As Rolandz notes, Nate Silver has had some steadily encouraging numbers for Obama: his current forecast for Nov. 6, up even from yesterday, is a 73.1% chance of winning, and a healthy 305.5 estimated Electoral Vote total. I decided to drill down a bit to the state level, and discovered a really interesting fact: using the probabilities given for winning each state (or district, in Maine and Nebraska), Obama has 193 ways to get to 270 electoral votes by winning states for which his chances are at least 50%. The number of such routes to 270 for Romney? Zero.
To see why, follow me over the squiggley speed bump.
Along with the overall chances of winning the election, Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight Blog also computes probabilities for winning each state/district (a combination of polling info, trends, underlying facts relevant to the given state, etc.) One fairly simple thing you can do to get a sense of the race is to assume that, starting with states that each candidate is guarranteed to win, work your way down the probabilities adding electoral votes as you go. So for example, Obama currently is given a 100% chance of winning nine states (go Vermont!) and Maine, district 1, followed by 11 states between 90 and 100%, ending at Pennsylvania with 91%. Assuming Obama will win all of these, we proceed through the next four states, all between 70 and 80%, ending with Ohio at 71% for a total of 275 electoral votes.
Notice that to get to 270, using only Obama's highest probability states, we never had to use a state with lower than 70%. On the other hand, doing the same process for Romney, using only his highest probability states, he has to use states for which he has a less than 50% chance of winning-- in some cases, much less. Put another way, the easiest path to 270 for Romney-- in terms of current probabilities-- runs through three states between 30 and 40%, ending with Ohio, at only a 29% chance of winning. That's gotta hurt.
But wait! There's more...
While Romney has no path to victory using states where his chance of winning is greater than 50%, Obama has not just one but many such paths. I've summarized all of them in the chart below.
The chart is organized like this: Along the top we have the eight states that Obama currently has between 50 and 90% chance of winning. (I assumed Obama wins all states with above 90% probability.) Next I assumed he wins Florida, currently given a 56% chance (up 2 points from yesterday, by the way.) On the top row you can see that Obama then needs only one more state to get to 270. In the next four rows I assume Obama loses Florida but wins Ohio and various other arrangements of states. In the last four rows, I assume he loses both Florida and Ohio.
The final column gives the the number of ways that each path category (along a row) could occur. No surprise: winning Florida nearly guarantees a victory, with so many ways to get to 270 electoral votes. But even without Florida, there are still 66 paths that use states that are above a 50% probability-- in fact, most are above 70%.
To summarize: while Romney's easiest path to 270 electoral votes forces him to slog through several low-probability states, Obama has a whopping 193 ways to get there using only states above a 50% probability!
Naturally, there are caveats. First, who knows how accurate the probabilities are. Second, not all the paths are equally likely. Winning Florida may provide many paths to victory, but it is also considerably less likely than some other options (today, anyway.) And then there's the next two months of mayhem, mischief, and lies from the other side.
But it's helped me to dig into the numbers a bit and come up with this chart. I hope you enjoy it.