2012 Electoral maths -- Mixed Pictures

Welcome back once again to our quadrennial column series examining the state-by-state polling in the electoral race. I should mention I’ve gotten one question from many folks about this series: “When will the next one be?” The answer is “When I get around to doing one,” which is not, admittedly, very informative. Unlike my other two column series (one of which is weekly, the other monthly), the Electoral maths columns are on what I’d call an “increasing frequency” schedule. This far out, expect one about every three or four weeks. As we get closer, and as the state-level polling activity increases, we’ll start doing them more often, until (just before the election) we’ll probably have one every week. The first column in our 2012 series ran on June 25, and I’m going to start listing an archive of all these columns at the bottom, in the data section, so you can go back and read what came before.

OK, enough of that. For this instalment of the series, we’ve got even more charts and graphics! Woo hoo! The first of these is a fairly blunt assessment of the state of the race. It adds all states for each candidate, no matter how solid they are, and puts all the data into a single chart, which also (unlike the breakdown charts) shows the tied states where the polling is exactly even. How to read this chart: Romney starts from the top (in red), Obama starts from the bottom (in blue). Ties are any white gap in between the two. If the blue section is above the green line, Obama has the advantage. If the red section is below the green line, Romney has the edge. The scale (which really is only accurate for Obama, sorry about that) is in per cent of the total Electoral College. Here’s the current “all in one” chart:

Electoral maths By per cent

As you can see, Obama started with an edge and has, for the most part, steadily maintained this edge. Currently, Obama has 56.3 per cent of the Electoral Votes (henceforth “EV”), and Romney has 43.7 per cent, with no ties at all. Obama has stayed roughly between 50 and 60 per cent, with one dip slightly below the midpoint, since we started keeping data. Romney has stayed mostly in the 40 to 45 per cent range, although he has dipped below this as well.

One thing worth pointing out is that because all of these charts measure votes in the Electoral College, one state’s swing can be either a tiny blip or a large spike on the graphs, due to the size of their House delegation. For the past few weeks, we’ve had almost no states completely tied, except for one brief white spike (above). That spike is due to one state — Florida — going from barely being in Romney’s column to being tied, and then back again. Because Florida has 29 EV, the switch is much more noticeable than, say, if New Hampshire flipped.

Since the last time we checked in, two states have moved towards Romney, two states have moved towards Obama, and three states have mixed news. Arizona was Romney’s best news, as it firmed up significantly for Romney. Colorado got weaker for Obama as well. Alabama posted its first poll of the season, and stayed where everyone assumed it would be — strongly for Romney. Two states firmed up for Obama, Virginia and Wisconsin. The three mixed states are Iowa, which flipped from Obama to Romney and then back to Obama; Ohio, which weakened for Obama, then strengthened back up again, and Florida, which is so close it went from Obama to Romney to being tied, and then settling on Romney. More on the state-by-state situation in a moment. First, let’s look at each candidate in more detail.

Romney Electoral maths

I should mention a few technical points before I begin. First, if these charts are too tiny to easily see, click on any of them and you’ll get a larger version. Second, definition of terms: “Strong” means leading in the polls by 10 points or better, “Weak” means leading by at least five points (but less than 10), and “Barely” means leading by fewer than five points. And lastly, I’ve added a feature, so let me know if you love it or hate it or whatever: the vertical line in this chart (and Obama’s, below) marks the point in time of our last column. This should help when I talk about “since last time, here’s what has happened,” hopefully. Let me know what you think.

OK, let’s take a look at Mitt Romney’s status. Well, Mitt’s lines have improved since last time, but he’s still got a long way to go. The day after we wrote the last column, Arizona moved all the way from “Barely” to “Strong” for Romney, which gave him an 11 EV boost that he’s held ever since. Iowa moved from Barely Obama to Barely Romney at almost the same time, but just recently has moved back into Obama’s column. The big fluctuation in Romney’s “Barely” numbers was Florida, though. Florida moved from Obama to Barely Romney, then briefly to a tie, then back to Barely Romney. Again, because it is so big, you can really see the movement in the chart.

