[Click on any of theses graphs to see larger-scale versions.]
Things stayed pretty close to where they were last week (note: due to the final debate, last week's column ran on Tuesday, so you may have missed it). Barack Obama's overall electoral vote ("EV") total spiked upwards, then fell back, and finished at 280 EV, one down from where he started. Mitt Romney's total spiked way down, but then partially recovered by week's end, to close at 235 EV, down from 244 EV. The number of states perfectly tied stayed high, going from 13 EV to 34 EV, before falling back to 23 EV at the end. Percentage-wise, this left Obama at 52.0 percent of the overall Electoral College, while Romney fell back to 43.7 percent.
Eleven states moved around in the categories this week, which was mostly bad (but not terrible) news for Obama. Obama lost ground, but held onto, two states (Minnesota and New Mexico), while losing two to "Tied" (Iowa and New Hampshire). The only good news for Obama was flipping Colorado from Romney, but Obama only holds a thin lead here which could easily change back. Mitt Romney got good news in two of his states, and bad news in one, as Arizona and Tennessee firmed up and Montana weakened. Tennessee hadn't had a poll in a very long time, though, so this probably doesn't represent any real movement, just a reality that had been there all along. Still, it's good news for Romney who maintained his hold on all three states. Three states moved, but then moved back, leaving them where they started. Wisconsin firmed up for Obama, but then weakened in a subsequent poll; North Carolina slipped from Romney into a tie, but then drifted back; and Virginia briefly went from Tied to Obama, but then fell back again.
Romney's dip, in the chart above, was due to losing North Carolina and Colorado. His partial recovery was picking North Carolina back up again. Obama gained ground by briefly holding Virginia. When he lost it back to Tied, he also lost Iowa, but gained Colorado to partially offset the loss. At the very end, he lost New Hampshire to Tied. There are three states currently in the Tied category, Iowa, Virginia, and New Hampshire, for a total of 23 EV.
Let's take a closer look at the movement for each candidate, starting with Mitt Romney:
[Definition of terms: "Strong" means 10% or better in the polls,
"Weak" means 5% or better, and "Barely" is under five percent.]
Mitt Romney showed some strengthening among his base "red" states, but actually lost ground overall this week. Overall, he ended the week down by nine EV due to the loss of Colorado to Obama. Romney had some movement in his "Strong" numbers, as first he lost Montana and then gained Tennessee. This was a net gain for Romney, from 134 EV to 142 EV. Romney's "Weak" numbers also managed to grow over the week, from 46 EV all the way up to 60 EV before falling back to 49 EV. This pushed Romney's critical "Strong Plus Weak" line up to 191 EV, which he hasn't seen since the beginning of this month. Firming up Arizona added the 11 EV Romney gained here over last week.
This puts Romney in good (but not great) shape with one week to go. He has made up the ground he lost among his base over the month, but he still has never broken the barrier of polling ahead in states which add up to 250 EV, much less the 270 EV he needs to win.
Which brings us to how Obama's doing:
Overall, Obama stayed about the same, but what must be worrying Team Obama right now is that he seems to be weakening in some of his base "blue" states. That's a bad trend, one week out. For the week, Obama only lost one EV from his total. Obama, however, lost 15 EV from his Strong category, with the weakening of New Mexico and Minnesota. This brought his Strong number down from 210 EV to 195 EV at week's end. Obama was up briefly in Weak with the addition of Wisconsin, until it slipped back to "Barely." At the end, Minnesota also slipped into Barely, completing a one-week slide down from Strong Obama, which, again must be a little disconcerting for Obama fans. As a result, Obama's Strong Plus Weak ended down 10 EV this week to close out at 227 EV. The one bit of good news overall for Obama was capturing Colorado's 9 EV, but he's got a pretty tenuous hold on the state.
This all puts Obama in better shape than Romney, but neither candidate's position could be called "commanding" at this point. Four years ago, when I wrote my penultimate "Electoral Math" column, I subtitled it "Obama Has Closed The Deal." Needless to say, that wasn't a viable option this time around. While I'm usually skeptical of all the "it's going to be a close close race" nonsense from the mainstream media, this time around they may actually be right. The race is one whale of a lot tighter than it was in 2008 at this point, to put it another way.
Onward to the part of the program where the deciding factor can be not just a poll number, but how my gut feels about a particular state. As always, the categories here are different to avoid confusion with the hard data above. Full lists of states in all my categories are provided at the end, as well.
Likely States -- Obama
Safe Obama (18 states, 227 EV)
One state moves into "Safe Obama" this week, while another moves out. Minnesota can't really be seen as Safe anymore, so it's going to move down a bit. But my gut tells me that the race is pretty much in the bag for Obama in Pennsylvania, so I'm going to consider it Safe for now. Because Pennsylvania has twice Minnesota's 10 EV, Obama gains a bit here this week.
Probable Obama (3 states, 26 EV)
While Pennsylvania moves up from "Probable Obama," Minnesota swaps places with it. While Obama has gotten some bad polling of late in Minnesota, I still feel pretty good about his chances there, and so can't really see the state as a tossup yet. Nevada and Wisconsin both stay stable here this week, because I'm still feeling optimistic about both of them.
