Electoral Math Puzzlement? Don’t Fret…. Yet.

I happen to be such a political junkie that I know all about the rules and contigency plans for the Electoral College.  I have no idea where I picked it up, but at some point the whole system fascinated me and I have read every article I could get my hands on.

Now we are told not to worry too much about the state-by-state polls by none other than Charlie Cook, one of the nation’s leading political analyst.  In an article published last week, Cook comments:

It is a source of constant amusement to me that so many people obsess—as if fiddling with a Rubik’s Cube—over the various combinations of states that could get either President Obama or Mitt Romney to the magic number of 270 votes in the Electoral College. The guilty include pros at both ends of the political spectrum; people who ought to know better; and armchair analysts who seem to think that they can crack the magic code.

The simple fact is that our nation has had 56 presidential elections. In 53 of them (94.6 percent), the winner in the Electoral College also happened to be the one with the most popular votes. Of course, we all recall the 2000 presidential election in which Al Gore prevailed in the popular vote, while George W. Bush was the Electoral College victor.


Two points are worth keeping in mind: First, the chances are about 94.6 percent that the same person will win both the electoral and popular votes. So people are expending a lot of time and energy trying to figure out something that has about a 1-in-20 chance of happening.

But second, close races are just that: close races. Notwithstanding the almost daily e-mails that I get protesting that the election will be a slam dunk for either Obama or Romney, this race will be close.


If a race is close nationally, it will be close in a lot of individual states, too. Given the dubious quality of most of the publicly available state polling, few of these two-bit surveys could offer unique insight into who is likely to win close contests—because, well, they’re close.

So yes, Obama and Romney both need to get to 270.  But Cook reminds us that, like 1980 and 2008, once the nation as a whole has decided on its choice — the states’ seem to follow.

Except in Y2K!



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