Highway 270: Wrap-Up

This article is the last of a biweekly series called “Highway 270,” which profiled heavily contested states in the 2012 election season. As polling stations open and we await the returns, I offer the last of the “conventional wisdom” for the 2012 presidential election season, as well as my predictions, about which I will probably be sheepishly vague after tomorrow night.

In light of CNN’s tremendously helpful “both candidates are tied” poll, released this morning, I decided to shift through other major polling sources for state-by-state data that might help me make sense of the mess of polling numbers and demographic groups that is election season.

Having said that, I’d like to point out that making predictions about an empirical event is inherently embarrassing. Something—many things—or every single thing I predict could be wrong in an equally realistic election outcome. I’d be putting my foot in my mouth if I said that political science “wasn’t a science,” but it’s hard to find a better way to describe the fact that the outcome of this race is as contested amongst those who hold doctorates in politics as it is amongst college students who happen to enjoy speculation.

About the only thing I can say with certainty is that neither Jill Stein of the Green Party nor Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate, will be our next president. We can also safely eliminate Herman Cain and the Rent-is-too-damn-high guy.

Florida: In the words of Rick Hasen, “Florida is doing all it can to become the next Florida.” The Sunshine State just recovered from a series of controversies over attempts by its Republican governor, Rick Scott to stop early voting. The only thing I can say with any certainty about Florida is that its vote is likely to be uncertain, and probably contested. If you prefer identifying your president to drawn-out melodramatic legal battles (which some people admittedly do not), your best bet is to hope that whichever candidate wins gets enough votes from other states that the Florida contest doesn’t matter. Romney’s leading in the Rasmussen Reports poll, but it’s within the margin of error and therefore too close to (officially) call.

Final verdict: tricky, but given the way 2000 ended, I’m going to hand this one to Romney. He better be grateful for the gift—it’ll be a tough road to 270 without it.

Ohio: Some survey centers put Obama just ahead; others give a (still very slight) edge to Romney, and others go the way of CNN and call it an even split. The general consensus among people who have been following elections longer than I’ve been alive is that Ohio is the state most likely to provide the determining vote—an argument I am predisposed to believe, given its unceasingly close survey results. (Quick retrospective: had Romney nominated shortlisted Ohio Senator Rob Portman to his ticket rather than the piercing-eyed, Rand-obsessed Paul Ryan, he might perhaps have gotten the boost in the Buckeye State that he so desperately needs.) Regardless, I imagine that no network TV station tomorrow will project a winning candidate until they can project an Ohio winner.

Final verdict: the best decisive argument I’ve encountered was published today in The New York Times by Micah Cohen, who argues that because of the success of the auto industry bailout, Obama will get the sliver of votes that he needs.

Missouri: Missourians went largely un-courted by presidential candidates in this election. (As I said in my previous article, I think this is a mistake that will hurt the Democrats more in 2014 and 2016 than 2012, but unsurprisingly campaign strategists from either side have yet to ask my opinion.) Both Obama and Romney ceded the state to the GOP, and the most recent polls are showing exactly that: double-digit margins for Mitt.  It is worth noting, however, that incumbent senator Claire McCaskill (D) maintains a significant lead over her challenger, Congressman Todd Akin (R), who made headlines this past summer for his infamous, politically-incorrect (and, for that matter, biologically-incorrect) statements about “legitimate rape.” Because McCaskill’s seat was considered relatively precarious by both parties, Democrats looking at the Show-Me-State should be somewhat comforted by its contribution to the legislative, if not executive, branch.

Final verdict: An easy Romney victory, although the senate and gubernatorial races are likely to go blue.

Virginia: Amidst a series of similarly indecisive polls, it’s hard to make a purely numerical argument for Virginia’s votes. But if you look at the state’s other numbers, you see a joblessness rate (5.9%) that is and has been substantially lower than the national average (7.8%). My best determining argument is that disgruntled Virginia Republicans will feel less of an impetus to go to the polls than their counterparts in other states (like North Carolina, which I predict will go red). Regardless, independent voters (the eleven or so that still exist in this country) will vote their pocketbooks and paychecks, as they always do—in the Old Dominion, economics may be Obama’s saving grace rather than his downfall. But it’ll be a narrow margin regardless. A Romney victory is similarly conceivable.

Final verdict: Obama, barely.

Colorado: Obama’s disapproval rating in Colorado is a solid 51%, which bodes pretty poorly for the commander-in-chief, although his other numbers put him in closer contention with Governor Romney. Furthermore, 69% of Coloradoans have already voted, a group that favors Romney over Obama.

Final verdict: Romney, but it isn’t set in stone.

Wisconsin: Obama ended his Badger State campaign win a bang in Madison today alongside Bruce Springsteen. I doubt this will substantially affect his campaign, but I wouldn’t say the same about his ground game. As I said Thursday, Obama’s grassroots support will make him tough to take out, even in Paul Ryan’s home state.

Final verdict: Obama, though not, obviously, by the double-digit margin he won in 2008.

Iowa: Romney’s campaign has made four appearances here in the last five days, indicating that they think it’s a possible victory—and therefore a valuable one, despite its fairly small (six) number of electoral votes. If there’s any small size swing-state I think Romney could win, it’d be Iowa, where he polls strongly with seniors (who are the most consistent demographic at actually making it to the polls). However, Public Policy Polling notes that Obama’s slight leads in the Hawkeye state are fairly consistent.

Final verdict: Romney, perhaps out of a desire to award tossup electoral votes more evenly in what will be a fairly arbitrary race (I can’t imagine that Governor Romney himself would be particularly appreciative of the wealth-of-votes-sharing gesture. I won’t tell him if you don’t.)

New Hampshire: I didn’t profile the state for two reasons: 1) it only has four electoral votes, so the odds that the election will come down to New Hampshire are pretty small. 2) It has gone Democratic in the last two elections, and its demographic makeup is not so different from its solid-blue neighbors to make a Romney victory seem realistic. Granted, the odds of New Hampshire determining the election are (according to The New York Times) in the single-digit percentage points, but that means such a scenario isn’t impossible. Obama’s had a slight margin ahead of Romney for most of the campaign—albeit a very slight one—but I doubt that election night will be an exception.

Final verdict: Obama.

Nevada: After a contentious summer and early fall, Obama is up by small but consistent leads in most major surveys. FiveThirtyEight puts Obama up by a margin-of-error-proof five points. A Romney win would be an aberration from previous data, but it’s possible.

Final verdict: Obama.

Final nationwide electoral vote tally:

Obama 288 votes (where he gets Ohio, Virginia, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, and Nevada, along with all the states he’s expected to win, including Pennsylvania and Michigan).

Romney 250 votes (where he gets Florida, Missouri, Colorado, and Iowa, along with the states he’s expected to win).