June 9, 2012 2 Comments
Love this Jonathan Bernstein “5 myths” piece pushing back on some really pervasive swing state myths and the political media’s obsession with swing states. His take on myths 1 and 5 are especially useful:
1. Swing-state polls are the key to predicting the winner.
In fact, the opposite is true, especially this far from November. Generally, elections are determined by a “uniform swing.” That is, if the Republican candidate does a little better overall, then he’s going to do a little better in close states such as Ohio and Nevada, too. So even though the candidates will spend most of their time and money in the states they expect to matter most, it won’t make much difference.
Any candidate who wins the popular vote by at least three percentage points is certain to win the electoral college, and any candidate who wins the popular vote by as much as a full percentage point is overwhelmingly likely to win the electoral college. So the best way to follow the election is to read thenational polling averages.
5. Republicans can’t win without Ohio.
You’ll hear plenty of similar pronouncements every election season. The Republicans have never won without Ohio, therefore they can’t win without Ohio. Or: There is a “blue wall” of states that the Democrats have captured consistently since 1992, so the party has a built-in minimum in the electoral college…
Forget all these “rules.” When Republicans won three consecutive presidential elections in the 1980s, pundits became convinced that the GOP had an electoral college lock. That view lasted exactly as long as the party’s national vote lead did; as soon as Bill Clinton took the national lead in 1992, it turned out that some of the Republican “lock” states were swingers after all. Sure, if Romney wins Democratic California, he’s going to win the election, but that’s because if Romney wins California, he’s going to be in the process of a huge national landslide.
The United States has national elections, and what matters almost every time is the national results. Yes, a candidate must find 270 electoral votes in order to win. But in most years, the electoral college margin will be much larger than the popular vote difference. And the rare times, such as in 2000, when the popular vote is very close, it’s not possible to guess in advance which states will be the one or two that really make a difference. So the campaigns will put their resources into those states they expect to be close, because it certainly doesn’t hurt, but our elections are much more national than our obsession with swing states implies.
Great points. I love that NC is considered a swing state this year. I’ll actually be able to field some national media calls instead of just the local calls, and, of course, it is all about my ego. But, as I’ve been saying so far, if Obama wins NC he’s already got the election locked up and has almost surely won by a comfortable national margin as he did in 2008. Yes, NC is a “must-win” for Romney, but if he’s not winning NC he’s almost surely not winning the national popular vote.