Likely States -- Romney
Safe Romney (21 states, 170 EV)
While the polling doesn't actually merit it, I'm still going to move Georgia up to Safe Romney this week, as I think Romney's going to win in a cakewalk here.
Probable Romney (2 states, 21 EV)
While Georgia moves up to Safe, Arizona moves up to take its place, as it firms up for Romney. Missouri stays put.
Lean Obama (3 states, 31 EV)
Two states change places here this week, as Iowa moves down to "Too Close To Call" while Colorado moves up from the same category. This is truly where gut feelings come into play, I should mention. New Hampshire and Ohio stay as "Lean Obama" this week, even though a case could be made that either could be considered a true tossup. I feel good about Obama's chances in Colorado, New Hampshire, and Ohio. I feel less good about his chances in Iowa. We're into tossing darts at the wall here, folks.
Lean Romney (1 state, 15 EV)
Arizona moved up to Probable Romney from this category this week, but I'm moving Florida down to Too Close To Call. I know, Florida has looked like Romney territory all month, but the polls have stayed incredibly tight, so perhaps Obama's response to a hurricane might help him with Floridians, who knows? At least until next week, we're moving Florida to tossup status. North Carolina stays as Lean Romney, although a case could be made that it belongs in Too Close To Call as well.
Too Close To Call (3 states, 48 EV)
Florida moves down from Lean Romney, and Iowa moves down from Lean Obama. To round out Too Close To Call, Virginia stays razor-close, with no clear lead shown by either candidate.
This is the last time we're going to provide such an exhaustive look at the polling, we should mention, because next Monday we're going to just dive in and make our predictions for how the 2012 election is going to happen, state by state.
The hard polling numbers show Obama maintaining a lead, but not an overwhelming one. Obama holds 280 EV to Romney's 235 EV, a lead of 45 EV. This is up from last week, when Obama only led Romney by 37 EV. But in Strong Plus Weak, Obama's 227 EV over Romney's 191 EV shows only a 36 EV lead, which is down from last week's 57 EV, and little more than half of Obama's lead from two weeks ago of 67 EV.
The race tightens. Obama, in my estimation, has 21 states with 253 EV comfortably in his column. Mitt Romney has secured 23 states for 191 EV. This shows a healthier lead of 62 EV for Obama, which is down from last week's 73 EV lead.
Still, Obama retains the edge. From the 94 EV in the seven tossup states, Obama only needs 17 EV to be re-inaugurated. Mitt Romney needs 79 EV to win. If Obama wins either Florida or Ohio, the election may essentially be over at that point. Even if Obama loses both large states, he still has multiple paths to victory. Romney pretty much has only one path: a last-minute surge which breaks all the undecideds in almost all of the tossup states his way. The problem for Obama is, this is now looking quite possible instead of ludicrously unlikely.
Frankenstorm Sandy may impact voters' feelings at the last minute, but the real sword of Damocles hanging over the White House right now is this Friday's release of the October unemployment figures. If the numbers are bad, it could give Romney the last-second momentum he needs. If the numbers are good, Obama could waltz to victory. Stay tuned....
[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 Electoral-Vote.com for state polling data, as we did four years ago.)
Barack Obama Likely Easy Wins -- 21 States -- 253 Electoral Votes:
Safe States -- 18 States -- 227 Electoral Votes
California (55), Connecticut (7), Delaware (3), Hawaii (4), Illinois (20), Maine (4), Maryland (10), Massachusetts (11), Michigan (16), New Jersey (14), New Mexico (5), New York (29), Oregon (7), Pennsylvania (20), Rhode Island (4), Vermont (3), Washington D.C. (3), Washington (12)
Probable States -- 3 States -- 26 Electoral Votes
Minnesota (10), Nevada (6), Wisconsin (10)
Mitt Romney Likely Easy Wins -- 23 States -- 191 Electoral Votes:
Safe States -- 21 States -- 170 Electoral Votes
Alabama (9), Alaska (3), Arkansas (6), Georgia (16), 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 -- 2 States -- 21 Electoral Votes
Arizona (11), Missouri (10)
Tossup States -- 7 States -- 94 Electoral Votes:
Tossup States Leaning Obama -- 3 States -- 31 Electoral Votes
Colorado (9), New Hampshire (4), Ohio (18)
Tossup States Leaning Romney -- 1 State -- 15 Electoral Votes
North Carolina (15)
Too Close To Call -- 3 States -- 48 Electoral Votes
Florida (29), Iowa (6), Virginia (13)
No polling data since August:
(States which have not been polled since the beginning of September, with the dates of their last poll)
South Carolina (1/13), Alabama (8/16), Vermont (8/21), West Virginia (8/25)
No polling data at all, yet:
(States which have not been polled so far this year)
Alaska, Delaware, Kansas, Mississippi, Wyoming
Electoral Math Column Series Archive:
-- Chris Weigant
Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant