2012 Math

Friday’s downgrade of America’s credit rating and the subsequent stock market skittishness naturally means a new round of speculation on President Obama’s re-election chances.  This week Gallup released state-by-state job approval numbers that paint a picture of an incumbent with some work to do.

President Obama’s approval ratings are listed as “below average” (under 44% or so) in 18 states,  representing 162 electoral votes.  Including three other typically “red” states where his ratings are average but still low (Arizona, Mississippi, and Georgia) would bring that total to 195.  Throwing in North Carolina and Virginia – traditionally Republican states the President carried by narrow margins in 2008 – the number jumps to 223, or 47 electoral votes shy of victory.  That scenario would make Ohio and Florida (with a combined 47 electoral votes) especially critical.

Should this be cause for Republican celebration?  Not so fast.

Not factored into these numbers, of course, is election performance – the poll measures only approval rating, not his performance against specific opponents or even the “Generic GOP candidate.”  He has 173 electoral votes in his pocket where he has above average approval ratings, plus another 45 in states which he is likely to win (Wisconsin, Michigan, Washington, and Oregon).  That gives the President a total of 218 electoral votes in house money.  And Presidential house money is worth more than challenger house money.

As Gallup notes, George W. Bush’s approval ratings were pretty low heading into the 2004 race – around 48%.  His massive campaign apparatus found his supporters in the right places and got them to the polls – the type of blocking and tackling the Obama campaign was good at in 2008.  Gallup’s numbers may seem optimistic for Republicans, but they actually paint a pretty good picture for the President.

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