How President Obama plans to win his re-election


by Sunny Hundal    
8:57 am - November 1st 2012

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At a certain point in the election cycle, the policies become irrelevant: it becomes all about turning out voters who support you. If all the registered voters who support President Obama were guaranteed to vote there wouldn’t be a question about who wins – he’d go home with a landslide.

Hence, more than any other Democratic candidate in modern history, Obama set out to build an outreach and community-organising based model for GOTV (getting out the vote) that matches the Republican machine. A significant chunk of the money he’s raised from supporters goes towards that (field offices, targeting voters, collecting data on them etc).

So how does he win? The US election system is roughly based on the Electoral College vote, which totals 538. Each state has a share of that depending on its population size, and to get elected a candidate needs to get over the halfway line and win 270 votes. The votes for most states (for e.g. California and New York for Obama; Texas and Georgia for Romney) are already a given based on polling. A few swing states hold the key to re-election.

Obviously I can’t reveal much of what I’m told or hear, but I can say the campaign is focused on locking up three states: Ohio, Nevada and Wisconsin. Winning those states puts him over the top.

But Obama’ path to victory is potentially wider. He is also likely to win in Iowa and New Hampshire. But if he loses Ohio then these two won’t put him over the top.

This is where Colorado and Virginia also come into play – two states that Obama won in 2008 and he is very slightly ahead in polling there.

But I think Mr Obama has more chance of losing Colorado than Ohio – the latter has been hugely supportive of the auto-industry bailout and is more receptive to his ‘we can all do better when the government helps us’ message than richer, floating voters in Colorado (and Virginia).

In other words, Ohio is critical to Obama’s chances. Fortunately, the polling is holding up in his favour in that state.

So here is my prediction of what the map will look like on election day.

This, I think, is a fairly conservative estimate. I think Obama can do better but is fairly unlikely to do worse.

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Foreign affairs ,United States

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Reader comments


1. Chaise Guevara

I see Sunny’s been taking notes.

“Each state has a share of that depending on its population size.” Not actually true.

Each state’s electoral college vote is its number of Congressmen (which roughly depends on population) plus its number of Senators. Since every state however large or small has two senators this system is biassed towards small states. So on your map, the six ‘red’ states stretching from Idaho to North Dakota have the same total number of electoral votes as Illinois (20) but less than a third the population (6.5m to 20m).

This bias was intentional on the part of the Founding Fathers to persuade smaller states to join the US. Its survival, like many undemocratic absurdities of the American system (eg. the ludicrously unrepresentative but deeply revered Senate) shows what happens when you don’t change your constitution (not fundamentally anyway) for 200 years. It’s as if the UK still had the pre-1832 constituencies,rotten boroughs and all that. And we think we’re the traditionalists!

@2 – yes, but the small state bias doesn’t only favour Romney – combined population of Vermont, Rhode Island, Maine, DC, Delaware and Hawaii is also about 6m and also offer up 20 electoral votes, so in this election at least the two candidates benefit roughly equally from this discrepancy…

Obviously I can’t reveal much of what I’m told or hear

?

@ Luis

Obviously I can’t reveal much of what I’m told or hear

If you’re not happy with the succulent crumbs Sunny is prepared to let drop from the big table, go somewhere else to eat!!!

Yes, I know it doesn’t work on the internet……

@4 – it’s basically meaning there is nothing in this article that republican strategists won’t already know, but it could be enlightening for those who have never been involved in an election and thus don’t know the logistics and tactics that are now standard use by most political parties.

What he won’t reveal is anything that republicans might not know and could therefore use to their advantage. Think of it like google not revealing new code in development to bing.

IMO there will be a lot more interest in Britain and in mainland Europe on the outcome of this American election than with many past. Because of the fiscal cliff coming up in January, it matters greatly what happens in the elections for the House and the Senate as well as what happens in the election for the President:

Quote: “The ‘Fiscal Cliff’ would drag America into certain recession”
http://www.newstatesman.com/employment/2012/10/fiscal-cliff-would-drag-america-certain-recession

It’s a measure of how partisan and polarised American politics have become when President Eisenhower’s interstate highway system, introduced by the Federal Aid Highways Act of 1956, was dubbed the largest public works programme since the building of the Pyramids.

8. Luis Enrique

who the hell is telling a UK blogger anything that they are not also telling to every other passing journalist, and is hence already common gossip and well known to Republican strategists?

see the recent Crooked Timber post on insider knowledge

9. Chaise Guevara

@ 8 Luis

“who the hell is telling a UK blogger anything that they are not also telling to every other passing journalist, and is hence already common gossip and well known to Republican strategists?”

Sunny isn’t there as a journo, he’s there to help out with the campaign. Possibly that involves access ti need-to-know stuff.

He’s helping with their headlines

This is the problem with democracy, the more nutty the voter, the more likely they’ll actually go and vote, moderate, sane people are quite capable of sitting at home and not bothering.

The ones who believe Obama is a Muslim/Kenyan/Alien/Terrorist are the ones who’ll be queueing around the block to make their voice heard.

