The Six States That Will Likely Decide The 2012 Election

Six states are likely to decide the 2012 election.

Matt Drudge, along with several conservative bloggers, is hyping the latest release of  Scott Rasmussen’s Daily Tracking Poll purporting to show both Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum leading President Obama in a nationwide poll. Of far more interest, I submit, is a poll that Rasmussen released yesterday showing  the President leading both candidates in four states the GOP must win in order to win in November:

President Obama now holds modest leads over Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum in combined polling of key swing states Florida, North Carolina, Ohio and Virginia. The numbers mark a shift from late February when Obama was tied with both candidates in the four states.

Obama is now ahead of the former Massachusetts governor 46% to 42%. Six percent (6%) prefer some other candidate in this matchup, and six percent (6%) are undecided.

We live, of course, in a country where the winner of the Presidential election is the person who gets the majority of votes in the Electoral College, not the winner of the popular vote. Among other things, that means that national polling doesn’t necessarily tell us much of anything, especially as we get closer to the election in November.

In 2008, President Obama was able to win election in part because he won in states that had been traditionally Republican such as New Hampshire, Indiana, Virginia, and North Carolina , as well as picking up the still-crucial swing states of Florida and Ohio. This time around, the only way the GOP can win the Presidency is by picking up a good portion of those states, and specifically by picking up the core four states that are part of Rasmussen’s poll.

When I saw this poll this morning, I immediately started playing around with various Electoral College scenarios at (a great site for political junkies, by the way) and it looks to me like, absent the unlikely event of a landslide, there is no way the GOP can win the Presidency without winning all four of these states. They can lose Iowa. They can lose New Hampshire. They can once again fail to flip New Mexico (which seems likely given their problems with the Latino vote). But, even under the most optimistic scenario there is no way they can afford to lose any one of these states. (Nevada is another state the GOP may try to flip this year but it’s six Electoral Votes are unlikely to be the deciding factor in this race)

The task becomes more difficult, of course, if the GOP somehow manages to lose a state that they won in 2008. For example, John McCain won Missouri in 2008 by the narrowest of margins, just 3,903 votes. Right now, due in large part to the fact that the state has definitely shifted red in the past three years I’m going to assume that the GOP holds on to the state. Similarly, the GOP lost Indiana in 2008 for the first time since 1964 but there’s plenty of reason to believe that the state will return to the Republican fold this year. If one or both of those states ends up in Obama’s column, then winning the “Core Four” won’t matter at all.  So, perhaps it’s better to say that the GOP must hold on to all of the states it won in 2008 and flip Indiana and the “Core Four.” If it doesn’t do that, Barack Obama will be re-elected.

So, if you’re looking for numbers to pay attention to over the coming eight months, these are the six states — Ohio, Indiana, Missouri, Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida — to keep an eye on because they’re likely to decide the election.

FILED UNDER: 2012 Election, Public Opinion Polls, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Neil Hudelson says:

    Obama has been recruiting/hiring in Missouri since last October, and has shifted some his better midwest organizers to that state. He surprised Hoosier dems by opening a campaign office in Indianapolis in January with paid staff.

    I dont think he’ll win either of these, but he is going to make the GOP have to work for it, bleeding off resources from other states.

    Additionally having a strong ground game is going to help McCaskills reelection bid, and bolster Donnel’s bid against a damaged Lugar.

  2. John Burgess says:

    Small typo, Doug… Obama wasn’t ‘re-elected’ in 2008.

  3. Perhaps I was thinking ahead to November

  4. Ron Beasley says:

    Can we really take a poll that has Santorum leading Obama nationwide seriously? Other than that I think you are right. One thing Obama has going for him is incredibly unpopular Republican Governors in Florida and Ohio.

  5. superdestroyer says:

    Since the Republicans are going to have to spend money in Virginia and North Carolina, it should be obvious to everyone that President Obama will be re-elected. The real question is whether President Obama gets more than the 54% of the vote he received in 2008.

    The real election are the House contests since there is a good chance that Pelosi could return as Speaker of the House in 2013.

  6. Jr says:

    The only state of the core four I don’t see Obama winning is Florida.

