Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Obama's path to victory

It's important that I start this post with a solid disclaimer: It's really quite impossible to know which candidate will win in any state - especially in an election as strange as this one is shaping up to be. All I want to do with this post is have some fun speculating about the various paths to an Obama electoral college victory in November. So let's speculate!

First, some background for anyone who is unfamiliar with electoral college math: There will be 538 electoral votes in the general election. These are allocated on a state-by-state winner-take-all basis. For example, all of Colorado's 9 electoral votes will go to whichever candidate wins the popular vote in Colorado. In order to win the presidency, a candidate must get a majority (50% plus 1) of the electoral votes; so the magic number is 270.

Counting current state-by-state polling averages as though they are election day voting numbers, according to Real Clear Politics, gives Senator Obama 317 electoral votes, and John McCain 221. At this point, this seems like an attainable goal for Obama; and he doesn't even have to rely on Florida to get there! Indeed, this 317 vote number consists of all the states that John Kerry won in 2004 (which Obama should be able to keep this year, and add up to 252 electoral votes), plus six states which Obama seems poised to either capture or come very close to capturing: Colorado, New Mexico, Iowa, Indiana, Ohio, and Virginia. In short, it is entirely within the realm of possibility that Obama will sweep the election with 47 votes more than he needs to win.

But what if he can't pull all six of those states into his column? Well, luckily for him, he only needs a few of them. In fact, if he can only manage to get Ohio out of those six states, that gives him 272 electoral votes, a close but very real victory. Alternatively, if he gets Virginia and Colorado (two states that are trending Democratic and seem perfect for a Democratic candidate like Barack Obama), that gives him 274 electoral votes - again, a victory.

It's worth noting that there are a couple states which Kerry won that might go to McCain, making things more difficult for Obama. Polls in Michigan show Obama ahead by just 1%. In New Hampshire, his lead is .7%. If McCain manages to win both of those states, Obama loses 21 electoral votes. This would force him to get Ohio, Virginia, and Colorado (or an equivalent number of electoral votes) to win with 273.

There's one last possibility that's worth mentioning, just for the sake of absurdity: If McCain moves Michigan to his column, and Obama nets Ohio, Colorado, and New Mexico, and the rest of the states stay as they went in 2004, then each candidate gets 269 electoral votes. That's right, folks - a tie is possible. Then the vote would go to the House of Representatives, and each state would have one vote. I'm not even going to try to speculate on what would happen then.

But the conclusion of all of this speculation is that Obama has several entirely plausible paths to getting 270 electoral votes, and thus winning the presidency. The election, it seems, is his to lose.

1 comment:

Rainier96 said...

Well written and a nice analysis. I sure hope you're right, and that the present polls favorable to Obama really indicate how the voters will vote in November. I've read some interviews with normally Democratic voters in Appalachian states that show an enormous amount of hostility toward him.

Just for fun, you should analyze the House vote if there really was a tie. Democrats are almost certain to increase their lead in the election, but assuming the figures stay the same as now you should be able to figure out how many states would vote for each candidate.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, by the way. Welcome to adulthood, as well as high school graduation! How was your experience in Vegas at the speech and debate event?