I thought I’d dig through the data and see how likely it is, now that we’re almost at the finish line, that Barack Obama’s systemic advantage in the Electoral College will help him win a second term.
The short answer is: there is (still) a very real chance that it will.
Mitt Romney has done a masterful job pushing the overall mood of the country to a tie, perhaps even a lean toward his campaign. In the Real Clear Politics average, he leads all national surveys by .7%.
But despite his surge and talk of Republican momentum on the campaign trail, Barack Obama still holds a clear advantage in the race to 270 electoral college votes. Here’s the break-down.
Obama currently has strong support from states that give him 221 electoral college votes.
By “strong” I mean that these are states where he leads by 5 points or more in the Real Clear Politics average, and where Democrats have strong infrastructure for their ground game and tend to perform well. I include Pennsylvania in this column.
Using the same yardstick, Mitt Romney has 206 electoral college votes in his column. Here I include North Carolina. Advantage: Obama.
Romney’s trouble comes in the “lean” category. Add in states where he leads by 2 or more points, in the RCP average, and he jumps to 235 points, bringing only Florida to his pile of votes.
Obama, meanwhile, leads by at least 2 points in the RCP averages in 5 states, and in one of those states (Michigan) his lead is roughly 4%. That pool of support, if it holds, gives Obama 277 electoral college votes — seven more than he needs to win a second term. (This includes Ohio, where RCP’s average has Obama up 2 points.) Advantage: Obama.
There are also three states that are, I think, clearly tied up. In Colorado, New Hampshire and Virginia, both candidates are locked in a dead heat in polling, and they also have comparable ground games and levels of cultural support.
Because of their historic identities, I think there is a strong chance of Romney capturing Colorado and Virginia. New Hampshire is harder to read. Advantage: Romney.
There is no clear favorite here. But Barack Obama clearly holds an advantage.
The Democrat has enough resources to fight hard in the toss-up states, while also defending states that lean his direction. He also has a very solid ground game in place in key states.
That won’t boost him back to 2008 levels of turnout, but it should prevent the kind of apathy that helped doom Jimmy Carter and Al Gore. He can slip a bit, and lose in a lot of places, and still win the race.
Mitt Romney, meanwhile, has a more arduous task. He has to translate his renewed momentum into a run-the-table series of victories in the toss-up states, and he has to flip a couple of states (particularly the big-prize states of Ohio and Wisconsin) that have persistently leaned toward Obama.
Totally doable, especially given that Romney’s “favorable” ratings have surged dramatically. But the Republican still faces a measurable disadvantage. We’ll see in the days ahead whether he can tip one or two additional states into the true toss-up or even “leans-Republican” column.