Mitt Romney Has a Math Problem

by Daniel Putnam | July 30, 2012 11:37 am

[1]Mitt Romney has a problem.

The electoral map — which provides a natural advantage to Democrats by virtue of the higher number of electoral votes in the blue coastal states — has put Romney in a position where he has to win virtually every swing state to win the election.

President Barack Obama, in contrast, has a much easier path.

The map below, which appears on[2], shows the voting breakdown as it stands at present. If the polling in the states “likely” or “leaning” toward each candidate is accurate, Obama has a 247-191 advantage in total electoral votes, with 100 left in the “swing” category. Since 270 are needed to win, that leaves Obama needing only 23 of the remaining 100, while Romney would need 79.


The numbers alone appear to create a substantial obstacle, but Romney’s challenge becomes more apparent when the seven swing states are looked at in terms of their electoral votes:

Florida: 29
Ohio: 18
North Carolina: 15
Virginia: 13
Wisconsin: 10
Colorado: 9
Iowa: 6


Some simple addition shows that Obama has many more ways to win the election. Any three-state combination — or simply a victory in Florida — would be sufficient to put the president over the 270 mark, as would 15 of the 21 possible two-state combinations. Romney, on the other hand, has to take at least five of the seven states to win, and he cannot win the election without a victory in Florida — even if he wins in all of the other states. This math also favors Obama in that it provides him with the option of more targeted spending as the race progresses.

The need for a virtual sweep of these swing states becomes even more daunting consider the latest state-by-state polling results reported by Rasmussen, which show all of the races within, or near, the usual margin of error:

Florida: Romney 46, Obama 45
Ohio: Obama 48, Romney 44
North Carolina: Romney 47, Obama 44
Virginia: Obama 47, Romney 46
Wisconsin: Obama 49, Romney 46
Colorado: Obama 45, Romney 45
Iowa: Romney 47, Obama 46

The voting history of each state provides a mixes picture. North Carolina and Virginia were reliably Republican until the last election, so in a close race, it’s reasonable to expect both would tip in favor of Romney. That’s not a bad start, but the real trouble for the Republicans is Wisconsin. Although technically a swing state at present, Wisconsin hasn’t voted Republican since Ronald Reagan’s landslide in 1984. Assuming the Badger State stays true to its history, Romney would need a virtual sweep of the remaining states to pull out a victory.

The outlook for the GOP becomes somewhat brighter if Pennsylvania is added back into the “swing” category. If the state’s 20 electoral votes move out of Obama’s column and move to undecided, Romney has more options to pull out the race. Even in this scenario, however, Obama retains the numerical advantage. Additionally, Pennsylvania has voted for the Democratic candidate in each of the past five elections since choosing George H.W. Bush in 1988.

There still are three-plus months to go until the election, which leaves plenty of time for this picture to change. But for now, Mitt Romney is facing an uphill battle with regard to the electoral map. Therefore, investors who are looking for a way to handicap the election would be better served by keeping an eye on the polls in the seven swing states rather than tracking the national polling data and the day-to-day noise of the news cycle.

The opinions contained in this column are solely those of the writer.

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