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Electoral College 2012 – Ridiculously Early Handicapping

Stephen Green revives his Wargaming the Electoral College series. Sure, the election is fifteen months away and it will be a long time before we even know who the candidates are. But getting a marker down early is required for keeping one’s pundit license.  His starting point:

Steve wisely ignores the state-by-state polls entirely at this point, figuring that they’re worse than useless. Instead, he follows my own rule of thumb in using the last election as a baseline and extrapolating from there.

1. President Obama will not win any states he didn’t win in 2008.

2. North Carolina and Indiana are gone for the Democrats. Indiana was a fluke — due to proximity to Illinois, lack of enthusiasm for McCain, and the economic panic. North Carolina was won by a scant 14,000 votes against a demoralized GOP. Both states will go red this time around.

3. Virginia is traditionally GOP-friendly, but has been trending purple. Also, there’s been a huge influx of money and power and more money into the Northern VA ‘burbs around DC. That helps the state’s economy (at the expense of the rest of the nation), and makes Virginia a tough state for the GOP to pick off of Obama’s 2008 column.

4. Obama put together an amazing ground game in the Mountain West last time around, and intends to rally Latino voters to do it again. The region should be all-red, given the state of the economy and Obama’s negatives — but a billion dollars can buy a lot of ground game.

5. There’s a wave of disgust and despair in the industrial Great Lakes and Midwest. I believe this wave hurts both parties, making the region the battleground for 2012.

Presuming that the Republicans nominate a plausible candidate (Romney, Perry, Huntsman, or Pawlenty would all qualify) and no serious Tea Party type joins the race as a spoiler, I think these presumptions are right. Additionally, I’d go out on a short limb and add Virginia’s 13 Electors and Florida’s 29 to the Red column. 2008 was a perfect storm for Democrats and 2012 won’t be.

Barring this turning into a landslide–and I don’t think that happens, given Obama’s enormous strengths as a campaigner and fundraiser–that means were down to Ohio once again being the key tossup state and several other combinations available for keeping Obama in office or turning him out.

 

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Andyman says:

    Until we know who the GOP nominee is, all this map is good for is reminding us which states are reliably red and which are reliably blue. Both parties can count on about 200 EV’s unless there’s a rout? Really?

    I think the real information in Mr Green’s chart is that he has some combination of too much time on his hands and not enough hobbies.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  2. I’m not so sure about Virginia, James. Yea, we’ve had two election cycles since 2008 where the GOP has done really, really well but, that was because of two factors, I think:

    1. The 2010 pickups in Congressional seats were in districts that had either been Republican previously or were trending Republican for years. These are also districts where population is relatively low compared to other parts of the state. You didn’t see the same effect in voter-rich Northern Virginia, where Gerry Connolly fought off Fimian yet again and, thanks to redistricting, will likely be safe for years to come.

    2. McDonnell et al won in 2009 because they were able to compete in Northern Virginia, partly because the Democrats nominated a candidate from Southside Virginia that didn’t go over well in suburban NoVa.

    If the GOP is going to win Virginia in 2012 they’re going to have to win Northern Virginia, which went heavily for Obama in 2008, and that’s all going to depend on who they nominate. I’d still call Virginia a toss-up at this point

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  3. Tano says:

    I don’t know how you consider Perry to be a plausible candidate. He is much closer to a Palin or Bachmann than a Romney or Huntsman.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  4. Eric Florack says:

    @Andyman:

    Until we know who the GOP nominee is, all this map is good for is reminding us which states are reliably red and which are reliably blue.

    True but perhaps there’s a deeper message in these numbers. There seems little question that the Democrats are being regarded at best as damaged goods, given the state of the economy, and the degree to which they decided to march to the left.Since the economy is not likely to get any better between now an election day, that makes this next election the GOP’s to lose. What predicting this next election comes down to is whom the Republicans decide to offer. As I’ve said before, should the Republicans offer a real conservative, (and the McCains and Romenys of the world simply do not qualify as such) then the GOP will have a landslide that makes Carter’s defeat at the hands of Reagan look like a close race. Absent that, we’ll have a second Obama term.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 4

  5. I’m with Andyman (and had such a reaction when I came across Green’s map yesterday): it basically is a map of reliably R states and reliably D states.

