Sunday, December 21, 2014

Why Tuesday may kill the Electoral College

Why Tuesday may kill the Electoral College

President Obama and Republican Mitt Romney will fight it out in November - and perhaps beyond, if the electoral college math ends in a tie. (AP Photos)
President Obama and Republican Mitt Romney will fight it out in November - and perhaps beyond, if the electoral college math ends in a tie. (AP Photos)

 

This election reminds me a little of the 1997 World Series between Cleveland and Florida, which produced six really boring games and then a nail-biting Game 7. (Also like this...the 2000 presidential election,) If you think about it, I tend to agree with "the wizard," Nate Silver, Intrade, and the others who are predicting -- but not guaranteeing -- an Obama victory. It could come at the end of a very long night, though.

Here's 2 random thoughts:

1) Romney is doing well -- i.e., tied or slightly ahead -- in the national polls, while Obama seems to be strengthening his advantage in the battleground states that actually decide who becomes (or stays) president, as not-43rd-president Al Gore could remind all of you. The significance of that is clear: for the second time in the last four presidential election, a candidate might lose the popular vote yet win the Electoral College.

Why is this happening? I have two ideas, which are somewhat distinct but could compliment each other.  First of all, everyone said going into this that the odds were against Obama because of the economy -- no president since FDR in the Great Depression has been re-elected with unemployment so high, and in the national polls large numbers have said the nation is on the wrong track.

But the Obama campaign is very skillful, and without a primary they could marshall all their resources in the only nine or 10 states that matter. In those states, they've been able to run mucho ads defining Romney as a clueless multi-millionaire (seems fair) and made the election not a referendum on  Obama and the economy but a choice between Obama and Romney. In other words, in 10 states where Obama's made it a choice , he's overperforming, while in the 40 states where there's no campaign he's underperforming. So, in other words, Romney might win a huge landslide in Texas and lose by less than McCain did in New York and California -- but that means nothing.

The other thing is that (here's where you can cue up your old Neil Young LP) the "Southern Man" is going to vote against Obama in over-the-top numbers. Now you might respond by saying, so what: Obama's going to get 95 percent of the black vote. True, but that's little changed from the last half-century or so of elections, while Romney's epic lead against southern whites is fairly without precedent (well, 2008, but more so this time.). If you looked at the times that the 2012 polls have been broken out by region, Obama leads narrowly in the East, West, and Midwest, but has a massive deficit in the South. What's interesting is that this has always been the argument for the Electoral College, right?...to prevent a candidate who's incredibly strong in a few states from beating a rival with coast-to-coast appeal.

Still, if this split decision is what happens after Tuesday (and let's not even talk about a tie), then you can expect conservatives will freak out -- just as liberals freaked out in 2000. But here's one final twist: Obama is on the record -- from his 2004 Senate campaign, to be exact -- as saying he would scrap the Electoral College. If this scenario plays out, it could create a Nixon-goes-to-China kind of moment where everyone is on the record as against the Electoral College. And so maybe they'll actually get rid of it.

Is that a good idea?

2) The pundit class has been generally freaking out these days -- the freakout of the day was a New York Times/CBS poll that showed Obama beating Romney (albeit by 1 point, within the margin of error) even though Romney was leading independent voters by 14 points. Mark Halperin in particular was going off on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" about how this could not be possible.

It's very possible. Start with the fact that there are more Democrats than Republicans  (although not by as much as 2008) Also, who are these independents, anyway? My experience is that white suburban voters (where Ross Perot was strong, remember?) are the most likely to have no party ID, and it's no secret that Romney has an edge in those areas, but arguably not enough to overcome where Obama is strong. So those "independent" numbers may be overrated.

That's all. On everything else...whatever Nate Silver says.

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Will Bunch
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