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The challenges for Obama and Romney in the final 3 weeks of campaigning

16 October 2012

Ahead of the second presidential debate tonight, it’s worth taking stock of the task facing each candidate in the last three weeks of the campaign. It is clear that Mitt Romney has received a sizeable bounce since the first debate, closing the gap to Barack Obama by probably around 4 points nationally. Nevertheless, it looks like he still remains about one point adrift of the President, and Nate Silver’s Fivethirtyeight forecast makes Obama the clear favourite, with the odds against his victory at about 1/2.
Before the debates, talk of swing states and the electoral college seemed superfluous. Obama looked likely to win the popular vote by around four points, a margin which would guarantee him the 270 electoral votes he needs. A split between the popular vote and the electoral college is unlikely — it has occurred just three times in US history: in 1876, 1888 and 2000. But when the popular vote margin is two points or less (as it looks like being this time), it is certainly worthy of consideration.
According to Silver’s model, there’s about a 7 per cent chance of it happening this year — and if there is a split, it’s most likely to favour Obama. It finds a 4.3 per cent chance of Romney getting more votes but losing the electoral college, compared to just a 2.7 per cent chance for Obama. In other words, if Obama won the popular vote, Romney would only have about a 4 per cent chance of securing the White House, whereas if Romney won the popular vote, Obama would still have about a 12 per cent chance of re-election.
Why the split? Well a lot of it may come down to Obama’s strength in Ohio. The Buckeye State has tended to be slightly more Republican than the country as a whole (in 2008, for example, Obama beat McCain 53-46 nationally, but only 51-47 in Ohio), but this year Obama seems to have turned that around. Before the debate, Obama was actually been doing about one point better in Ohio than he was nationally. And the polls suggest Romney’s post-debate bounce has been smaller there — around two points, compared to about four points nationally. So whereas Silver’s model gives Obama a 64.4 per cent chance of getting more votes than Romney nationally, it gives him a slightly better 69.1 per cent chance of getting more votes in Ohio and securing the state’s 18 electoral votes.
Ohio was the decisive state in 2004, and is undoubtedly the most important state again this year — if the election comes down to one state, the most likely one by far is Ohio. And Obama’s strength there is certainly a big problem for Romney. If Ohio were still two points more Republican-leaning than the country as a whole, as it has been in the past, Romney’s path to victory would be much easier. But it’d be wrong to say, as others have, that it’s near impossible for Romney to win without it. If you take all the states where Romney is doing better than he is in Ohio, you get 269 electoral votes — enough for a tie (as shown in the map below, which I put together at That’d mean the House of Representatives would decide the winner, with each state’s group of Representatives getting one vote. That’d very likely amount to a Romney victory, as the Republicans currently hold the majority in 33 House state delegations to the Democrats’ 16, and are very likely to maintain an advantage after these elections.
Of course, a tie is always improbable (Silver’s model rates the chances of one at just 1.3 per cent), but it is a demonstration of how Romney could take the White House without Ohio. And he could substitute two other competitive states — New Hampshire and Wisconsin — for Virginia or Colorado, or for Nevada and Iowa. The point is that when we talk of Ohio as a ‘must win’ state, it is in a way more true for Obama than Romney. That is, while it’s unlikely either candidate wins the election without Ohio (indeed, no candidate has since John F Kennedy did so in 1960), it’s more likely that Romney manages it than Obama does.

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  • Jez

    Last night the polls were 49 Romney / 48 Obama with the 3 to 4% margin of error.
    That’s 50/50 in any book and (Romney’s) not “about one point adrift of the President”
    There was this guy called Korski once. He used to put the most outrageous establishment diatribe on here- and it got to the point where he would actually state something as fact / a forgone conclusion and these would be almost instantaneously fall flat on their backsides to the point of him becoming a bit of a star. He was absolutely hilarious- and he took his prompts from the pool that your frequenting and (only my opinion here, not a statement of fact) seemingly rejuggling your liberal / left wing plagiarized propaganda from. Because you feel comfortable repeating it.
    Korski actually advises the EU on foreign policy now i think (or something like that). Shows morally just how utterly redundant that organisation is.
    Ok- this is called an unbiased comment. They are quite hard to generate because sometimes you have to be proffesional and not emotional. (very important that Jonathan)……. Are you ready?
    I feel that Romney has it sown up if he now just consolidates his position, because Obama is all fur coat and no knickers….. like the wizard of Oz wizard…. like the emporers robes…. ok, ok- you get the message- BUT…. Romney has gone in guns blazing saying he’s going to throw arms and military support to the Syrian rebels- who are ‘who’ exactly? He has absolutely no idea who these people are and he has absolutely made no distinction between throwing arms at people like this in the past and the state of flux that is the Middle East (et al) at the moment.
    This utterly bonkers act of caution that must obviously be being screamed down as fantasy, the ramblings of a Northern nomark by any of the liberals on here who ‘want this’ escalation must just try and become unbiased for about ten minutes, put down their copy of the guardian / telegraph and THINK whilst looking at the patterns of populist behaviour out there this last 20 months.