    Indeed, it reminds me of one of the reason I do not like the electoral college mechanism: it narrows the actual competition to a handful of states. Republicans in California (and there are a lot of them) and Democrats in Texas (and there are a lot of them) are already mooted for the purpose of the 2012 election.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 2

  6. @Eric Florack:

    There seems little question that the Democrats are being regarded at best as damaged goods,

    It seems to me that, at the moment, both parties have achieved “damaged goods” status…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  7. Ron Beasley says:

    @Tano: I agree – the list of plausible candidates is much shorter. While Huntsman and Pawlenty may be plausible in the general election they are not in the Republican primary. While Perry is plausible in the primaries he is not plausible in the general election. That leaves Romney on the list.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  8. James Joyner says:

    @Andyman and @Steven L. Taylor: I take Steve’s post as a baseline for an ongoing series, culminating in an Election Eve contest-type post. But, yes, most states simply aren’t realistically in contention minus a 1980s-style realignment.

    @Doug Mataconis: You’re certainly right that our own part of the state is driving the train in Virginia and has turned it purple for the purposes of statewide contests. But, in a perfect storm election, Obama only carried the Commonwealth by 200,000 votes last go-round. Given the horrid state of the economy, I don’t see how he carries it against a sane candidate.

    @Tano: I reserve my right to change my mind on Perry who, despite his relative prominence, I don’t know too well. But he’s a successful, big state governor. That makes him “plausible” in a way that Palin, Bachmann, and Santorum aren’t.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  9. @Steven L. Taylor:

    The advantage of the electoral system is that it helps discourage vote fraud. Single party dominated states, where it would be easiest for one party to engage in corruption, get no benefit from it because they get no more electoral votes nomatter how big the margin is. Meanwhile, states where fraud could actually flip the results, tend to be ones where the two parties are roughly equal in power and thus least likely to be able to get away with things.

    If you switch to a purely popular vote, it just becomes a competition to see whether Texas or New Jersey is better at stuffing ballot boxes.

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  10. Moosebreath says:

    Ron Beasley,

    I don’t see how Romney is a plausible GOP nominee. The list of baggage from Republican primary voters’s perspective is long, starting with multiple flip-flops on abortion and other social issues and enacting a health care law substantially the same as Obama’s.

    Given that he is already suspect in GOP primary voters minds by being from Massachusetts and a Mormon, I cannot see how he can survive once the spotlight is on him.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  11. @Stormy Dragon: To be blunt, there is no evidence for that hypothesis. Since the ballot counting process would be identical under the EC and a popular vote, there is no reason to assert that one system would be more prone to fraud than the other.

    Indeed, one could argue that the incentives to perpetrate electoral fraud are greater under the EC (when the value of a given state is amplified) than under a system of popular votes.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  12. Ron Beasley says:

    @Moosebreath: I can’t really argue with anything you say but he still remains the only “plausible” candidate.

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  13. @Steven L. Taylor:

    The ability to detect the fraud is the same; what differs is the incentive to attempt it.

    To use Texas as an example again, if the Republican party decided to engage in wide spread voting fraud there, it would have absolutely no effect on the presidential outcome. Whether Obama loses by 12% or 50%, McCain still only gets 34 electoral votes.

    On the other hand, in Missouri, where such a scheme could have flipped 11 votes from one to the other with a change of only 4,000 votes, it would have been hard for either party to coverup such a scheme due to the more evenly divided control of the government in that state.

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  14. @Stormy Dragon: Yes, but your theory ignores the fact that the current system, by your logic, should exponentially increase the incentive to perpetrate fraud in places like Florida, Ohio, or any other swing state. And yet, we don’t see that happening. Indeed, despite fears of massive fraud every election, we simply do not have a serious voter fraud problem in the US.

    I find theories like “it helps prevent voter fraud” to be the kind of story we tell ourselves to help up live with the fact that there really is not good reason to have the electoral college (but since we have it, there must be a good reason for it, so we make up reasons).

    The truth of the matter is:

    1) The EC contain undemocratic elements (why should a vote in Wyoming count more than one in CA. Or, for that matter, why should a system count CA Reps and TX Dems are “0s” when the official count is done?).

    2) It was part of a political compromise, not he result of serious theorizing (or even serious debate).

    and

    3) It doesn’t even work as intended.

    And yet, because it is in the constitution, we as Americans tend to want to defend it (I have done so myself in the past).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  15. Scott F. says:

    Presuming that the Republicans nominate a plausible candidate

    Based on the comments so far in this thread, this appears to be a very tenuous presumption.