We really need to make sure the regular, moderate people on both sides get out there.

@3 True, but I wasn’t suggesting Romney had an unfair advantage, just that the whole system ill befits a nation that claims to be the beacon of democracy. So between you and me we have eleven states + DC with twice as many electoral votes as Illinois but only just over half the population. No European democracy would put up with this. Why do the Americans?

13. Chaise Guevara

“He’s helping with their headlines”

Ha!

As in “It was the Sunny wot won it”

@12

Because the US is a Federation. The point is that each state has an equal voice in the senate, a proportionate voice in the house of representatives and a mix of the two in the presidential election.

This was true at the start, which is why they haven’t changed it.

Also, don’t forget, the US has strong state governments, and other bodies lower down.

The idea that Europeans wouldn’t put with this level of democracy is actually rather laughable.

A couple of additional points @12:

1) The reality is that one candidate or the other will usually emerge as the clear winner. One outlier was 2000 where Gore was just ahead in % of the vote, but lost to Bush. The latter, however, had a majority of states, and a huge majority of individual counties. In terms of overall appeal to what is a diverse federation, the right man won, and the system worked (let’s ignore the man himself for a moment).

2) An additional feature is mid-term elections. A poorly performing President may lose Congress to the other side mid-term (he may not have had it to begin with).

17. Chaise Guevara

@ 14 Jack C

“As in “It was the Sunny wot won it””

Or “Obama Campaign Destroyed by Blatantly False Headlines, Republicans Predicted to Hold Power for Next 50 Years”

18. Chaise Guevara

@ 15 Jack C

“The idea that Europeans wouldn’t put with this level of democracy is actually rather laughable.”

I dunno, I’ve been mulling that one over. On one hand, if we suddenly had a system where a vote in Manchester was worth four in London*, we’d probably be up in arms (although maybe not the “we” near me, as I’m in Manchester). But if it had been that way for all time, we’d probably be so used to politicians blocking attempts to change it that we’d have gotten bored of the issue.

*I’m aware that a vote in a swing seat is worth roughly a gazillion times one in a safe seat, but the system looks fair at a casual glance, and that counts for a lot.

Chaise,
We have similar oddities. At present, Labour have an advantage through current boundaries, whilst we have a Prime Minister with little support in either Scotland or Wales. Also, Scotland and Wales are over-represented in just the way that smaller US states are

We also have a situation where (ordinarily) a minority party has a majority of seats. It is very rare for a US president to lose the popular vote.

Smaller states are over-represented to reduce the “tryanny of the majority”. The constitution allows for this to be changed, but there doesn’t seem to be a mood for it.

And, of course, winning the Presidency only means so much. At a National level, Congress and the Supreme Court are the other two-thirds of Government (each can keep the others in check).
They then have State Government, localised government below that, etc etc.
It’s certainly not winner takes all.

21. Chaise Guevara

@ 19 Jack C

“We have similar oddities. At present, Labour have an advantage through current boundaries, whilst we have a Prime Minister with little support in either Scotland or Wales. Also, Scotland and Wales are over-represented in just the way that smaller US states are”

Labour does have an advantage, although it’s swamped by the advantage BOTH big parties enjoy from FPTP. In other words, the current system massively favours the Tories – it just favours Labour even more.

I wouldn’t call it an “oddity” that the government is unpopular in the smaller countries. You’ll always find regions where this is the case; it just looks artificially noticable because of those national boundaries.

“We also have a situation where (ordinarily) a minority party has a majority of seats. It is very rare for a US president to lose the popular vote.”

Yeah, that one’s a problem.

“Smaller states are over-represented to reduce the “tryanny of the majority”. The constitution allows for this to be changed, but there doesn’t seem to be a mood for it.”

I should note that it can also be down to difficulties reconciling the national and local duties of MPs. I can’t remember offhand what our smallest constituency is, but I think it’s one of the Isles. The problem there is that if you give them a normal-sized constituency, they share a local representative with mainland citizens who probably have completely different interests.

The common thread here? FPTP sucks.

@Chaise

“the current system massively favours the Tories – it just favours Labour even more”.

Well, quite so, and easily forgotten.

“The common thread here? FPTP sucks”

Yes, but NO but. One thing equally repellent is the party-list system.

I don’t think there’s a single magic system; so long as you can chuck the buggers out from time to time we should be grateful.

My starting point was that it was laughable to say that Europeans wouldn’t stand for US levels of democracy. Extremely arrogant and ill-informed too.

23. Chaise Guevara

@ 22 Jack C

“Yes, but NO but. One thing equally repellent is the party-list system.

I don’t think there’s a single magic system; so long as you can chuck the buggers out from time to time we should be grateful.”

True enough, though I think we can improve on what we have now. I quite like AV as a fudge – at least it provides the opportunity for smaller parties to grow. And there’s probably something clever you could do with PR as well.

“My starting point was that it was laughable to say that Europeans wouldn’t stand for US levels of democracy. Extremely arrogant and ill-informed too.”