  • Frank P

    Jones has been in the tank for the worst President in American history from the get-go.
    It is beyond comprehension why any British hack should favour a front man for a conglomerate of Leftist apparatchiks, Chicagoan crooks and pro-Islamic quislings. The Spectator is beneath contempt. The motives of its owners should be explored – and would be if there were any investigative journalists still extant in Grub Street.

    • Hexhamgeezer

      Could I distil your excellent ‘conglomerate of Leftist apparatchiks, Chicagoan crooks and pro-Islamic quislings’ into the more prosaic, but equally pertinent ‘shower of sh..’

  • John Dark

    As of this evening Romney is now within 1 point of Obama with women. Most polls now put him ahead in Ohio and he is looking at a landslide in his favour in several swing states, including Florida. Rasmusssun now has him six points ahead of Obama.
    I agree with other commenters here, Nate Silver is dodgy, and totally in the bag for Obama, as are most mainstream media commenters. Like other commenters I do not understand why this site finds it so difficult to find a conservative commenter to discuss the US election.
    Still I give you points for being consistent. You have been consistently anit-Romney throughout.

  • Right On

    Would it really be too much to ask to get a conservative view on American politics? If I want to hear the parroting of left wing talking points I can read The Guardian.
    To save us all time can I suggest Mr Jones post his “Obama wins second debate by comprehensive margin” article now. Something along the lines of “disputed Romney tax plan blah blah……miraculously avoided explaining why neither the Secretary of State nor the President are to blame for the Libya debacle…..blah blah….47%……blah blah…..Bain Capital. As expected the greatest orator in the history of em…oration….blah blah….landslide now expected.”

    • bloughmee

      Well, the Speccie is a leftist publication, so Obama cheerleading is to be expected.

  • bloughmee

    Yes, it does appear like Romney is about to run away with this. The leftist MSM has desperately fought to make Obama the “inevitable” winner, and the aforementioned Silver has certainly done his best. But it’s not working. With 3 weeks to the election, the full media offensive is failing. It’s running out of juice. They can’t plug all the leaks in this dam, which is about to burst and inundate poor Obama.

    Gallup is showing Willard winning women voters in the swing states, and by 4 points. If that holds up, it’s game, set and match. This election will not be even close. President Willard the Mittens, here we come.

  • john

    Romney is going to win, and win big. It could b devastating. The lefties won’t have a clue what happened when they wake up on November 7th. Obama’s finished. The recriminations and blame-game fest will be fun to watch…retirement in Hawaii beckons, Barry.

  • Curnonsky

    You really need to broaden your horizon beyond (home of the frequently-referenced Nate Silver). Most of the other polls show a clear and growing margin for Romney, but of course as a diehard Obama supporter you cling desperately to the New York Times, which has become about as reliable as the Pyongyang Daily News. It would be like an American journalist who got all his news about Britain from the Guardian/BBC. Or, increasingly, the Spectator, I am sorry to say.

  • Baron

    well, whatever the pundits may say Romney will get in by an unexpectedly large margin, just wait and see, and remember Baron told you so.

  • AnotherDaveB

    Nate Silver is a partisan hack. His ‘model’ is just camouflage for propaganda.

  • Kevin

    Obama is due to appear on Comedy Central soon, presumably to “drum up the base”. His hosts have certainly been doing a power of work on the debates.

    According to Jon Stewart, while he (Stewart) had the “good grace” to admit Romney beat Obama (quote: by “lying, lie, lie, lying!”), Fox News showed bad form by complaining about Biden’s near eighty interruptions of Ryan.

    Fox News do not even appear to have made much about Biden’s “misstatements”, such as saying he voted against the Afghanistan and Iraq wars (he voted for them), that Obama is not attempting to force the Catholic Church to support abortion (Church lawsuits say otherwise), that Kennedy did not use tax cuts to raise revenue (historical fact), that Biden himself is against abortion (Biden himself emphatically contradicted that on the night!), or passing the buck on Benghazi.

    Comedy Central does not seem to think that any of the above is “lying, lie, lie, lying!”. Apparently, as long as Biden can pronounce the words “nineteen million dollars” without saying “cajillion”, that shows he is a master of the facts, and as Biden himself said, “It’ll all be OK”.

    • john

      Who cares what Fox says? It’s stuffed full of lefties and Tokyo Rose Republicans.

  • Wilhelm

    The liberal media is bewitched by the ” glamour ” of Barak Obama, as Bill Whittle explains.

  • Hexhamgeezer

    So you think that Obama and Clinton’s serial lying about the murder of their Ambassador and other citizens in Libya won’t be a factor in nudging matters Romney’s way?
    Blimey! ThoseDemocrats and their British cheerleaders are loyal stuff.

    • telemachus

      I fear for the health of America if Obama does not get back in to consolidate Obamacare

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