    What is more interesting (and somewhat disconcerting) to me is fact that the red states in the map above would not change even if the Republicans nominated Donald Trump.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  16. @Steven L. Taylor:

    Yes, but your theory ignores the fact that the current system, by your logic, should exponentially increase the incentive to perpetrate fraud in places like Florida, Ohio, or any other swing state. And yet, we don’t see that happening.

    Because it’s a lot harder for one party to bury an investigation in Ohio or Florida.

    It would be far easier for the Republicans to get away with vote fraud in Texas, where their control of the government would make it very easy to bury any investigation, than in Ohio. In a popular vote, fraud anywhere is just as successful, so it’s easy to go do it in the places where you’re most likely to get away with it.

    The electoral college forces you to do it in the places where it’s hardest to get away with it, because closely divided states are the only place it does you any good.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  17. anjin-san says:

    It seems to me that, at the moment, both parties have achieved “damaged goods” status…

    Eric is sort of pretending that the approval of newly minted GOP governors has not cratered and that the vaunted tea party gains in the house have left it with historically low approval numbers.

    Of course he is also the guy who promised us a Democratic civil war in Denver in ’08 (it was going to make everyone forget about Chicago in ’68), who told us Obama “can’t win”, and who spent the last few days before the election crowing about a phantom McCain surge that was sure to carry him to the Oval Office.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  18. @Stormy Dragon: What is the evidence for your assertions?

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  19. Jib says:

    So this whole exercise is just to confirm what we already know, the industrial mid-west will pick the next president, baring black swans of various kinds (which these days are so plentiful on the ground as to make the white ones the rare bird).

    The newly elected and very unpopular repub govs in WI, Ohio and Florida need to be factored into this. Sometimes local politics fuel the turnout. Could well be enough to swing these states to Obama.

    I really hope that the republicans nominate a tea party type. The republicans have become just like the democrats of the 70’s and 80’s. Way out of touch with the main stream but convinced if they just became even more ideologically pure, they would sweep to victory in a new revolution.

    They need to nominate a true conservative and get killed in the election and then maybe we can get a republican party of grown ups.

    Of course took the dems more than one shellacking at the polls before they got the message.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  20. @Stormy Dragon: Put another way: what is your evidence that there is a massive wave of voter fraud just waiting to be unleashed if we move to a popular vote system?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  21. oldgulph says:

    @Stormy Dragon: The current state-by-state winner-take-all system of awarding electoral votes maximizes the incentive and opportunity for fraud. A very few people can change the national outcome by changing a small number of votes in one closely divided battleground state. With the current system all of a state’s electoral votes are awarded to the candidate who receives a bare plurality of the votes in each state. The sheer magnitude of the national popular vote number, compared to individual state vote totals, is much more robust against manipulation.

    Senator Birch Bayh (D-Indiana) summed up the concerns about possible fraud in a nationwide popular election for President in a Senate speech by saying in 1979, “one of the things we can do to limit fraud is to limit the benefits to be gained by fraud. Under a direct popular vote system, one fraudulent vote wins one vote in the return. In the electoral college system, one fraudulent vote could mean 45 electoral votes, 28 electoral votes.”

    Hendrik Hertzberg wrote: “To steal the closest popular-vote election in American history, you’d have to steal more than a hundred thousand votes . . .To steal the closest electoral-vote election in American history, you’d have to steal around 500 votes, all in one state. . . .

    For a national popular vote election to be as easy to switch as 2000, it would have to be two hundred times closer than the 1960 election–and, in popular-vote terms, forty times closer than 2000 itself.

    Which, I ask you, is an easier mark for vote-stealers, the status quo or N.P.V.[National Popular Vote]? Which offers thieves a better shot at success for a smaller effort?”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  22. @Steven L. Taylor:

    We’re arguing a counterfactual hypothesis. How could either of us have evidence? I’m just intuiting from a basic axiom that incentives matter. In this case the incentives for vote fraud are better under a popular vote than under the electoral college.

    Now you may be correct that the change in incentives isn’t large enough to significantly change behavior, and you may be right. But the idea isn’t facially ridiculous as you seem to be suggesting.

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  23. EDITOR’S NOTE: This comment is in response to a spam comment (a boilerplate comment pasted on multiple sites based on a search for “electoral college”) which has been deleted.

