How Romney Could Win, But Lose

July 13, 2012 at 7:49 am

For those of you who, like me, think that our country is badly in need of a change of direction, I have a thought that may make your blood run cold. I’ll pass it along in a minute, while you brace yourselves.

But first, a little overview as to how the presidential election is going. The most recent Washington Post/ Wall Street Journal poll has it neck and neck (47% to 47%). This is consistent with most other recent major polls. On the one hand one wonders what’s keeping Obama up. The most important electoral factor is the economy and it’s still in bad shape and not getting better. Unemployment is still at 8.2% – overall unemployment is 15% when you factor in those who have stopped looking for work or who are working only part-time – and no president has been reelected in the last 50 years with unemployment over 5.6%, except Reagan, when the economy was clearly coming on strong after a bad recession. The new jobs numbers are still terrible and our growth rate is now under 2%. Does all this mean that the Obama campaign is a big balloon that’s about to burst? Or does it indicate remarkable resiliency that will see him through? We simply don’t know yet.

What Polls And History Tell Us

There are other factors that would seem to favor Romney, in addition to the economy. In fact there is one factor, often overlooked, that benefits Romney and may well determine who gets the most votes on Election Day. It’s the fact that Obama’s job approval rating is at approximately 47%. Perhaps more importantly, it was at 46% in March of this year. Gallup, the granddaddy of the pollsters, tells us that historically, by March of the re-election year, approval ratings for a president largely portend his fate. That is, if their March approval rating is above 50% they win. If it’s under 50% they lose. It held true for Clinton, George H.W. Bush, Reagan, Carter, Ford and Nixon. George Bush was the only modern day exception. In March of the election year 2004 his rating was 49% and on Election Day he got 50%.

That looks great for Romney, right? Not so fast my friend. The answer is yes and no. Romney may get the most votes, but this year the election will be decided by votes in only 8 to 10 “swing” states. Voters in all of the other states will either go decidedly for Obama or for Romney and those states’ electoral votes will be cast accordingly. But those states will not give either candidate the 270 electoral votes necessary to win. A candidate must have, in addition, a sufficient number of wins in the “toss up” swing states of Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Hampshire, Colorado, Nevada, and perhaps Iowa and Wisconsin.

Electoral Votes And Swing States

As Bush v. Gore reminded us, it doesn’t matter who wins the popular vote. It’s the electoral vote that counts. Today you’re seeing how this plays out in the campaigns. If you don’t live in one of the swing states, you are not getting and will not get much attention. One side or the other will take your state for granted, based upon historical patterns and polling data. If you do live in one of these states you are already being inundated with TV ads, mostly attacking Romney. As of now Obama forces are heavily outspending Romney’s in these swing states.

Obama’s strategy is to demonize Romney and energize his base groups- African Americans, Hispanics, single women, students, government employees, gays and others, especially in these swing states. Eight to 10 states are much easier to target than 50, especially if you have the advantages of the presidency behind you. Incidentally, by most accounts, Obama leads in the non-swing states, meaning he needs fewer swing states than Romney does.

So there you have my nightmare scenario. Romney wins the popular vote and Obama wins the electoral vote and the presidency. It has happened three times before in our nation’s history and it almost happened a fourth. In 2004, if 100,000 votes had switched in Ohio, John Kerry would have won that state and been elected president, even though he would have had about 2 million fewer votes nationwide than Bush.

I’m not predicting this, mind you but it could happen.

- Fred Thompson