Despite the playing field pretty much agreed upon, when you get down to the last handful or so of states, the best polling firms from each party are coming up with widely disparate results, with very different turnout assumptions as the best explanation for the disparity.
With President Obama pulling 90 to 95 percent of the African-American vote, 70 percent of Latinos, and 60 percent of the 18- to 29-year-old vote, the turnout assumptions for each group make huge differences in a very close race. To the extent that any one, two or all three groups turn out in proportions similar to 2008, Obama would do significantly better than if each of the three votes in proportions more like 2000 or 2004 (adjusting for population changes in the three groups). It’s somewhat more complicated than that. For example, Obama is actually pulling larger shares of the Latino vote against Romney than against McCain in 2008, but their likelihood of voting appears less than before. Then again, there are 4 million more registered Latino voters than there were four years ago.
Obama campaign strategists argue that too much is made of the 2008 “Obama surge” in minority and younger voters, pointing to data showing that the increases were more a function of changing demographic and population trends in the country than of a one-time surge. They suggest that it’s improbable that there will be fewer Latino votes cast for Obama in 2012 than in 2008. Again, there are 4 million more registered Latino voters now.
Right now, Obama is clearly ahead in 21 states (including the District of Columbia), with a total of 253 electoral votes, 17 short of the 270 needed to win. In addition to the 17 states (including D.C.) that have never been competitive, which total 201 electoral votes, I’ve added four states that have been in play, in varying degrees, where Obama now has a clear lead in credible, private surveys from long-standing professional polling firms calling landlines and cellphones (notwithstanding whatever the robo and Internet polling shows). The states are Michigan (16), Nevada (6), Pennsylvania (20) and Wisconsin (10).
Conversely, Romney is ahead in 23 states with a total of 191 electoral votes, 79 shy of 270. Florida, North Carolina and Virginia, which once looked like they were slipping more into the Romney orbit, have pulled back to essentially even-money contests.
The seven jump ball states with a total of 94 electoral votes are Colorado (9), Florida (29), Iowa (6), New Hampshire (4), North Carolina (15), Ohio (18), and Virginia (13).
To win, Obama needs to win states with 17 (or 18 percent) of the 94 electoral votes in the seven Toss Up states, while Romney needs a whopping 79 (or 84 percent) of the 94 electoral votes.
However, the Obama advantage is not as clear cut as this suggests. In each of these states, Obama and Romney are within 5 percentage points of each other and in most they are within 2 or 3 points of each other.
This race appears to be going to the wire, and the chances of a split popular vote/Electoral College vote are real. Romney looks to be at least an even-money bet for the popular vote, but Obama seems to have the edge in the electoral vote. How Hurricane Sandy affects things is another matter; there is no way to credibly anticipate what it does to alter things.