It was hit or miss for awhile, but the presumptive Republican nominee from 2011 held his ground in a political version of the Royal Rumble. There is still much to talk about on the Republican side of politics, but it is time to move on to my favorite part of electoral politics: Electoral College Math.
There are many site that track the map with aggregate poll data and others that conduct their own statewide polls. They all categorize the same way: Safe, Likely, Lean, Toss-Up. I have always done it slightly different; for reasons that focus entirely on demographics and exit polling — I will spare you the explanation.
Much will change between now and November, but this is a baseline reading of where the campaigns start and where you can expect them to spend most of their time, energy, and money. You will never hear me mention a national poll. They are worthless and I will never understand why any polling firm spends on dime tracking something that has no barometer on the outcome. It is essentially like tracking wind patterns on the moon to predict the rain forecast on Mars.
The electoral map (and its math) is so very simple and so very complex. There are 538 electoral votes, based on congressional representation in Congress.
Look at it this way: Senators (every state has two) + House Districts = Electoral Votes
You will never see me abandon my defense for the electoral college. Without it, candidates would never actually campaign in person. Remember, the House of Representatives is based on population, but every state has two Senators. So, the nearly 20 states that have 5 or less electoral votes would be ignored if the outcome were based on the national popular vote.
Many opponents who do not understand the history say ‘Every other election we have is based on popular vote. This seems undemocratic.’ This is one of the more complex aspects of the Electoral College. It is important to remember that the title of our nation, ‘The United States of America’, is much more than just a name. It is (was?) a philosophy. We were never meant to be a nation first. In many ways, our states were meant to be separate nations, with the collective simply in place to protect the states, solve disputes, and create consistency. This is why it is important for the state popular vote to control who is elected President and not the national popular vote.
So, it may seem overwhelming having 51 separate elections (don’t forget DC…kinda) to track for one office and it can be. However, states are not very equal in this regard.
These are states that are not only not competitive, but that neither side will or has contested these regions for some time. DC is the most extreme of these examples, voting for the Democratic candidate with 83-93% of the vote.
On the GOP side, states like Wyoming, Utah, Nebraska, Idaho, Alaska, Kansas, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Alabama have all supported the Republican nominee with over 60% of the vote in every election. The only exception for these states was during the Clinton era, when Ross Perot and a eccentric Southern Democrat complicated a clear electoral trend.
The Democratic candidate has a similar handful of lock states at or near the 60% threshold. Massachusetts
Lock GOP: Kentucky, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Kansas, Utah, Mississippi, Nebraska, West Virginia, cIdaho, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Alaska
Lock DEM: New York, Illinois, New Jersey, Washington, Massachusetts, Maryland, Oregon, Hawaii, Delaware, D.C.
Most sites that use the term “Safe” use it in the way that I have introduced “Lock” but there is a reason I find the differentiation important. These are states that usually would fall into or very close to the “Lock” category, but due to unique circumstances of the specific candidates, they need to be ‘flagged’ and watched to see if they move in a direction that would not be expected. If they do, it will show strength in certain areas and highlight states in more competitive categories (i.e. if a state like Maine or Vermont become competitive, it means that states seen as independent-progressive will be more in play, which will move other states like Minnesota and New Hampshire down the chart.)
Safe DEM: California, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont, Maine
Safe GOP: Texas, Georgia, Tennessee, South Carolina, Arkansas
Scorecard: 80-73, Romney
Total: 186-159, Obama
I do not use a “Toss Up” category like everyone else does during the election cycle. I treat the map, like everyone else, as what would happen if the election were right now. So it’s important to make a call on every state. So I use the “Likely” and “Lean” categories to blend together those same categories, along with the traditional tossup. However, I will always rank the lean states in order of likelihood to flip, which in essence is a better way to do a toss up category. Because it includes a ranking. And who doesn’t like rankings.
States you see in the likely will usually have polls that show something competitive, especially this far out, but also have demographics and a history that make it unlikely to move across the line.
Indiana is a great example of this right now. In 2008, Obama surprisingly took this state (it was the only state I predicted wrong that year) by 1%, 49.9-48.9. However, in two-party races, the Republican has won Indiana by 21%, 16%, 20%, 24%, and 18%. Right now, the most recent poll in Indiana has Romney up by 9%, yet RCP has Indiana in the “Lean GOP” category. This is ludacrious and is enough to show why this is more properly ranked right now as a likely state for Romney, but when you add in that Obama doesn’t need it to win handily, so he probably won’t spend much money in the state anyway, it is just an absurd rating from a site with a high reputation.
Likely States: Indiana
Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, New Mexico.
For proper symmetry, I hope to only have 10 states in this category (or less), five on each side. We start with 51 states but can confidently narrow down to less than 10 that will choose the next President. Many find this to be absurd, but the other states have had their say, too. Everyone votes at the same time. It only looks absurd to some because of how we are organizing the list and predicting the outcome. When a sporting outcome comes down to one at-bat, it only got that way because of everything else that preceding to put it in position. It is not like that is the only at-bat that matter — the whole game mattered.
With that being said, here are the states that will see the most campaigning, the most spending, more talk about issues specific to that state, and –ultimately — more voters at the polls on Election Day
Battlegrounds: North Carolina, Virginia, Arizona, Missouri, Iowa
Florida, Ohio, Colorado, Nevada, New Hampshire
Much will change and already has since I penned this column a month ago. I wanted to post this as the base of where the general campaign begins.
More to come…
*All information about election cycles presume that we are in a sixth party system that began in 1980 and not the apparently unending fifth party system since the 1930s. While many political sciences have not embraced the theory, it is much easier to categorize party trends a half-century after the fact then while you are living through it.