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Electoral College: A bunch of states get closer, but not the right ones for Romney

As election day approaches, the number of polls coming in each day has increased dramatically, and that means some states will be jiggling just from the higher volume of polling, although some of it may represent actual movement too.

Today according to the five poll average, five states change categories today, and they all move toward the center, toward being more competitive.  But when we look at them, it turns out none of these (with one possible exception) look like they will be in a position to make any difference in this race.  Let’s take a look at each of them anyway:

Missouri had been trending further toward Romney, but the last poll looks like Obama may be gaining a bit of support there.  It doesn’t matter though, Romney is going to win Missouri.

Wisconsin had bounced up to over a 5% Obama lead.  It now falls below that level to a 4.5% Obama lead.  This is close enough that I once again classify Wisconsin as “Lean Obama” and therefore a state that Romney could win.  But of all the close states, this is the one with the second largest Obama lead.  There are many closer states that are better Romney targets as he tries to claw his way to 270.

Ever since Thursday I have been mentioning the big ugly outlier in Virginia.  Well, today it finally rolls off the five poll average.  With this the average drops to a 3.6% Obama lead.  Virginia would never have left the “close state” category without the outlier, but even without the outlier, Obama has been making gains in Virginia.  A week ago all the polling indicated a tied race in Virginia.  No longer.  It is still close, but now Obama has a clear lead.

Of the states changing status today, Virginia is currently the closest, and it is also the only one with a history of actually being very close.  At the moment, Virginia isn’t close enough compared to the other close states to actually be part of Romney’s “easiest path to victory” which I’ll cover later in the post, but given the history of polling in the state, it could easily get closer again before we are done, so it still has a chance of making a difference in the race if Romney can win it.

This state is “getting closer” only because the outlier is rolling off the average though.  Without the outlier, the trend is actually toward Obama in Virginia.  Virginia seems to be slipping away from Romney.

I am showing a chart since August to show a bit more context for Georgia.  The five poll average moved to a greater than 10% lead for Romney due to what is a clear outlier in September.  Polling has been sparse in Georgia, because it hasn’t been in contention this cycle, so that outlier only rolled off the average today.  I now have Romney with a 7.5% lead in Georgia.

So this “gain” for Obama doesn’t matter.  Romney will be winning in Georgia.

Michigan has been hovering right around the 5% Obama lead mark for the last month or so.  Usually Obama’s lead is slightly more, with today’s update it is slightly less…  4.7%.  This is due to one recent poll that actually shows Romney ahead in Michigan!  This is out of line with all other recent polling, but as usual, I do not manually remove outliers, I let the averages do their thing.  (Although I keep thinking that maybe in 2016 I should use a median, which is less sensitive to these things.)

Anyway,  at 4.7%, Michigan has the biggest Obama lead of any of the current crop of “close states”.  Like Wisconsin, this means that there are a lot of other states that would be easier for Romney to take the lead in that Michigan.  If Romney actually pulls ahead in Michigan, this means it is very likely that he has already pulled ahead in all of the other close states…  at which point he would not only have won, but be heading for a pretty comfortable victory.

So while it might be a bit closer than it was (maybe), Michigan is still quite unlikely to end up flipping to Romney, or to be one of the critical states in the last days.

This brings us to the new map and summary:

Romney Obama
Romney Best Case 338 200
Current Status 206 332
Obama Best Case 190 348

Romney’s best case now actually is the best it has been ALL YEAR LONG, exceeding his best case at the peak after the 1st presidential debate.  In a sense, this does represent a Romney comeback in the last few days.  He *is* making a bunch of states closer.  He has taken a bunch of states where Obama had been ahead by more than 5%, and pulled them back so they are somewhat close.  This may help him in the popular vote, but in the electoral college, it doesn’t look like he has moved any of these states ENOUGH.  He may be making states closer, but he is NOT pulling them over the line to him.