I think the main problem is that it’s defining “levels of democracy” by one standard on which we happen to be better than the US, while ignoring all the other standards on which we’re crap.

I like AV as well, for two reasons:

1) The winning candidate has to have 50%+ to win, albeit with 2nd preference votes and beyond.

2) As you say, it gives smaller parties a chance. If I’m anti-Tory than I’m pushed towards the biggest opponent. But what if I prefer the 3rd biggest? Etc.

Back to the US: the bigger, “disadvantaged” states don’t appear to mind being under-represented in the Electoral College. This may tell us something?

25. Chaise Guevara

@ 24 Jack C

It might, but I don’t know what. Possibly a respect for tradition, although that doesn’t seem all that likely considering what US politics is like. Maybe there is an Understanding of some kind – like the bigger states actually get a big advantage due to clout, and fear that if they mess up the system they’ll lose more than they gain. I really don’t know.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Jason Brickley

    How President Obama plans to win his re-election http://t.co/TkhNFmCz

  2. sunny hundal

    My prediction > How President Obama plans to win his re-election http://t.co/7QkAk3vd

  3. Faith Jegede

    My prediction > How President Obama plans to win his re-election http://t.co/7QkAk3vd

  4. Nicole

    My prediction > How President Obama plans to win his re-election http://t.co/7QkAk3vd

  5. leftlinks

    Liberal Conspiracy – How President Obama plans to win his re-election http://t.co/esKOsha2

  6. sunny hundal

    President Obama will win re-election, I think, but fairly narrowly http://t.co/7QkAk3vd

  7. Tom Harding

    President Obama will win re-election, I think, but fairly narrowly http://t.co/7QkAk3vd

  8. Sophie Bennett

    http://t.co/CdGVsHi8 interesting prediction of how things could turn out #election2012 #Obama2012 #4moreyears

  9. Tom Chivers

    "Obviously I can’t reveal much of what I’m told or hear", says Liberal Conspiracy, but Obama is likely to win. SCOOP! http://t.co/B3VoF0ni

  10. Today Obama

    http://t.co/CdGVsHi8 interesting prediction of how things could turn out #election2012 #Obama2012 #4moreyears

  11. Max Wind-Cowie

    “@TomChivers: "Obviously I can’t reveal much of what I’m told or hear" says LibCon but Obama likely to win. SCOOP! http://t.co/JLOtFYdL” lol

  12. Tom Hamilton

    "Obviously I can’t reveal much of what I’m told or hear", says Liberal Conspiracy, but Obama is likely to win. SCOOP! http://t.co/B3VoF0ni

  13. Owen Jones

    "Obviously I can’t reveal much of what I’m told or hear", says Liberal Conspiracy, but Obama is likely to win. SCOOP! http://t.co/B3VoF0ni

  14. Scott Jacobs-Lange

    "Obviously I can’t reveal much of what I’m told or hear", says Liberal Conspiracy, but Obama is likely to win. SCOOP! http://t.co/B3VoF0ni

  15. fauxpaschick

    "Obviously I can’t reveal much of what I’m told or hear", says Liberal Conspiracy, but Obama is likely to win. SCOOP! http://t.co/B3VoF0ni

  16. Neil Walshaw

    My prediction > How President Obama plans to win his re-election http://t.co/7QkAk3vd

  17. Specter of Derrida

    Very concise and clear explanation by @sunny_hundal on how Obama plans to win. A must read! http://t.co/t7DW3yK0

  18. Ruaidhrí

    My prediction > How President Obama plans to win his re-election http://t.co/7QkAk3vd

  19. MattFinnegan

    Good this on the Battleground states > How Obama plans to win his re-election | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/FSKQeqqN

  20. sunny hundal

    Obama has the firewall he needs to win. But the margin will be tight. Here is my prediction (ICYMI) http://t.co/7QkAk3vd

  21. Huma

    President Obama will win re-election, I think, but fairly narrowly http://t.co/7QkAk3vd

  22. Afaa M. Weaver

    Obama has the firewall he needs to win. But the margin will be tight. Here is my prediction (ICYMI) http://t.co/7QkAk3vd

  23. Average Joe

    Very concise and clear explanation by @sunny_hundal on how Obama plans to win. A must read! http://t.co/t7DW3yK0

  24. Marcus A. Roberts

    “@sunny_hundal: My prediction > How President Obama plans to win his re-election http://t.co/rtuyZk6W” <good take but reckon we take VA & CO

  25. sunny hundal

    “@sunny_hundal: My prediction > How President Obama plans to win his re-election http://t.co/rtuyZk6W” <good take but reckon we take VA & CO

  26. CITIZEN MAX A PLEB

    “@sunny_hundal: My prediction > How President Obama plans to win his re-election http://t.co/rtuyZk6W” <good take but reckon we take VA & CO

  27. Ikki Badwal

    Interesting piece by @sunny_hundal on states where Obama's re-elect hopes lie.Anything change in light of jobs a'cmnt? http://t.co/UjXWYye2

  28. sunny hundal

    @tkviews ermmm… http://t.co/rSGBJTVB





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