Skip to main content

The presidential election in the United States is very complex. Because of the Electoral College, it is more complicated than simply trying to figure out who the majority support. To really understand who's in the lead, one must look at the Electoral College and see who leads in the swing states.

But what constitutes a swing state. On the surface you would think that it is those states that are the closest, but this isn't really the case. If one candidate has a significant lead, then the closest states aren't the ones that determine the election, they're the ones that are going to run up the score. The swing states are the ones that determine the election if it's close. So, for example, my home state is not a swing state this year while Nevada is, even though FiveThirtyEight currently says that Missouri is closer. If Obama were to win Missouri, he almost certainly would already have enough votes to win the election, but Romney could win Nevada and still lose.

So the real swing states, the ones that are almost certainly going to determine the election, are: Florida, New Hampshire, Virginia, Ohio, Iowa, Colorado, and Nevada. But this still doesn't really tell us a whole lot. There are 22 different possible combinations, so sort of memorizing them all, knowing the swing states doesn't help in truly understanding the election. What does it mean if Obama wins Ohio but loses Florida?  How much does it help Romney if he wins Colorado?

But it's possible to group the states in such a way where it's very easy to understand the significance of each state. Since they are different sizes, it's easiest to organize them into different tiers according to size. Every state in each tier has similar "properties". That is they have similar effects on the election.

So I looked at the states, and came up with three tiers. Which states are in each tier, and what they mean, is after the jump. You should be pleased to know that this will show a clear advantage for Obama.

Tier 1: Florida

That's right, Florida gets it's own tier. That's because it's the only state that can determine the election by itself. If Obama wins Florida, he wins the election. Romney could win every other swing state, but if he drops Florida, Obama remains president.

Tier 2: Ohio, Virginia

These states aren't enough to win the election for Obama by themselves, but they only need a couple other states for them to win. Assuming Obama loses Florida, a win in Ohio requires 1 extra swing state for him to win the election (except New Hampshire, in which case he ties). If he wins Virginia, he requires 2 extra swing states to win the election (Except if he only wins Colorado in addition, which would result in a tie).

Tier 3: New Hampshire, Iowa, Colorado, Nevada

Assuming Obama loses the first two tiers, he needs to sweep the third tier in order to win. Pretty simple.

This covers every possible combination of states, but is very easy to remember. You just have to remember the seven swing states and which tiers they're in.

It's actually possible to simplify it even more by looking at it from Romney's perspective. Using these tiers, you can create a checklist of what Romney must do to win the election:

Romney's Checklist

1. Must win Florida
2. Must win one of Ohio and Virginia
3. Must win one of New Hampshire, Iowa, Nevada, and Colorado

If Romney fails to do one of the things in the checklist, he loses the election. But even if he checks all the boxes he may still lose the election.

When analyzing the election in this way, it's clear that Obama has a built-in advantage. Even if each swing state was 50-50, he would still win the majority of the time. That's why, in FiveThirtyEight's projections, Romney loses the Electoral College 12% of the time when he wins the popular vote, but Obama only loses 2% of the time when he wins the popular vote. (Technically, part of this is due to the fact that Obama also has a popular vote lead.)

Originally posted to KaiMing on Tue Aug 14, 2012 at 07:36 PM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags


More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site