In numeric terms, Romney started this period with an overall total of 206 EV, and ended (thanks to Florida) at a total of 235 EV. But what I find is more helpful to track, in terms of evaluating a candidate’s real standing, is the “Strong Plus Weak” numbers — states with at least an advantage of five points. Romney’s Strong Plus Weak total moved up, from 180 to 191 EV, thanks to Arizona. What is notable is how steady Romney’s numbers are in this respect. Those are pretty flat lines for the bottom two sections of the graph — much flatter than John McCain was posting last time around, by comparison.

Moving right along (or maybe that should be “moving left along”… heh), let’s look at the numbers Obama has been charting.

Obama 2012 Electoral maths

President Obama’s overall numbers were down this time around, but his underlying numbers got better. He lost Iowa for most of this period to Romney, but recently gained it back. The big loss, of course, was Florida, which is reflected in his overall total, which is down from the previous 332 EV to now only 303 EV. Still over 300, though, which is a pretty good place to be right now. There was much more activity for Obama between the Weak and Barely categories than in the overall number, though. During this period, Obama lost one state from Weak to Barely (Colorado), but gained two others who moved up from Barely to Weak (Wisconsin and Virginia). Ohio moved from Barely to Weak, but dropped back to Barely in the end. Iowa went from Barely over to Romney’s column, then firmed up to Weak Obama in the end. Obama’s total for Strong Plus Weak started at 236 EV, climbed to a high of 277 EV, and then fell back to 256 EV towards the end — 20 votes above where they had begun. When comparing Strong Plus Weak, Obama now has a 65 EV lead over Romney — up from a 56 EV lead last time.

The interesting thing about Obama’s chart, when compared to 2008 (see my previous column for 2008 graphs for both Obama and McCain) are the lines which have already crossed 270 — one bad milestone, and one good. At the beginning of June, Obama’s overall total slipped briefly below the winning 270 EV mark. This is disconcerting because in 2008 Obama only slipped below 270 twice: in mid-August (when Reverend Wright was all over the airwaves), and during the Republican convention. Both were much later than the dip we see this year. But the good news is that Obama has already (again, briefly) charted a significant milestone — where his Strong Plus Weak number climbed above the 270 EV needed to win. For five days, Obama was at 277 EV in this critical measurement — a feat he did not manage back in 2008 until the beginning of October. So, all around, Obama’s numbers are a bit mixed this time, but still pretty comfortable.

We’re going to check in, during each of these columns, with Samuel Minter (@abulsme on Twitter), as we did during the 2008 Electoral maths column series. He keeps pretty close track on the election on his Electoral College Prediction page, which allows a check on my analysis from someone who has a much wider range of source material. For now, let’s take a look at his current map:

Abulsme.com map

So far, this is a pretty (small-c) conservative estimate of which states are battlegrounds, I have to say. We’ll be getting more analysis from Minter in later columns, I promise.


My Picks

Finally, we come to the part where I toss darts at the wall to create my own take on the state of the race. Full data on my picks (with complete lists of where I’m placing each state in each category) can be found at the bottom of this article, for easy reference. At the very bottom is an archive list for the column series, to see how these picks have changed over time.

The categories here are labelled differently, as an indication that this is more of a gut-feel analysis than just looking solely at the current state of the polls. The above is the objective part of the column, this is the subjective, to put it another way. We have three categories, complete with their own sub-categories. “Likely” states for each candidate consist of subgroups of “Safe” and “Probable.” Then there is the “Tossup” category, broken down into “Leaning” for each candidate, and the truly “Too Close To Call.” Got all that? Then here we go….


Likely States — Obama

Safe Obama (16 states, 194 EV)
No movement here, Obama holds onto the same 16 states as he held last time around (again, see data below for a list of states and their EV totals).

