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Reelection Is Not Inevitable
Obama does not have a lock on the Electoral College.

Electoral College map, 2008 presidential election

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Michael Barone

Just as the political air is filled with talk of the inevitability of Barack Obama’s reelection — we are told that the kids at his Chicago headquarters are brimming with confidence — in come some poll numbers showing him behind.

Not by anything statistically significant, mind you. But when you get the Gallup and Rasmussen tracking polls and the Politico/George Washington University Battleground poll all showing Mitt Romney leading Obama by one point, an Obama victory seems far from inevitable.

These results came in at a time when the Real Clear Politics average of recent polls shows 50 percent expressing favorable feelings about Obama and only 37 percent saying the same about Romney.

Some analysts still claim Obama has a lock on the Electoral College. They look at his 365–173 margin in the Electoral College in 2008 and argue that Romney will have trouble peeling enough states away.

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The reapportionment of House seats following the 2010 census has whittled Obama’s 2008 margin down to 359–179, and Obama does not own all those electoral votes. No one expects him to carry Indiana again. In “swing states,” he must win in a political climate where voters know much more about him than last time.

In 2008, Obama won 53 percent of the vote, the highest percentage for any Democratic nominee in history except Andrew Jackson, Franklin Roosevelt, and Lyndon Johnson. Now he’s averaging 46 percent in recent polls.

That’s much closer to the 45 percent that Democratic candidates won in elections to the House in 2010. And in the last three presidential elections, the winning candidate has won the same percentage (or within 1 percent) as his party’s percentage in House elections two years before.

Obama had a popular-vote margin of 7 percent in 2008. But Republicans had a margin of 7 percent in the popular vote for the House in 2010. If you tote up the electoral votes in the states they carried, you find them with a 351–184 edge over Democrats (the remaining three in the District of Columbia are obviously Democratic).

When you look at target states, you see the same picture. Take Gallup’s twelve swing states, which in the organization’s most recent survey together favored Obama over Romney by 47 to 45 percent. That’s a lot less than the 53 to 45 percent by which he carried them four years ago.

In recent state-by-state polling, Obama leads in all twelve but averages more than 50 percent only in New Mexico and Wisconsin. And in all twelve he’s polling less than the percentage he won in 2008.



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