Election llama, North Carolina. Photo by Bob Mical.
So, I woke up as it’s getting dark in the United States. Voting time. What’s the best place to watch the results? Me, I’m watching the New York Times. I grew up with the old grey lady and they have Nate Silver, the statistics wunderkind who’s FiveThirtyEight blog predicted 49 of 50 states last time and is now folded in to the Times.
So, how to read the results? Firstly, according to Silver’s aggregation of thousands of polls, Obama’s chances of winning were 90.9% as of yesterday, up from 86% a day before. This doesn’t mean he’ll win that much of the vote, it just means that running lots of simulated elections saw Obama winning the electoral college vote that much of the time. Which is the key, the electoral college.
The US election isn’t a popularity contest. Their republic was formed at a time when individual states didn’t want to give up power so they each (mostly) vote internally and then give ALL their votes to one person. Hence in 2000, George W. Bush won Florida by 537 dubious votes and got all of their electoral votes, winning the Presidency despite losing the popular vote. You could say the system is off but it has its benefits. And both sides know the rules.
Which States To Watch
So, the real question isn’t how many votes Obama or Romney gets but how many states. Since the Democrats (Obama) have a lock on more urban states (New York, California) and the Republicans have a lock on more southern states (Texas, Georgia, Alabama) a certain amount of votes are already in the bag. Actually, the Republican map looks like a map of the old Confederacy, AKA slave states, but never mind.
The states to watch are Florida and Ohio and the place to watch them is this Times map of paths to the Presidency. It shows a decision tree, essentially. If Obama wins Florida and Ohio it’s over. Barring that, he still has 431 paths to victory, compared to 76 for Romney, which is why he’s such a favorite.
What’s Happening Now
As of now, it’s about 9:30 PM in Ohio (and Florida) and votes are being counted. For raw numbers you can check out the Times Big Board. You can ignore the topline number, or at least add 55 to it for Obama, because California results come in later (and Democrats always win). The states to watch are Florida and Ohio. Obama was leading in Florida, but Romney has caught up to basically a tie with 62% of the vote counted. Romney has to win here. In Ohio Obama is leading 55/45 but with only 11% of the electorate reporting. Those numbers can shift a lot as counties report en masse.
So, let’s assume that Obama wins Ohio. If, however, he loses Florida, he needs Wisconsin or Colorado to win. If things get really dicey he can squeak by with Iowa, Nevada or New Hampshire. So he has a much better shot. As Nate Silver said, Romney’s odds are close to drawing an inside straight. That means, in poker, that you have a 5-6- -8-9 and you need the next card to be a 7 to win, or have anything at all. It happens, but not that often.
For the sake of global stability and sanity I really hope that Obama wins. The probabilities and early results are good, but they’re not the result. That’s why we have elections, and why we count the ballots. So here’s to watching.
In other news, if you want to celebrate/commiserate, the Colombo Pub Quiz is having an Arrack For Barack night at Barefoot Cafe, at 8:30 PM tonight.