Obama Faces Fearful Political Geography in November
The geographic concentration of much of President Obama's political support in a few large Blue States and urban areas means that he could be defeated for re-election this November even while winning the popular vote. What few seem to have seriously considered so far is how daunting the present shape of the political battlefield actually is for the President on a state-by-state level, and what that means when it comes to using national tracking polls as a metric to guess who would win a Presidential election held on any given day. If you look closely enough at the numbers, it becomes clear that it is both mathematically and practically possible for the right Republican candidate to assemble a majority in the Electoral College while losing the popular vote by as much as 5%.
Let's travel back in time to 2008. Obama won the popular vote with a margin of 7.27%. He won the Electoral College 365-173. In the intervening time, the post-2010 reapportionment of seats in the House of Representatives means that, if the popular vote in 2012 were to be exactly the same, the electoral vote would instead by 359-179 thanks to population shifts over the last decade from Obama states to Republican ones.
In 2008, Obama won the popular vote by about nine and a half million votes. However, roughly 7.2 million of that margin came from huge wins in California, New York, and Illinois - states that he's going to win in pretty much any imaginable scenario. His massive margins in these states distorts the results of national polling by giving Obama a massive stash of surplus voters (equal to about 5.3% of the vote in 2008) who cannot shift a single Electoral Vote. If, instead of looking at the national vote, you look at the margins in swing states it becomes clear that the 2008 result was actually much closer than it looks at first glance.
If we begin using the 2008 map with the 2012 distribution of Electoral Votes, the initial Electoral Vote count would be, as mentioned above, 359-179.
Moving 1657 votes from the Democratic to the Republican column in Nebraska gives the Republicans the vote from that state's Second Congressional District and makes it 358-180.
A swing of 7089 votes in North Carolina gives us 343-195.
Switching 14,196 votes in Indiana changes the final result to 332-206.
118,225 voters in Florida would give that state to the GOP, putting the count at 303-235.
It would take only 131,112 votes to give Ohio to the Republicans, putting us at 285-253.
117,264 Virginians makes it 272-266.
And, finally, 73,281 votes would be enough to give Iowa (and the White House) to the Republican with 272 Electoral Votes to Obama's 266.
In this scenario, by the way, Obama would win 8,624,332 more votes than the Republican nominee, giving him a victory in the popular vote of 6.57%.
Now, obviously, such a perfectly effective distribution of votes for the Republicans is unlikely even if it is mathematically possible. However, the increasing gap between the deepest of the Blue States and the Red States -- Obama is actually polling better in California now than he was in 2008 -- makes national polling increasingly irrelevant in a Presidential Election.
In fact, if we look at recent polling in swing states such as Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, Colorado, and Pennsylvania -- most of which show the President either trailing Republican challengers or ahead but with anemic numbers in the low to mid-40's -- and contrast it with national polling showing Obama mostly in the lead in the mid to high 40's it becomes hard to reach any other conclusion than that the result of an election held today would be an election where Obama wins the popular vote but loses the Electoral College.
The big and unasked question, as I see it, is how Obama and his supporters would react to such a defeat. If the President wins the popular vote while losing the Electoral College, will he accept the result and step aside or will he allow his supporters to attempt some sort of extra-Constitutional effort to perpetuate him in office?
I do not mean to suggest that Obama has the ability to install himself as some kind of dictator. I have complete confidence that the United States Military would, rightfully and constitutionally, refuse any such orders. Instead what I am suggesting is that, in the aftermath of a loss where he carried the popular vote, Obama's supporters would take to the streets in an effort to overturn the results via some kind of "people power" movement such as we have seen overseas in Egypt, the Ukraine, and elsewhere in recent years with the aim of either intimidating some electors into changing (or not casting) their votes or forcing the Republican candidate to concede the Presidency.
Adam Yoshida is the author of "The Blast of War" and the forthcoming "A Land War in Asia"