Obama or Romney: Who will Win?

Posted By Zaheerul Hassan

If either Romney or Obama dominates the Electoral College the race could be called at 9:00 pm Central Time (CT), or 10 pm Eastern Time (ET) when the polls have closed in Colorado, Michigan, New York, Wisconsin and Texas. However, given the close nature of the race according to the polls, the more likely “call time” for the race will be 10:00 pm Mountain Time (MT) or later when polls have closed in Nevada and Iowa. Many election result watchers, particularly on the East Coast, may not want to stay up that late to see who has won. With that in mind, here is a guide to tell who is winning the election early when the first results come in tomorrow night.   Before I begin, it is important that this is a “guide” and not a guarantee. The news networks have very specific statistical standards that must be met before they call a race, and even then they can get it wrong as they did in 2000. This article merely intended to give viewers an idea of who might be winning, with the full disclaimer that the race is not over until the final results come in and one candidate obtains 270 electoral votes. With that understanding, let us begin.   The best way to tell whether Obama or Romney is winning is to look at how Obama is performing compared to 2008. In that election, Obama defeated Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) by a seven point margin in the popular vote (53 percent to 47 percent), and a 192 vote margin in the Electoral College (365 to 173). To defeat Mitt Romney, Obama does not have to perform as well as he did in 2008, but he also cannot afford a big drop off since he won many key states by only a few percentage points. Here are the early states to watch, along with their 2008 results, the Real Clear Politics (RCP) average of 2012 polls for the state, and some analysis.

Virginia (Polls close at 7 pm ET)

•   2008 Results: Obama 53 %, McCain 47%

•   RCP Average: Obama 48.0%, Romney 47.7%

•   Nate Silver Probability Analysis: 80.3% chance of Obama win  


Virginia has the earliest poll closing time of all the swing states. Both Obama and Romney have spent significant amounts of time and money trying to win the state’s 13 electoral votes, and the polls show a very close race there.   Virginia will be the first test of Nate Silver’s statistical model which has given odds on the election over the last few months. Conservatives have claimed Silver is all wrong and that Romney has a much better chance of winning swing states that Silver claims. Silver has defended his model by explaining it and simply pointing to the data. According to Silver, Obama is a heavy favorite in Virginia. Tomorrow night’s results will ultimately decide who is right.   What Romney Needs to Win:Romney must win the state to have any chance. If Virginia is called early for Romney it is a good sign for his campaign, but not necessarily a sign that he will surely win. Romney also must win Florida, Ohio, and at least one other swing state in addition to Virginia in order to reach 270 electoral votes.   If Virginia is declared “too close to call” for much of the night is probably a bad sign for Romney since Obama is actually polling much better in other swing states like Colorado and Ohio. If Virginia is essentially a tie it probably means Obama is winning the other swing states where polls show him have a bigger advantage.   What Obama Needs to Win:Obama does not need Virginia. If Obama loses Virginia by one point or less he can probably still win the Electoral College vote count. If Obama loses Virginia by two points or more it could mean serious trouble for him throughout the night.

If Virginia is called early for Obama then the Obama will almost surely win the Electoral College. It is theoretically possible for Romney to win without Virginia, but practically impossible since a Romney loss in Virginia would also certainly mean Romney would lose in Ohio, Iowa, and Colorado where polls show him doing worse.

New Hampshire (Polls close at 8 pm ET)

•     2008 Results: Obama 54%, McCain 45%

•     RCP Average: Obama 49.9%, Romney 47.9%

•     Nate Silver Probability Analysis: 84.9% chance of Obama win  

Overview: New Hampshire only has four electoral votes, but polls show the race tight there and both Romney and Obama have visited the state over the last month. Both candidates can win easily without the state, but the results from here may tell us a lot about who is winning.   What Romney Needs To Win: Romney can stand to lose New Hampshire and still get to 270 electoral votes, but he would need to win Ohio, Virginia, Florida, and at least one other swing state if he loses New Hampshire. If New Hampshire is called early for Romney it is a good sign that he may be able to compete in other swing states like Ohio. If New Hampshire is “too close to call” or if Romney loses it is not necessarily a “death blow” to his chances since Obama won the state by nine points in 2008.   What Obama Needs to Win: Like Romney, Obama does not need New Hampshire to win. However, if the race is too close to call for many hours, or Obama is losing the state by any margin it is a bad sign for Obama’s chances given Obama’s margin of victory here in 2008. If Romney is winning New Hampshire by two points or more early on it likely means that Obama is losing other key swing states like Iowa.

North Carolina (Polls close at 7:30 pm EST)

• 2008 Results: Obama 50%, McCain 49%

• RCP Average: Romney 49.2%, Obama 46.2%

• Nate Silver Probability Analysis: 72.4% chance of Romney win

Overview: In 2008 Obama barely won North Carolina thanks to a huge turnout by African-American and younger voters. North Carolina has been considered more of a longshot for Obama in 2012, and the average of polls have consistently shown Romney with a lead here.   What Romney Needs: To have a chance to win the Electoral College, Romney probably needs to not only win North Carolina, but win it by two points or more. If North Carolina is declared “too close to call” for many hours after the polls close there it probably means Romney is under-performing and doomed to lose other states like Ohio and Colorado. If Romney loses North Carolina he will certainly lose the election. If Romney wins North Carolina by three points or more it is a good sign that he may be able to compete in other swing states.   What Obama Needs to Win: North Carolina was an electoral luxury for Obama in 2008, and it remains so in 2012. As stated above, if Obama wins North Carolina he can probably relax while watching favorable results for the rest of the night on his hotel television. What would give Obama some reason to worry is if he loses North Carolina by three points or more.


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