Meanwhile, while Obama hasn’t been pulling ahead by more than 5% in more states, and he hasn’t managed to pull any more states to his side either, he actually has been increasing his lead in some of the most critical states.

Time to take a look in more detail by comparing the five poll average now to the five poll average 7 days ago:

  • Nebraska 2nd (1):  3.8% Romney lead a week ago, 3.8% Romney lead now (no change)
  • North Carolina (15):  2.4% Romney lead a week ago, 2.4% Romney lead now (no change)
  • Colorado (9):  2.8% Obama lead a week ago, 0.4% Obama lead now (2.4% move toward Romney)
  • Florida (29):  0.8% Romney lead a week ago, 1.1% Obama lead now (0.3% move toward Obama)
  • New Hampshire (4):  1.0% Obama lead a week ago, 2.6% Obama lead now (1.6% move toward Obama)
  • Ohio (18):  2.0% Obama lead a week ago, 3.4% Obama lead now (1.4% move toward Obama)
  • Iowa (6): 1.2% Obama lead a week ago, 3.4% Obama lead now (1.2% move toward Obama)
  • Virginia (13): 0.4% Obama lead a week ago, 3.6% Obama lead now (3.4% move toward Obama)
  • Pennsylvania (20): 4.6% Obama lead a week ago, 3.8% Obama lead now (0.8% move toward Romney)
  • Maine 2nd (1): 6.1% Obama lead a week ago, 4.2% Obama lead now (1.9% move toward Romney)
  • Nevada (6): 2.8% Obama lead a week ago, 4.2% Obama lead now (1.4% move toward Obama)
  • Wisconsin (10): 3.8% Obama lead a week ago, 4.5% Obama lead now (0.7% move toward Obama)
  • Michigan (16): 6.5% Obama lead a week ago, 4.7% Obama lead now (1.8% move toward Romney)

That is a lot of close states!  But what can be seen here?  Out of 13 close areas, only FOUR moved toward Romney in the last week.  Colorado, Pennsylvania, Maine’s 2nd congressional district, and Michigan.  Of these only Colorado is in Romney’s easiest path to victory.  I listed the states above in order by the level of Romney support from highest to lowest.

That means the states he NEEDS to be improving in the most in order to win are Colorado, Florida, New Hampshire, Ohio and Iowa.  Looks like Colorado is almost tied now, so I guess whatever Romney is doing there is working and is time well spent.  But the rest of these critical states are moving the wrong direction for Romney.

There has been speculation that Romney is trying to do a “hail mary” of some sort, trying to actually win Pennsylvania and Michigan as an alternate path to victory.  The states he is ahead in, plus Florida, Colorado, Pennsylvania and then Michigan is certainly another path to victory.  But given Obama’s current leads in those states, going through New Hampshire, Ohio and Iowa certainly seems like an easier path than Pennsylvania and Michigan.  Perhaps Romney’s internal polling shows Obama’s support is “softer” in these states though.

For the most part though, this looks like effort put into the wrong places, while Obama consolidates his leads in the states more likely to be the tipping point.  And that is the cue for today’s tipping point graph:

The Virginia outlier is gone, so now the chart can be interpreted directly.  (I’ve removed the little x’s showing what things would have looked like if I had manually removed the outlier.)  Iowa is now the tipping point state, and Obama is ahead by 3.4% in Iowa.  There was a dip in the past few days (which was slightly more without the Virginia outlier) but Obama’s popped up again.  If Romney manages to move the polls in all the close states by at least 3.4%, he can win.  But that is a tall order at this point.  A very tall order.

As I type there are 48 hours and a few minutes left until the first polls start closing on election night.  3.4% is a huge move in such a short time.  Something incredibly dramatic would have to happen to move opinion that much in the final moments.

Romney’s only real hope at this point is that all the polls are wrong.

Absent that, Obama wins a second term.

Note: Chart and map from the Abulsme.com 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.

@abulsme tweets from 2012-11-03 (UTC)