I've had my head buried in electoral politics over the past two days and I'd like to write more on that topic in the near future. Public polling can tell you a lot, but the truth is that we live and die by the electoral college and one can learn a lot about a person's chances of winning the general election by crunching the numbers there.
Lately that's meant looking at how well President Obama is performing against the GOP flavor-of-the-week, Newt Gingrich, and the presumptive nominee that can't seems destined not to become the nominee, Mitt Romney.
Before I get into that (not in depth this evening as I have other obligations) there are two events that need to be discussed.
First, there's a poll recently out of Gallup being pumped by the "liberal" media and the political right showing Obama trailing Romney and Gingrich in 12 tossup/battleground/swing states. The first and most obvious problem is that there aren't actually 12 swing states. North Carolina has voted for the GOP nominee in the general election in seven out of the last eight elections and before Obama, had not voted for a Democrat since Jimmy Carter in 1976, a span of 38 years.
It's not surprising or unexpected that some of the 2012 GOP candidates are doing well there. Wisconsin goes the other way. That state has not voted to elect a Republican in 27 years.
Some of the states where Gallup found a lead for Gingrich and Romney have other polls showing leads for Obama. A poll from PPP (deemed the most accurate pollster of 2008 by the Wall Street Journal) on the 14th found Obama leading Gingrich by 7 points, and Romney by 6.
Another state that Gallup found GOP leads in, Iowa, was just polled yesterday by Reuters/Ipsos. They found a commanding lead for Obama over Gingrich, worth 13 points, and 8 over Romney.
An NBC/Marist poll recently found leads of 7 and 12 points for Obama over Romney and Gingrich, respectively.
That's three polls which contradict Gallup's findings in supposed swing states (of the three, Iowa and Florida actually are) and which account for 48 electoral votes.
Finally, Rasmussen (should be taken with a grain of salt, given their bias problems last year) has found support for Newt Gingrich collapsing in Iowa after building since August. Gingrich scored 2%, 9%, and 32% in polls through November, but fell to 20% this week, suggesting that conservative primary voters still haven't found a viable candidate and may finally be turning to Romney.
Now, about the electoral math. It had been suggested to me by a conservative commentor that MSNBC's current electoral prediction map (saved here in case it changes) shows a dead heat between President Obama and the unknown GOP. I believe this map is too conservative (not in the political sense) given polls showing sizable leads for Obama in several important states. As I linked above, polls show Obama leading Gingrich and Romney in Florida, Virginia, and Iowa. All there are considered batttleground states and so aren't counted to either the Dem or GOP side on MSNBC's map.
But if you count them as blue, which you should at the very least consider lean or likely Democratic, you end up with Obama holding 244 electoral votes. That leaves the GOP nominee with 195 and 99 left to be decided. That means Obama only needs to win 26 of the 99 remaining EVs to win the election, while the GOP candidate needs to pick up 74.
In other words, Obama can lose almost all of those 12 states so long as he picks up Florida and any combination of a few stragglers. And right now Obama is leading a fading Gingrich and Romney in that state.
Then there's the national polls. Obama is leading every single 2012 GOP candidate in national polling, most of them by at least 7 points and some by as much as 14. The President's slim lead over Mitt Romney just increased in fresh polling from 0.8% to 1.6%.
What this boils down to that Gallup's poll showing Obama behind in many key battleground states is an outlier that probably won't hold. It's also contradicted by a number of other recent polls. Obama's national polling numbers are very strong against all candidates except Romney, who Obama appears to be pulling away from this week. And the electoral math, while tighter than 2008, still favors the incumbent.
More on all of this later.