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College-level Math 1, Electoral edition

Original post made by Tom Cushing, Danville, on Sep 26, 2012

As the campaigns take shape in late September and the so-called “low-interest” voters (who may decide the outcome – what a comfort that is!) finally tune-in to them, it’s time to take a look at how the Electoral College numbers add-up.

The good news for the Romney ticket is that they have amassed an insurmountable lead in square-mileage – more than 2 million-to-1 million, with less than 400,000 really in-play. Their bad news is that, despite concerted state legislative attempts at redefinition, the term “voter” neither extends to the vegetable or mineral contents of that area, nor is it defined anymore as “white males who own property” (cf. 1776). No, voters must be living, breathing, non-felonious citizens; corporations do not (yet) qualify, either.

The electoral college was established in the US Constitution to represent a mixed system of electing the Prez and the VP – each state is allocated a number of electors equal to its senators (2/state, regardless of population , or size) and its Congressfolk (apportioned by population). Thus, California has 55 electors, whereas seven small-or-empty states and DC have only three each. The electors are pledged to cast their ballots for the winners of their states’ popular vote, except for Maine’s four and Nebraska’s five who are not so tethered. 270 votes – half of 538, plus one – is the magic threshold of victory.

This system means that states whose voters are reliably GOP or Dem can be counted as ‘safe’ by the campaigns, and largely ignored – except as sources of funds. Thus, you rarely see the candidates in our fair environs, or Texas or NY, except with their hands-out. Conversely, the so-called battleground states, whose populations are more fickle, receive disproportionate attention (now, and probably also in governance – anticipating the next election cycle).

With that in-mind, it’s also possible for us to simplify our calculations: reliably GOP states, largely in the south and mid-continent total 200 votes, whereas safe Dem states (both coasts, upper Mideast) total 237. Since neither Party controls a majority, those 8 swing states – FL, OH, NC, VA, WI, IO, NV and NH are in-play. BTW, the info that follows is largely drawn from, a website that attempts to aggregate and weight the outputs of various individual polling organizations, according to their methods and historical reliability. It is also licensed to the NY Times, which may be enough to send some readers scurrying to the temporary comfort of Rasmussen. So be it – 538 founder Nate Silver’s statistician chops are well-established, and I’m seeking accuracy.

Currently, those battleground states shake-out as follows:

Florida (29 votes): currently 48/46 Obama, projection 50.4/49.0, probability* 79%

Ohio (18): currently 48/44 Obama, projection 51.2/47.5, probability 63%

North Carolina (15): currently 47/46 Romney, projection 50.6/48.7, probability 67%

Virginia (13): currently 48/45 Obama, projection 50.9/48.3, probability 73%

Wisconsin (10): currently 50/44 Obama, projection 52.4/46.8, probability 87%

Iowa (6): currently 48/44 Obama, projection 51.1/47/5, probability 74%

Nevada (6): currently 49/45 Obama, projection 51.6/47.1, probability 82%

New Hampshire (4): currently 47/44 Obama, projection 51.7/47.2, probability 77%

* Probability is a measure of confidence in the winner projection

Silver concludes that the likeliest electoral college split 312/226 Obama, at a win probability of 79.7%, with the popular vote also going his way, 51.2/47.7%. Since the respective conventions, the trends have also favored Mr. Obama, with his chance of winning having risen 7% in just the last week. Obviously, there have been repeated blunders by the campaign of the candidate many supporters are counting-on to be a competent manager of his business.

All that said, it is striking just how close the numbers are in those critical swing states, and much action – particularly the debates – lies ahead. Florida and Ohio are crucial – Mr. Romney simply cannot win without carrying at least one of them. Indeed, if Ohio and WI go blue, then Mr. Romney must take all the rest, in which case we end up at 265 Obama to 273 Romney. There are even ways that those NE and ME electors become crucial, and a 269/269 is statistically possible, although at a 0.3% probability.

We’ll take another look at these numbers much closer to November 6, as well as looking at the likely future balances of power in the House and the Senate. Once again, stay tuned!

Comments (6)

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Posted by Rick Pshaw
a resident of Danville
on Sep 27, 2012 at 9:55 am

It's certainly within ethical standards to shop for the best polling data for your candidate, but if you're "seeking accuracy" then a source closely tied to the NYT is not your best choice.

Like this comment
Posted by Chris
a resident of Danville
on Sep 27, 2012 at 12:23 pm

I suggest everyone read Dick Morris' analysis of the poll numbers. Quite revealing. The MSM and this columnist are in the tank for Obama who thinks the death of Americans is a "bump in the road." Romney bumper stickers guarantee your car will be vandalized--thus so few seen on the roads. The sleeping giant is alive and well.

Like this comment
Posted by Ann
a resident of Danville
on Sep 27, 2012 at 2:03 pm

Darn, I really do want a Romney/Ryan bumper sticker on my car, but I have to admit that I worry about who will ultimately trash our car or even hurt our children when they're driving it.

Like this comment
Posted by Citizen Paine
a resident of Danville
on Sep 27, 2012 at 2:29 pm

Regarding all that missing Rmoney regalia -- have you ever heard of Occam's Razor? Don't worry, Occam is long-since dead, and he never did wield a razor against anybody's bumper sticker -- rather, it is a principle that goes something like this: if you have to choose between a simple explanation and one that depends on numerous or preposterous assumptions, choose the simple one.

Applying that logic here: we may account for the absence of GOP bumper stickers this season because of either:

1 -- flagging support for the serially incompetent campaign of a stumble/mumble candidate that nobody really wanted, but who was the best of an awful bunch of choices, or

2 -- fear of roving bands of swarthy, head-ragged vandals with sharp objects in their hands, rage in their hearts and mayhem on their minds ...

... Choose number 1.

Like this comment
Posted by Tom Cushing
a resident of Alamo
on Sep 28, 2012 at 6:34 am

@ Chris: here's another perspective on the accuracy of polling from blogger Kevin Drum, which includes a weblink to the Dick Morris explanation to which you referred. Anyone who believes the NYT would rather comfort the Left than be right might want to take a look at it: Web Link

He concludes:

"Neither side has a monopoly on sloppy number crunching or wishful thinking, but liberals, faced with a reality they didn't like [in 2004], ended up accepting reality and deciding to learn more about it. That's the Nate Silver approach. Conservatives, faced with a reality they didn't like, invented a conspiracy theory to explain it and then produced an alternate reality more to their liking. It's a crude and transparently glib reality, but that's apparently what the true believers want."

And Rick, let me save you the trouble of labeling the source of Mr. Drum's analysis unreliable -- it is Mother Jones.

Like this comment
Posted by Dave
a resident of Danville
on Sep 28, 2012 at 10:25 am

Seriously, Dick Morris? The whore-chasing, toe-sucking, attention hound?

He long ago exhausted his 15 minutes of fame, and it wasn't flattering.

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