A good Israeli friend of mine, like most non-Americans, is mystified by the plethora of poll numbers emanating from the presidential campaign and seem to mean very different things to very different people.
In this column I’ve been trying to stress the huge difference between the national polls, which do nothing more than reflect the mood of a representative sample of Americans on a given day, and the state-by-state polls, which are also snapshots by nature, but with more meaningful information regarding the actual results of the coming vote.
On Sunday, my friend complained that I’m the only one who says Obama will, basically, wipe the floor with his Republican opponent. Everyone else has been telling him the race is neck and neck.
Indeed, last Sunday, you could still find national polls that, while favoring Obama, did so with a gap between him and Romney that fell within the 3 point margin of error.
Every educated American has had to explain to a foreigner, at one point or another, our election system, or, more specifically, the Electoral College.
The Electoral College, comprised of 538 delegates from the different states, will meet after the November election and will vote on who should be our next president. It didn’t used to be a foregone conclusion, but in our time it is: the candidate to receive 270 delegates or more will be our next president.
The president is not picked by the popular vote, even though it often seems that way. He or she are picked by the 270+ delegates they collected.
This is why the national polls, which last Sunday showed the candidates running neck and neck, essentially, didn’t present a viable prediction of the election results.
I’ll give you an example:
Take the two neighboring states of North and South Dakota. They’re very similar in many ways, including the fact that the size of their citizenry entitles them to three delegates each to the Electoral College.
Let’s say that it takes roughly half a million citizens to qualify for one delegate. ND and SD then should have 1.5 million voters each.
Let’s say that Mitt Romney is extremely popular in ND, where he is loved by everyone, 100% of the voters.
In SD, however, he is only liked by 49% of the voters, while Barack Obama enjoys the support of 51% of the voters.
If we ran a poll about the popularity of the two candidates in the Dakotas, Romney would be the runaway leader by a whopping 3 to 1 ratio. A clear winner.
But, come election day, to his chagrin, Romney would only receive 3 delegates, as will Obama. Because our system is winner-take-all, and having everybody vote for you, or merely a slim majority of the voters, comes down to exactly the same result.
Our country is divided into five kinds of states: Red—proud, dedicated Republicans; Pink—leaning Republicans; Blue—proud, dedicated Democrats; Baby Blue—leaning Democrat, and Gray – the tossup states.
Let’s assume that Romney gets both shades of red and Obama both shades of blue. This will net Romney 193 delegates, while Obama will have 252 delegates.
There are 93 votes remaining in the tossup states, which, were Romney to win the majority there, he could find his way to the yearned for 270.
The problem is that he is behind in most of them, and in all the larger states in that bunch.
Take North Carolina, where Romney was the clear leader throughout the summer – but not any more. An NBC/WSJ/Marist poll covering the period from 9/23 – 9/25, sampling 1,035 Likely Voters – folks who are registered to vote and planning to do so, with a 3.1 margin of error, show Obama with a 48-46 lead over Romney. That’s a Southern state, with mostly red state-wide elected officials, which should have gone to Romney and is slipping away from his grasp.
A Republican poll in the same state gave Obama a 4 point lead for the period of 9/18-9/19.
In Florida, the biggest tossup state (29 delegates), Obama is leading by 3 and 4 points (CBS/NYT/Quinnipiac last week gave him 9 points).
And in Ohio, with its 18 delegates, Obama has been doing so well, that the site Real Clear Politics, the Mecca for political junkies during these trying times, has moved Ohio from gray to baby blue. It’s no longer a tossup state.