The race for the White House: What the numbers say | Jay Bookman

On this last day of May, let’s take a look at where we stand in the presidential race, shall we?

In short, it looks like a tight one.

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Mitt Romney and Barack Obama are tied in both the Gallup (46/46) and Rasmussen (45/45) tracking polls, with Obama holding a narrow two-point lead in the RealClearPolitics average of national polls. (The most recent Fox poll — taken mid-month — put Obama up by seven.)

RCP’s state-by-state results favor Obama so far, with the incumbent holding 230 of the 270 electoral votes needed for re-election and Romney holding 170, with 131 too close to call.

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But as Stu Rothenberg points out at Roll Call, the stars may even be aligning for a repeat of the 2000 debacle in which Al Gore got 540,000 more votes than George W. Bush but lost in the electoral college:

“Most of the same states are in play as were in 2000, and any close popular vote outcome raises the possibility of a split decision, especially because Obama is likely to “waste” large numbers of votes in carrying a handful of populous states.

In 2000, six states delivered a plurality of at least 500,000 votes to one of the major party nominees. Five of those states — New York, California, Massachusetts, Illinois and New Jersey — went for Gore, while only one, Texas, went for Bush. Bush carried 30 states that year, while Gore won 20 states and the District of Columbia.

Eight years later, in a relative blowout, 10 states delivered pluralities of at least 500,000 votes for one of the nominees. Obama won nine of those states (the five above plus Michigan, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Washington), while Texas gave Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) a huge win.”

As Rothenberg points out, such a divisive outcome “could produce national hand-wringing, finger-pointing, complaints of unfairness and anger, further dividing Americans and undermining confidence in our political system.”

Frank Newport, editor-in-chief at Gallup, looks at the polling and points out that the situation today ought to be familiar:

“Obama is in a quite similar position to George W. Bush’s position in 2004. Bush ended up winning that election over Democrat John Kerry by three percentage points in the popular vote. Bush’s job approval rating was in the upper 40s at about this time in 2004, as is Obama’s today. And, in terms of the trial-heat ballots, Bush and Kerry were close, as are Obama and Romney today. In a May 21-23 2004 poll, for example, it was Kerry 48 percent, Bush 46 percent among registered voters. In our most recent weekly seven-day rolling average this year, from May 22-29, it’s Obama 46 percent, Romney 46 percent — again, among RVs. You can’t get too much more similar than that.”

And as Gallup also points out, the lines that divide us aren’t that hard to discern:

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In other words, while in total we Americans are very closely divided — testimony in part to the increasing skill of political professionals — the differences of opinion within our various subgroups are quite stark.

Finally, for the record, my own best guess at this point echoes the point made by Newport: Obama in November by three.

– Jay Bookman

The race for the White House: What the numbers say | Jay Bookman.

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