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Is Romney winning this election? Election math explained

Oct. 17, 2012
Personal Finance
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Gallop today released a poll of likely voters in which President Obama’s lead over Mitt Romney grew from 4 points to an astounding 6 points.  According to Business Insider, “it would take a truly historical comeback at this point for Obama.”  But is this true?

If we elected our presidents by a popular vote, then yes, it would be a fairly dire situation for Obama to be trailing in the polls 51-45 with only 20 days until the election.  But our presidents are elected using the electoral college system and because of the way the electoral map is drawn, Romney is actually still an underdog.

In fact, it is becoming increasingly likely that Romney could win the popular vote, but lose the election.  Here’s why:

  • Obama has 201 “safe” electoral votes in states that lean heavily Democrat like California and Illinois
  • Romney has 181 “safe” electoral votes in states that lean heavily Republican like Texas and Indiana
  • There are 538 electoral votes total.  A candidate needs 270 to win.
  • There are 156 electoral votes that either candidate could win (538 minus 201 minus 181 = 156)
  • For Romney to win, he needs to get 89 of those 156 toss up votes (270 needed to win minus 181 safe votes = 89)
  • For Obama to win, he needs to get 69 of those 156 toss up votes (270 needed to win minus 201 safe votes = 69)
  • Even after the first debate polling bump, Romney is still only projected to win 5 of the 12 toss up states (Colorado, Florida, Missouri, New Hampshire, and North Carolina) for a total of 77 electoral votes.  This is 12 votes short of the 89 he needs to win the election.

So Romney is projected to come up 12 votes short.  Could he overcome that deficit?  Absolutely.  His statistical odds of winning are nearly 1 in 3, the best position he has been in yet.  But is it accurate to say that he is currently ahead?  No.  Unless Romney wins some states that he is currently losing, he will lose the election by at least 12 electoral votes.  That said, there are still 20 days until the election and a lot could change.