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Electoral College: Obama Rebound Looking Bigger… But Still Tenuous

Two states changing categories today, both moving toward Obama. Both Romney’s “Best Case” line and the “Current” line reflecting the current lead in the polls, have now moved significantly back toward Obama since Romney’s peak around October 12th. These gains are still somewhat tenuous for Obama, which we’ll get into in a bit. For the moment though, lets look at the individual states:

First up New Hampshire. Just three days ago Romney pulled into a slight lead in my five point average in New Hampshire. The very next poll pulls the average back over to Obama’s side of the fence. Having said that, the new poll, showing a 9% Obama lead, looks like it might end up as an outlier. We’ll need more polls to determine if there is real movement, or just noise. Even with that point Obama only has a 0.9% lead. So New Hampshire is still very close. A little on one side of the line versus a little on the other side of the line really doesn’t change all that much.

In Pennsylvania a couple of days ago what seemed like an outlier in Romney’s favor aged out of the five poll average. Today it was replaced by what looks like an outlier in Obama’s favor. This is enough to bring Obama’s lead to 5.2% in Pennsylvania. That is enough for me to move Pennsylvania to “Weak Obama” and take out of Romney’s best case scenario. As with New Hampshire’s move, this move is influenced by a poll that smells a little like an outlier. So don’t be surprised if Pennsylvania slips back under the 5% mark as more polls come in.

So where does this put the summary:

Romney Obama
Romney Best Case 295 243
Current Status 219 319
Obama Best Case 191 347

This looks pretty good for Obama, right? He’s building his lead back in, and slowly but surely undoing the damage from that first debate? Just looking at the charts, it looks like on the “current” line, Obama is about half way back to his peak at the end of September. On the “Romney’s best case” Obama’s gained back about a third of his losses. In terms of these numbers, Obama is better off than the spot at the end of August where I had once called a Romney peak.

At that point in time I mentioned that even at that Romney peak, Obama was in a very solid position. Romney would have to flip a whole bunch of states where Obama was ahead in order to win. It was a tall order. Since we’re right there again, so Obama is pretty solid, right?

Right? Well on the surface. But looking at that alone hides a bit. The key is that a lot of the states that are on Obama’s side of the winning line are just BARELY there. So lets look again at all of the close states:

  • North Carolina (15 ev): 2.0% Romney lead
  • Virginia (13 ev): 0.2% Romney lead
  • Florida (29 ev): 0.4% Obama lead
  • New Hampshire (4 ev): 0.9% Obama lead
  • Ohio (18 ev): 1.2% Obama lead
  • Colorado (9 ev): 1.2% Obama lead
  • Iowa (6 ev): 2.2% Obama lead
  • Wisconsin (10 ev): 3.8% Obama lead

My line is always that anything under a 5% lead can easily disappear with essentially no notice. Of the 8 states with margins under 5%, five are actually closer than 2%. Three are closer than 1%! These are a bunch of really close states that really could flip back and forth.

With all the states he is ahead in, Obama wins 319 to 219. That is 50 electoral votes more than he needs to win! But if you just get a 1.3% uniform move in the polls across the close states, then Florida (29 ev), New Hampshire (4 ev), Ohio (18 ev) and Colorado (9 ev) all flip to Romney. That is 60 electoral votes. With that 2% move, Romney wins 279 to 259.

1.3% is not a big move. Obama has the lead. But barely. A stupid statement at a critical time. A random mistake that comes off badly. Some national or international news that just doesn’t reflect well. Changes in enthusiasm that causes Democrats to turn out less than Republicans. Any of those could move things by 1.3%. 1.3% is nothing. 1.3% can evaporate almost instantly if the right things happen.

The movements since the second debate have been mainly in Obama’s direction. Consensus seems to be that Obama also “won” the third debate. After the disaster in the first debate the Obama campaign seems to have hit their stride again. Things seem to be moving in their direction. If that continues for the next two weeks through election day, Obama should end up with a pretty comfortable victory. If things hold steady, or if Romney has a few good news cycles, then we may indeed end up waiting up late on election night to resolve a tight election in Ohio that will determine the outcome of the election.

Note: I finished my daily scan of polls a little over 10 hours prior to making this post, so new polls announced since then will be reflected in tomorrow’s update rather than today’s. I normally try to make the blog post right after finishing the scan on days where states change categories, but this time I just needed to get a little sleep in between. Sorry about that. :-)

Note: Chart and map from the 2012 Electoral College Prediction page. Both assume Obama vs Romney with no strong third party candidate and show polling as it currently exists. Things will change before election day. On the map red is Romney, blue is Obama, gold states are too close to call. Lines on the chart represent how many more electoral votes a candidate would have than is needed to tie under several different scenarios. Up is good for Obama, Down is good for Romney.

[Edited 2012 Oct 23 22:12 to add final note, fix a wording error, and correct a mistake where I had 2.0% in a place that should have said 1.3%.]

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