Long-time readers of this blog – all two of you – might remember that in 2008 I was posting a lot in terms election prognosticating. I haven’t done nearly so much this year. Part of the difference is that I’ve been flat-out busy the last month or so with paying work and the other part is that I’ve concluded there’s almost zero value I can add to a discussion on this topic. Everybody I know checks Nate Silver every morning (and afternoon and evening) along with Real Clear Politics, Votamatics and the other sites that aggregate, evaluate and weigh polling data. What was once the purview of high-priced consultants and their client campaigns is now available to all of us for the price of a mouse click.
As of this morning, Silver is making the following predictions:
A 50-vote margin in the electoral college seems like a pretty good margin, but what Mr. Silver knows – but what few of his readers seem to appreciate – is that the margin hinges almost entirely on Obama’s very thin lead in Ohio (like Silver, I believe Romney is likely to win Virginia, North Carolina and Florida). To put it simply, if Obama wins Ohio, he wins re-election as the only way Governor Romney can then win is to win every remaining toss-up state in which the President currently leads in the polls. Ain’t gonna happen.
By contrast, however, if the President doesn’t win Ohio, we’re talking about a very narrow Obama victory – 272-266 – at best. A Romney win in Ohio, by contrast, flips the script that’s been playing out all fall: suddenly it’s the President who has the much more challenging task of winning all of the remaining toss-up states.
Ohio’s role as the fulcrum in this election is nothing new, but the stakes there are increasing with each passing hour. And, with Sandy taking east-coast campaigning off the table for at least another couple of days, the campaigns may as well just move there for the duration.
Mr. Silver’s analysis of Ohio polling gives President Obama a 2.6 point lead over Governor Romney in the state, a lead that, according to his methodology, indicates that the President should win the state 73 percent of the time or about 3 times out of every 4 tries (for those who would find comfort in this number, please remember that the odds in Russian roulette are 5 times out of 6 you live so don’t get too complacent).
The Romney campaign’s latest effort to move the needle – an ad seeking to scuff up Mr. Obama’s assistance to the auto industry that is so false (see here, here, here, here, here, here) that it may well be the most inaccurate ad of the cycle by either candidate or party (there are some whoppers from the independents that are worse) – is an indication of how important the state has become and how desperate Team Romney is to move the numbers.
With a week left and early voting well under way in Ohio, it’s hard to predict what – if anything – can change the dynamic of the race there, but let’s for a moment give Governor Romney a win in Ohio. Assuming that win comes with more likely pick-ups in Florida, Virginia and North Carolina, the only path left for the President to get to 270 is to sweep the remaining battleground states of New Hampshire, Iowa, Colorado and Nevada (just as I gave the Red Team three states, I’m giving the Blue Team a win in Wisconsin). That combination would lead to a 272-266 Obama win that would look like this:
But…that fallback position is by no means secure. Mr. Silver assesses the chances of an Obama win in Nevada to be 80 percent, 71 percent in Iowa and 70 percent in New Hampshire, but in Colorado the split is 55 percent to 45 percent, meaning that if you held the election 20 times, the President would win 11 times and the Governor 9 times.
Much better to win Ohio and be done with it. Or to surprise me with a win in Florida (which would be instant game over but is also where Mr. Silver gives Governor Romney a 65 percent chance of winning).
Whatever happens, I’m looking forward to election night as usual. I’ll be pulling out the TVs, rigging the laptops and making chili. It beats watching the World Series.