    Which offers thieves a better shot at success for a smaller effort?”

    The problem is Bayh is assuming it’s equally easy to steal a vote everywhere. He points out that “Under a direct popular vote system, one fraudulent vote wins one vote in the return. In the electoral college system, one fraudulent vote could mean 45 electoral votes, 28 electoral votes.” He fails to mention that under the electoral system, one fraudulent vote could mean zero electoral votes.

    That’s my point: it would be far easier for the Republicans to steal a vote in Texas or the Democrats to steal a vote in New Jersey than it would be for either to steal one in Ohio.

    There are tens of thousands of voting precints in the US. If you manage to pick up a hundred votes in each, that becomes a huge swing in the popular vote. And under a popular vote we have to try and watch every single one of them because a fraudulent vote anywhere is just as valuable. Under the electoral system, most of those fraudulent votes simply have no effect. So we can focus fraud prevention efforts on the few places where problems could change the outcome. And again, we have the added bonus of those places not being under single party control.

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  24. @Stormy Dragon: Well, I have the following:

    1) There is no evidence of serious voter fraud in the US in some substantial amount of time (indeed, this is true in developed democracies in general),

    2) We have example of other countries the use national votes without problems, including to elect presidents.

    Further, I agree with the logic in this comment above.

    Again: the notion is that the EC is a bulwark against voter fraud is just an attempt at justifying a system that really isn’t justifiable on basic democratic grounds.

    To justify the EC one has to demonstrate that my vote and your vote should be counted differently and at different weights. That is rather hard to justify, in my opinion.

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  25. @Steven L. Taylor:

    There is no evidence of serious voter fraud in the US in some substantial amount of time (indeed, this is true in developed democracies in general),

    How exactly does the general lack of fraud under the current system count as evidence that it doesn’t reduce fraud?

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  26. @Stormy Dragon:

    EDITOR’S NOTE: This comment is in response to a spam comment (a boilerplate comment pasted on multiple sites based on a search for “electoral college”) which has been deleted.

    No, I was responding to oldgulph’s comment. If that’s the spam comment you meant, you didn’t actually delete it…

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  27. @Stormy Dragon: Your basic logic is predicated on the notion that fraud is likely if the opportunity arises. For this to make any sense you would need to show a propensity for fraud in the existing system. Indeed, by your logic, we should have evidence of fraud in areas of the country where one party dominates state politics (as a means of maintaining said dominance). However, no such evidence exists.

    At a minimum you would need to be able to demonstrate some general propensity to fraud either in the US in general or in countries with national elections.

    Instead, you are simply asserting that we would have more fraud under a national elections scheme without anything other than conjecture to back up the assertion.

    I still think that this is more an attempt to rationalize the EC than it is a legitimate concern.

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  28. Jay Tea says:

    I’d put New Hampshire (and our 4 votes) as very likely red next year. We’ve been a reliably Republican state for a long time; the Democratic near-sweep in 2006 was an aberration. (The Dems took both Houses, the Executive Council, the governorship, both House seats, and a Senate seat. The only ‘survivor” was Judd Gregg, most likely because he wasn’t up for re-election.) That lasted until 2010, when almost just the opposite happened — 3 of 4 Congressional seats went GOP and the Republicans took back the legislature and the Executive Council. Somehow, our Dem governor survived, and Senator Shaheen isn’t up for re-election next year.

    J.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  29. @Steven L. Taylor:

    : Your basic logic is predicated on the notion that fraud is likely if the opportunity arises.

    I plead no contest to the charge of cynicism. ;>

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  30. @Stormy Dragon: All well and good, but it really isn’t an argument (or evidence in support of one).

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  31. ponce says:

    Because political pud pullin’ beats talking about what’s actually happening in the world?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  32. @Steven L. Taylor:

    Unfortunately, non-anecdotal information on voting fraud doesn’t seem to be readily available (particularly at the local level, which is where I’d suspect most of the voting fraud in the US goes on) and I lack the resources to research it myself, so I have no way of really testing my intuitive argument.

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  33. @Stormy Dragon: Well, there is a rather vast literature on voting behavior and on voting itself in the US. There is no wide-scale (or even small scale and significant) voter fraud in evidence in the US. And, indeed, the question of electoral fraud is widely studied in the world writ large. We tend to see it in less developed states.