  7. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Neil Hudelson:

    For what it’s worth I think he’ll hold onto Indiana because of the auto rescue. The state is full of small auto parts manufacturers. In fact I think outside the deep south the Republicans are going to have problems holding onto the white working class. Bush won them by a 25% margin, McCain by 18% and according to that NBC/WSJ poll last week Romney’s only holding them by a 5% margin. A combination of economic issues like the auto rescue, unemployment pay etc; Romney’s personna (asset stripper, 13.9% tax and swiss bank accounts); and local issues like the assault on the unions by Republican governors; make them very likely to jump ship.

  8. Tsar Nicholas II says:

    Doesn’t this mean that Romney would have to be smoking from a crack pipe if he doesn’t tap Rubio, Portman or McDonnell as Veep? Presumably, then, he’ll pick either Santorum or someone from a tiny state in the middle of nowhere.

    Incidentally, I wouldn’t look for Obama to lose any major pre-election polls in any of those states. The media and their polling services know too well how important they are. Remember the Bush/Kerry election? Kerry was winning major pre-election media polls in Florida the day before the vote. Bush won the state IIRC by over 375,000 ballots, 52-47.

    I wouldn’t hazard a prediction just yet, but I think it’s pretty clear for each of these key states the hurdles both candidates will have to overcome:

    Florida: Obama’s major problems are the disastrous local housing market and high unemployment. Romney’s major problems are the large population of blacks and the large number of evangelicals in the Panhandle. The former will vote 98-2 in favor of Obama; the latter in significant numbers will sit out the election, thereby voting for Obama.

    Ohio: Bad local economy, bad local housing market, bad local job market. Cuyahoga County, however, will be a disaster for Romney. Bring out your dead. Also, Romney is stilted and oozes an aura of blue blooded wealth. Ohio largely is a ham & eggs demographic. Square peg, round hole.

    Virginia: Obama has governed way too far to the left for this state. On the other hand, the state has a high percentage of blacks, a high percentage of government workers, a high percentage of wealthy academic types. No bueno for Romney.

    North Carolina: Obama’s leftism won’t play too well here. The high percentage of blacks, however, along with the large population of evangelicals, make it very difficult territory for Romney. Obama could win this state without even carrying 40% of the white vote.

  9. KariQ says:

    I hope conservative bloggers don’t get too excited about Rasmussen’s results. About this time in 2008, he was showing McCain with a substantial lead over both H. Clinton and Obama, if memory serves. We all know how that worked out.

  10. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Tsar Nicholas II:

    The media and their polling services know too well how important they are.

    The tsar is a fully paid up member of the media conspiracy tin hat doofus crowd. What a surprise.

  11. Peacewood says:

    @KariQ: In fairness, KatieQ, the financial crisis and McCain’s tapping of Palin hadn’t happened yet, so the numbers may not have been that far off.

    Which underscores the point that it’s too dang early to tell anything about the fall election.

  12. Lomax says:

    These states will go Republican no matter who their candidate is: NC, Virginia, and most likely Florida. Obama can’t win if the whole south goes Republican, no way. Republicans should be giving everlasting, daily thanks for this gift from Lyndon Johnson, a president that I really liked. (There was a time when some polling places in the south didn’t even have a Republican registration book: my father told me that one).

  13. Mark says:

    @Lomax: I live in Virginia and you’d be nuts to say it’s going one way or the other. It is very much a toss up state and right now, I’d give it to Obama as he is leading in the polls here. But November s a long way off so we’ll see.

  14. KariQ says:


    Rasmussen’s numbers were very far off from what other pollsters were finding at the time. The numbers from other pollsters ranged from Obama up by 6 to McCain up by 2, so going by the average of other pollsters (which is really the only way to judge a poll taken that far away from an election), they were definitely in a different place than anyone else.

  15. OzarkHillbilly says:

    MO will go GOP for Pres.

  16. xian says:

    @Lomax: actually, if you run the numbers at the 270 site, Obama can in fact lose the entire south, from Virginia to Texas, and still win.

    He can lose Indiana, New Hampshire, Colorado and New Mexico as well as the entire south, and still win.

    I don’t see the current Republican path to victory for any candidate. At this point Romney is just the safer loser for the downticket races.

  17. An Interested Party says:

    Republicans should be giving everlasting, daily thanks for this gift from Lyndon Johnson…

    Indeed…a Democratic president pushing for civil rights for black people drove most of the people of the south away from the Democrats and towards the Republicans…an interesting “gift”…

  18. AJ says:

    Why not Wisconsin?

  19. @AJ:

    I don’t see any realistic chance of Wisconsin flipping in 2012