***See Thursday morning update at the bottom of this column
For the past two months, Weld has tracked polls state-by-state to provide a weekly projection of the outcome of the November 6 Presidential election in the Electoral College. It takes 270 electoral votes to win the Presidency. With the election less than a week away as this issue goes to press, this will be the last analysis to appear in our print edition. A final projection will be posted on Monday, November 5, on weldbham.com.
Projected Electoral College result: Obama 303, Romney 235
Our projection is unchanged from last week. President Barack Obama maintains a significant, though not insurmountable, electoral vote lead over former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. The Romney surge that followed the first Presidential debate has subsided over roughly the past two weeks, and the campaign’s final days have taken on the quality of World War I — both sides dug in, fighting to gain inches — or, in this case, precious percentage points — in a few key battlegrounds.
With the end in sight, this week’s analysis does away with the Locked, Likely and Leaning categories we’ve used previously. We’re assuming that, barring some earth-shattering gaffe by one candidate or the other, a lead of five or more points in a given state can be considered safe. Under that formula, the vote currently breaks down as follows:
Obama (237 votes): California, Connecticut, DC, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington
Romney (191): Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, Wyoming
Tossups (110 votes): Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, Wisconsin
A quick note before we get to the business of analyzing our Tossup states: We have taken Wisconsin from the Obama column and added it here, albeit purely for statistical reasons. What that means is that the President’s lead has dropped to just under five points there — but, as we’ll see in a moment, he remains all but certain to carry the state.
In looking at the nine Tossups, let’s put our focus where the candidates have theirs — the ever-shrinking population of undecided voters. Two weeks ago, the cumulative total of undecided voters in the Tossup states was 5.3 percent; today, that number is down to 4.4.
For purposes of surmising which states actually remain competitive at this late juncture, let’s assume that on Election Day, the undecideds in each state break two-to-one in favor of the candidate currently trailing (that almost certainly won’t happen; in the absence of the aforementioned gaffe or some other extraordinary occurrence — the impact of Hurricane Sandy, anyone? — trends suggest they’ll divide roughly evenly). If the addition of that two-thirds of undecided puts the trailing candidate at 50 percent or greater, then he still can win that state. This scenario means that Obama can’t catch up in North Carolina, while Iowa, Nevada and Wisconsin are out of reach for Romney.
That moves the scoreboard to Obama 259, Romney 206. It also establishes a maximum Electoral College total of 332 for Obama and 279 for Romney, leaving the challenger a razor-thin path to victory.
So…we’re down to five battlegrounds. Obama leads in Colorado (by 0.6 points), New Hampshire (1.8), Ohio (2.2) and Virginia (0.4), with his margins in each state trending slightly upward. Romney leads in Florida, but his lead has dropped to 0.9 points from 1.4 last week.
Regarding these numbers, we should take note of two new polls that seem to be outliers, and therefore are weighted more lightly in our calculations. One is in Ohio, giving Romney a two-point lead, the only poll to date that has shown him ahead there. The other is in Virginia, showing Obama up by four; though the trend there is toward the President, a four-point lead is a big jump from where he has been over the past several weeks.
Thumbnail analysis: Both campaigns are claiming the upper hand going into the last weekend. But the numbers say it’s still Obama’s race to lose.
UPDATED PROJECTION: OBAMA 290, ROMNEY 248
Since the column above went to press Tuesday night, we have tracked significant movement in poll averages in several states. The most apparent result of that is in Virginia, where the latest numbers have seen a 0.4 point lead for Obama flip to a 0.3 percent lead for Romney — hence the change in our overall projection above.
While the change in Virginia closes the gap for Romney, the news is not so good elsewhere for the Republican nominee. Before getting fully into that, let’s take care of a little housekeeping. Over the past 48 hours, Romney has seen slight increases in his leads in Florida and North Carolina, and has cut slightly into Obama’s leads in Iowa and New Hampshire. Meanwhile, Obama has opened wider gaps between himself and Romney in Colorado, Nevada, Wisconsin and — most importantly — Ohio.
As we’ve said before, getting to 270 electoral votes without Ohio is a virtual impossibility for Romney. In fact, if we consider the five true battleground states we narrowed the race down to in this week’s original analysis above, Romney cannot win without Ohio.
But let’s give Romney the benefit of the doubt. Let’s add back the three states Obama leads — Iowa, Nevada and Wisconsin — that we statistically eliminated as battlegrounds earlier this week. And let’s say that Romney holds his leads, however slim, in all of the states where he’s currently ahead. That means he starts at the 248 electoral votes projected in our updated total. He needs 22 votes to win. Where will he get them without Ohio?
Start with the easiest potential win for Romney and proceed from there. He wins Colorado, where he trails by just 0.9 points (but where the trend favors Obama); those nine votes take him to 257. He wins New Hampshire, where his gap is 1.4 points and currently shrinking; that’s four more votes, taking him to 261. He wins Iowa, where he has cut the President’s lead to 2 points, but where the low number of undecided voters means he’ll have to get almost all of them to make up the deficit; that takes him to 267, three votes short of victory.
Where will those 3 come from? The only Tossups left are Nevada and Wisconsin. In Nevada, Obama leads by 3 points and stands at 49.9 percent in our poll average, meaning basically that the undecideds have to break 100 percent for Romney. In Wisconsin, Obama is now polling just over 50 percent, meaning that Romney not only has to get every undecided voter, but also would have to actually take votes away from Obama.
Failing either of those — and assuming he actually pulls off the feat of coming from behind in Colorado, New Hampshire and Iowa — Romney has to take away a state that appears to be solidly in the Obama column. The only ones within shouting distance are Michigan and Pennsylvania — in each of which, to be sure, Romney has been spending money and slowly closing Obama’s leads over the past week or so. But shrinking though they are, the math suggests that those leads remain insurmountable. In actuality, it’s more likely that Obama would pick Florida, Virginia, or North Carolina off the Romney column than for Romney to win in Michigan or Pennsylvania — or, for that matter, in Iowa.
Which brings us back to where we’ve been for the past three weeks: No Ohio, no Romney win. Can he still win it? Yes. Is it likely? Not without a dramatic reversal of current trends there and elsewhere.