    In other words: there is a basis to make a claim that voter fraud is not a substantial problem in the US and that, further, there is no reason (aside from fear or cynicism) to assume that going to a national popular vote would increase the incentives (let alone the ability) to perpetrate fraud.

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  34. James in LA says:

    This is the Mittens Map. It changes if the nod goes to Perry, where he and Obama are neck in neck in Texas. The GOP unreasonable litmus test board exams also called primary elections will create a litany of questions for the debate in the general that will be cringe-worthy simply in the asking, to say nothing of the bumble-dumbery that will pass for answers.

    What sustains the tea people most of all is belief, and this makes less sturdy ground for public policy than the Bush tax cuts. The insistence on multiple sets of facts without proof or even concern with proof demonstrates the actual intent is to disassemble our democratic institutions such that the waiting theocratic oligarchy can be ushered in.

    I do not cede Florida to the GOP. GOP has to have it to win, and between FL’s gov, and the Ryan Plan, FL will not go quietly into that GOP Good Night.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  35. Liberty60 says:

    @Eric Florack:

    should the Republicans offer a real conservative, (and the McCains and Romenys of the world simply do not qualify as such) then the GOP will have a landslide

    You sound- (and I say this kindly)- like some of my liberal friends, who are convinced that if only the Dems nominate a sufficiently liberal candidate, a TRUE Progressive, a REAL liberal, then, by golly, America will rise up in thunderous approval, sweep him into office, and banish the Republicans to outer darkness for eternity.

    Sorry, no.

    We live in a 52/46 world, where a near-majority want someone other than your choice, to be President.
    No, they were not confused, or temporarily blinded.
    They voted how they truly felt, and deserve to be accomodated fairly.

    This idea that America has a latent hunger for a candidate who was sufficiently pure, without the taint of compromise and equivocation? Where America would sweep such a person to total victory?

    Thats the stuff of political nightmares. It puts forward the notion of absolute triumph, where competing ideas are snuffed out, and competing ideas suppressed.

    The greatest electoral landslides like FDR , LBJ, and Reagan occurred only after the victor had convinced enough members of the opposition that he could accomodate some of their interests, enough to soften their resistance and forge a coalition with the moderate edge of the opposing side.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  36. Catfish says:

    California may be questionable – lots of dissatisfaction showing up in polls:
    high taxes – gas tax for example
    activist judges ignoring the will of the people
    extreme, costly environmental regulations that stifle development, drive out businesses, and make prices go up
    government meddling in personal lives: Happy Meal ban, parking controls
    illegal immigrants flooding in because of the sanctuary city fiasco = more crime
    social “engineering” that is destroying and driving out families
    California could be up for grabs or go independent

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  37. An Interested Party says:

    California could be up for grabs or go independent

    Well, if Republicans want to pin their hopes on the delusional…

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  38. Eric Florack says:

    @Liberty60:

    You sound- (and I say this kindly)- like some of my liberal friends, who are convinced that if only the Dems nominate a sufficiently liberal candidate, a TRUE Progressive, a REAL liberal, then, by golly, America will rise up in thunderous approval, sweep him into office, and banish the Republicans to outer darkness for eternity.

    Sorry, no.

    I seem to recall a similar comments prior to Reagan’s first term. Reagan was entirely too right wing, and would never get elected. You might wanna look back and read up on the outcome of that election.

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  39. An Interested Party says:

    I seem to recall a similar comments prior to Reagan’s first term. Reagan was entirely too right wing, and would never get elected. You might wanna look back and read up on the outcome of that election.

    Awwww…the problem with that example is that the GOP doesn’t have anyone even remotely like Reagan and, despite nutty right-wing commentary, our current president is not like Jimmy Carter…

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  40. eric florack says:

    It is amazing to me how many centrists and leftists who clearly do not understand and do not share the conservative point of view, are tring to claim an understanding to what Reagann was abou, and wo claim to have some uge degree of understanding of what motivates conservatives.

    The liberals in particular are the most amusing. Folks ike Anjin kept telling us the policis Obama wanted to put in place were wanted by a wide majority and continue to spout that spin despite all evidence to the contrary. (can we assume Obamas approa numbers are a rejection of is policies?)

    Glass houses, Anjin.

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  41. Eric Florack says:

    @An Interested Party:

    our current president is not like Jimmy Carter…

    No. That’s true, he’s not… the comparison is vaguely insulting to Carter since carter is now no longer the worst President in History.

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