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Dead Heat

2012 electoral votes by state

The NYT has put up an interactive 2012 electoral map at their website today. When you follow the link (and you should), you will start with a map displaying each state as a square with size proportional to its number of electoral votes and placed roughly in its proper geographic location. The squares are colored in five shades: dark blue (solid Obama), light blue (leaning Obama), yellow (tossup), pink (leaning Romney), and red (solid Romney).

One can quibble with the assignments, and they will change in the months to come, but it’s just a starting point. Below the map are paragraphs for the tossup and leaning states explaining their situation. The nine tossup states include five to the east — Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia, and Florida — and five to the west — Wisconsin, Iowa, Colorado, and Nevada.

The fun starts when you click on the Next button. A large circle appears for Obama, another for Romney. The states themselves turn into into circles, again proportioned based on electoral votes. Those solid for or leaning toward Obama move into his circle. Similarly for Romney. And the tossups pile up between the Obama/Romney circles.

But here’s the cool part. You can then use your mouse to drag any of the state circles wherever you wish — to Obama or Romney or in-between. Each of the three regions has a running total of electoral votes — those for Obama or Romney or undecided. As you move the state circles around, the totals immediately update.

From the starting point, then, you can move the undecideds to one side or the other. Or if you think a state listed as leaning one way may go the other way, you can drag it that other way. By hitting the Next button, you run in sequence through some scenarios the NYT offers. For instance, there are scenarios in which the states align Democratic or Republican according to what they did in the 2008 and 2004 elections (but with the current electoral vote count for each state, not the vote counts in effect at the time).

In the opening position, with those 9 tossup states unassigned, Obama has 217 electoral votes, Romney has 206, and 115 are up for grabs. To win, Obama or Romney needs 270 votes. If both end up with 269, the election is thrown into the House of Representatives.

Before I realized that the NYT offered those starter scenarios, I began to move states around myself. In 2008, Obama won both Virginia and North Carolina, but the NYT lists NC as leaning Romney and Virginia as a tossup. I figured I’d move Virginia over with NC to Romney’s side. Florida too. I know the mountain state demographics are changing, but maybe for now it’s best to move Colorado and Nevada over to Romney too. I did that. Iowa? Who knows? I gave it to Romney.

I don’t see Obama losing Pennsylvania. Ohio is the ultimate battleground state, but I decided to have it join neighboring Pennsylvania in the Obama circle. That left Wisconsin and New Hampshire. I didn’t struggle too long before moving Wisconsin to Obama. But what about New Hampshire? I have no idea. Romney does have that giant home on Lake Winnipesaukee. Do they view him as one of their own? Or maybe they’re sick of him. I gave it to Obama.

What do you know? Dead heat. 269-269. I wasn’t aiming for that. It just happened.

Later I discovered those starter scenarios, the last one of which also yields a dead heat, but by a different route. It gives Obama Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, as I did, and gives Romney Florida, Iowa, and Nevada. But whereas I gave Obama Ohio and New Hampshire, the NYT scenario moves them over to Romney, and whereas I gave Romney Virginia and Colorado, it gives them to Obama. Thus, in this scenario, Romney wins both Florida and Ohio, yet still fails to win the election. I find my dead heat more plausible than theirs.

Give it a try. Remember, you can move any state, not just the tossups. It quickly becomes apparent that Obama needs a handful of key states from among the ones he won in 2008, the same ones so hotly contested by Bush and Kerry/Gore in 2004/2000. However incompetent a candidate Romney turns out to be, however much the economy improves between now and November, if it does at all, you’ll appreciate that we are likely to be in for another close election.

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