This week, Mitt Romney officially clinched the Republican nomination for President. When voters in Texas went to the polls and voted for him with a commanding 69 percent of the vote, he secured and surpassed the 1,144 electoral votes necessary to make his win at the convention inevitable. Now the real race can officially begin: Obama vs. Romney for the most powerful position on the earth.
And so the pundits, the politicians and the pollsters go to the data. According to the Real Clear Politics Average of Polls, Obama currently has a two-point lead over Romney nationwide -- it's 45.6 to 43.6. It looks like it's going to shape up to be a good race, with the winner decided only on a narrow margin of victory, and election night is totally up in the air.
Oh, if only it were true.
The fact of the matter is that these poll numbers matter little if at all in the long run. If the United States were run off a system of popular vote, then these votes would be the most important thing in the world of politics. However, the United States does not run its elections off of such a system, but instead off of the electoral college.
A quick refresher: When you vote on election day, you are not actually voting for the president that you think you are. Rather, you are voting for a representative from your state who will attend a conference with all of the other state's representatives and they will vote for the president. Each state has a different number of electors based on population. The most populous states such as California and Texas have the most number of electoral votes (55 and 38 respectively). Of course, your vote still matters, because you help to choose the state representative. But the popular vote, the actual number of CITIZENS who vote for the president, does not matter. The number of ELECTORS does.
So in order to predict the next election, we should ignore the polls of popular opinion on a national scale and instead focus on how the electoral map looks. The two tell a very different story.
There are certain states that we can be nearly sure will go one way or another. California's electors will vote for the Democrat, and Texas's electors will vote for the Republican. There are other states that we can safely assume which way they will go. Georgia will likely go Republican, and Pennsylvania will likely go Democrat. That leaves a few states that could go either way. This year, those states are generally agreed to be (from least electoral votes to most): New Hampshire, Iowa, Colorado, Missouri, Wisconsin, Arizona, Virginia, North Carolina, Ohio and Florida.
Those are the battleground states. Those are the states that matter. In most election years, those votes would be fought over fiercely and non-stop for the next five months. Not this year though -- this year, Barack Obama need not campaign as hard as one would assume.
It takes 270 electoral votes to win a presidential election. With the 'safe' and 'likely' votes all counted, Obama has 243, only 26 short of the magic number. Romney is at 170, exactly 100 short. Looking at the map, Obama could essentially spend every cent he has in Florida (worth 29 electoral votes) and call it good. Romney could win every toss-up state but Florida and still lose. Even if Romney wins Florida, he still needs 71 more electoral votes to win. Obama could win only North Carolina and Virginia and call it a day. Obama's path to victory is short and easy, while Romney's is long and hard.
Obama has a lot going for him and a lot going against him. But in the end, he only needs a few things to go for him -- with a few of those electoral votes, he will end Michelle Bachmann's dream of making him a "one-term president." The math adds up to four more years for Mr. President.