Probable Obama (4 states, 49 EV)
Obama loses one state downwards (New Hampshire), and adds one state moving upwards (Nevada). New Hampshire has seemed weak, so we really can’t call it “probable” anymore. Countering this move, Nevada seems to be firming up for Obama — possibly due to his announced change in immigration policy (although that’s just speculation on my part). So while the number of probable states stays the same, Obama gains two electoral votes here.


Likely States — Romney

Safe Romney (19 states, 156 EV)
Like the president, Mitt Romney showed absolutely no movement (good or bad) in this category.

Probable Romney (4 states, 35 EV)
Romney added one state here, Arizona. Earlier polls showed Arizona might be within reach for the Obama team, but Romney charted a solid-red poll here, which all but blew this pipe dream away for the Obama side. For now, we’re moving Arizona to “probable.” Which could change, of course, either way, but for now we feel Arizona is a pretty likely win for Romney.


Tossup States

Lean Obama (5 states, 54 EV)
This was the subcategory with the most movement during this period. Nevada moved up to Probable Obama, while New Hampshire moved down here from the same category. The good news is that two states moved up to this category from Too Close To Call. Virginia is looking (astonishingly) like a much more solid blue state these days. While I’m not confident enough of Obama’s chances here to move the state to Probable Obama, I do think it’s safe to say it’s now at least leaning towards Obama. I’m not as confident about Ohio, which (more than Virginia) seems like it may swing wildly for the whole election, but Obama has been holding on to the state with strong enough numbers that, for now, we have to judge it a leaner for Obama.

Lean Romney (1 state, 15 EV)
Romney loses a state here this time around, but it’s actually good news for him, as Arizona firms up for him.

Too Close To Call (2 states, 35 EV)
At this point, there are really only two states that are so close and have flip-flopped so regularly between the two candidates that they are anybody’s guess. Iowa is going to be a tough challenge for Obama, and Florida is truly up in the air. Florida is the more important of these, and has to be seen as a must-win state for Romney. To put this another way: Obama could win without Florida, but it’s hard to see how Romney puts together 270 without Florida’s 29 EV.


Final Tally

The race has tightened somewhat, but within Obama’s states he appears to be firming up his support generally. Mitt Romney’s numbers seem more stable, with the exception of Florida’s outsized influence on them.

Counting no leaning or tossup states, Obama has a total of 243 EV — up two from last time around. Mitt Romney’s likely easy-win states improved to 191 EV — up 11 from last time around. This gives Obama a lead of 52 EV, smaller than last time’s 60 EV lead. But Obama is a lot closer to the goal than Romney overall, as he only needs 27 more electoral votes from the eight tossup states, whereas Romney needs 79 EV to cross the finish line.


[Electoral Vote Data:]
(State electoral votes are in parenthesis following each state’s name. Washington D.C. is counted as a state)

Barack Obama Likely Easy Wins — 20 States — 243 Electoral Votes:

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

Probable States — 4 States — 49 Electoral Votes
Michigan (16), Nevada (6), Oregon (7), Pennsylvania (20)


Mitt Romney Likely Easy Wins — 23 States — 191 Electoral Votes:

Safe States — 19 States — 156 Electoral Votes
Alabama (9), Alaska (3), Arkansas (6), Georgia (16), Idaho (4), Kansas (6), Kentucky (8), Louisiana (8), Mississippi (6), 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 — 4 States — 35 Electoral Votes
Arizona (11), Indiana (11), Missouri (10), Montana (3)


Tossup States — 8 States — 104 Electoral Votes:

Tossup States Leaning Obama — 5 States — 54 Electoral Votes
Colorado (9), New Hampshire (4), Ohio (18), Virginia (13), Wisconsin (10)

Tossup States Leaning Romney — 1 State — 15 Electoral Votes
North Carolina (15)

Too Close To Call — 2 States — 35 Electoral Votes
Florida (29), Iowa (6)


No polling data yet: (states which have not been polled so far this year)

Alaska, Arkansas, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Washington D.C., Wyoming


Electoral maths Column Series Archive:



Chris Weigant blogs at:


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


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