Via Meadia is not and never will be a site that follows every twist and turn of a presidential race. What candidate commits a forgettable gaffe, how a candidate’s team spins a disappointing debate or primary performance, what no-hoper GOP also-ran says mean things about another bit part player: that isn’t what we want to write about here.
This doesn’t mean we intend to rise sublimely above an election that engages the attention of the whole world; increasingly leaders and analysts all over the world will be trying to assess the chances of President Obama’s re-election as a factor in their planning. Financial markets will be watching as well; besides the presidential race, they will be looking to see what kind of Congress is likely to emerge from the fray and whether that Congress will be more able than the current assembly to put the country’s finances on a sustainable course.
Last week we introduced our election map, not as an attempt to forecast the (still wildly unpredictable and completely up for grabs) November result, but as a way to show graphically where the race is right now. Using the RCP “poll of polls” as a reference point, we compared the candidates’ poll standing now with the results of 2008, adjusted the electoral vote to reflect the results of the 2010 census, and showed the electoral map that those polls (with undecideds divided proportionately between the candidates) would produce in an election.
This week we’ve added a couple of new wrinkles. First, we have tweaked our approach to undecided voters, assuming that some of them will vote for third party or other candidates in November. For now, we are assuming no change in the third party vote between 2008 and 2012 and that the rest of the undecideds will break along the same lines as the rest of the public; we will test and review those assumptions as the election approaches and better data becomes available.
Second, we are adding the “magic number:” the national swing from the current leader (President Obama) to his opponent needed to change the election result. At the moment, that magic number is 3.12 percent: a swing of that size toward Romney would, distributed equally across the country, give the former Massachusetts governor a narrow 275-263 victory in the Electoral College.
The big difference: with that narrow swing in the popular vote, Florida, Virginia, Ohio and Colorado shift into the Romney column. (We aren’t calculating numbers for Rick Santorum at this point; at the moment Mitt Romney appears all but certain to be the Republican nominee.) With a slightly larger swing, Romney’s electoral majority could widen substantially; Iowa, Minnesota, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania would all be in play.
Many readers took our first national map as a sign that President Obama was all but assured of a comfortable win. Perhaps — but a swing of a little over three percent is not hard to imagine. It is also important to note that after more than three years in office, President Obama has lost ground since his last win. At the President’s current level of political support, North Carolina and Indiana, two normally red states that the then Senator Obama carried in 2008, have flipped back to the GOP.
The current polls if anything overstate the President’s strength. The latter stages of the GOP nomination battle have been tough, and the President enjoys the luxury of an opposition that is so busy with internecine strife that it cannot develop much less follow up on a consistent program of attacking the President’s record.
All things being equal, we would expect the race to tighten in the months to come. Without getting drawn into breathless blow-by-blow commentary we’ll continue to keep an eye on the big picture, and in the next couple of weeks will start to look at what current voter sentiments will do for the House and the Senate.