On election night, the media will no doubt provide us with a blizzard of numbers and instant interpretations. What I’ll be trying to do is ignore a lot of the trivia and focus on the most significant information. If I hear that Romney has won Kentucky, I’ll pay little attention, but if I hear that Obama has won North Carolina, I’ll declare him the winner and go to bed.
Some news organizations, such as CBS News, have continued to declare the race a dead heat. And it’s true that the national polls have been very close, with some favoring Obama and some favoring Romney by small margins. But statistical analysts who incorporate more information into their models, including state polls and economic indicators, give the President a 75-85% chance of winning. I’ll be relying heavily on Nate Silver’s model as a guide to what to look for on election night, but other models are saying essentially the same thing.
Silver sees Obama with a solid core of 237 electoral votes from states that the model gives him at least a 90% chance of winning. These include several states that are sometimes mentioned as being still in play, especially Pennsylvania, Michigan and Minnesota. One very plausible path to victory is for Obama to pick up Ohio, Wisconsin and Nevada for a total of 271, one more than the 270 electoral votes needed to win. That’s not Obama’s only winning path, but I’ll use it as a baseline scenario to compare with what actually happens election night.
So here’s my strategy for keeping score: Start from 271 Obama votes. Add the votes for any of the following states that go blue: Colorado (9), Florida (29), Iowa (6), New Hampshire (4), North Carolina (15), and Virginia (13). Subtract the votes for any of the following states that go red: Nevada (6), Ohio (18), and Wisconsin (10). As long as the additions are greater than or equal to the subtractions, project Obama the winner. If the subtractions are greater than the additions, project Romney the winner. Obviously, the projection will become more realistic as more returns from these swing states come in.
If at some point, the additions are greater than the remaining possible subtractions, Obama will almost certainly have won. I say “almost” because Romney could theoretically still win by cutting into Obama’s core of 237 votes. But that’s a long shot; if Romney can’t win in the swing states listed above, he’s even less likely to win in bluer states in Obama’s core. If at some point, the subtractions are greater than the remaining possible additions, then Romney will prevail.
So have fun, impress your friends by calling the race early, and have a good night’s sleep!