The Big Nine and the 2012 Presidential Election

Sorry sports fans, this blog post is not about a new NCAA football conference (although it could be).  Instead, it’s about the nine states that George W. Bush won in 2004 but flipped over to Barack Obama in 2008.  The states: Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, and Virginia.  These are the purplest of the purple — the true battlegrounds for 2012.  Other states may well come into play, but one thing is certain — if the Republicans do not win at least seven of  these nine states, we do not win back the White House. 

(As a reminder, because of population shifts, electoral votes in many states have changed — hence the GOP nominee could lose New Mexico and Virginia, for instance, and still win the Presidency.)

Every six months, Gallup does a merge of all of its national interviews and looks at the President’s approval rating by state.  It’s well established that a president’s overall approval rating in October of their re-election year either nails their vote share on the head, or is within at least a point of it.  So, these early state-by-state approval ratings serve as a barometer of where President Obama stands.  As a caution, these data are from the first half of the year — the President’s numbers have dropped since then.  Obviously, his numbers can improve over the next year, particularly if the economy improves.

Like Obama’s numbers with white voters, these data portend a very close race.  In six of the states, he had a higher disapproval rating than approval rating during the first half of the year — Colorado, Indiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio, and Virginia.  In North Carolina, his approval rating is dead even — 46{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} approve/46{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} disapprove.  Only in Iowa (49{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} approve/42{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} disapprove) and Florida (47{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} approve/45{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} disapprove) is his approval rating still a net positive.

Give all the states where Kerry and 2008 Obama both won back to Obama.  That’s 247 electoral votes (remember, because of the Census, the number of electoral votes for several states has changed since 2008, so Obama’s 2012 base number is not the same as Kerry’s 2004 number.  Give all the states to  the GOP nominee that Bush and McCain both won.  That’s 179 electoral votes.  Obama still has the lead, but he’s not at 270.

Okay, now let’s say that Iowa goes to Obama (he has a 49{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} approve/42{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} disapprove for the first half of the year there).  Now he’s at 253 electoral votes (remember, he’s got the Omaha CD EV — that could change, but for now, let’s keep it in Obama’s column).  Let’s give Indiana (42{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} approve/50{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} disapprove), Colorado (44{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} approve/48{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} disapprove), and Nevada (44{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} approve/48{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} disapprove) to the Republican.  So, now the GOPer is at 205.  The rest are up for grabs — Florida (29 electoral votes), Ohio (18 EVs), North Carolina (15 EVs), Virginia (13 EVs), New Mexico (5 EVs).  That’s 80 electoral votes that will decide the presidential election.   In these five, Obama’s first half approval/disapproval rating were within +/- two points of each other.  Remember, his approval rating is worse now than in the first half of the year, so he’s likely weakened in some or all of these Big Nine states.

The Republican nominee has to run the table in Florida, Ohio, North Carolina and either Virginia or New Mexico to win.  These data makes a compelling case that the Tar Heel state is joining Ohio and Florida as the must-win battlegrounds that will determine the next President of the United States.

* Neil Newhouse had the good idea to have the above map put together.

Public Opinion Strategies