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A geospatial prediction of the 2012 presidential election map analysis

In 2008, I wrote two presidential election articles for the ACSM Bulletin. The Editor has kindly invited me to submit an article predicting the 2012 election. I have lived in many of the swing, or battleground, states, and I am a keen observer of trends in electoral geography, which I will use to (humbly) predict this election. Both Democrats and Republicans have received my vote in the past. This geospatial forecast is based on an analysis of the electoral map in previous elections rather than my own views on the election.—by david miller

In order to predict the future, we must know the geopolitical past and look at previous elections, starting with 2008.

What happened in 2008? In the 2008 election, Senator Barack Obama (Democrat, Illinois) beat Senator John McCain (Republican, Arizona) in the popular vote 69 million to 59 million, as well as in the Electoral College vote 365 to 173. While the popular vote is impressive, it is the Electoral College which determines who will be President of the United States. The Framers of the U.S. Constitution created the Electoral College to reinforce federalism, as a protection against tyranny, in the new republic. First, a quick review of electoral geography. There are 538 electors in the Electoral College, and a presidential candidate needs 270 votes to win—a majority of 538. The   geoMedia

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number of electors for each state matches the number of representatives and senators sent by a state to the U.S. Congress, with the exception of the District of Columbia, which gets 3 votes. The least populous states get 3 electoral votes, while the most populous state, California, gets 55. The winner of the popular vote in a state gets all the electoral votes, with the exception of Maine (4 votes) and Nebraska (5 votes) which can split their votes. The first map on the opposite page is a classic cartographic portrayal of red and blue America in the 2008 election. Proportional circles on the map illustrate states possessing a low (fewer than 10) to high (20 or more) number of electoral votes. This rendition reveals that the largest electoral prizes (California, New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Florida) went to Mr. Obama—with the exception of Texas, which went to Mr. McCain.

Geopolitical Strategies for 2012

Any sort of experiment in predicting human behavior requires some geospatial assumptions, and they are listed below: • President Obama’s campaign wants to hold northeastern and west coast states—and try to capture southern states. • Mr. Romney’s campaign will defend the traditionally Republican southern and western states—and try to take northern states. • Voter turnout is key. Some 132 million voters in 2008 gave Democrats victories, but only 90 million voted in 2010, resulting in Republican wins. What Are Safe States for Republicans and Democrats in 2012? The second map (opposite) illustrates safe states for the Democratic and Republican candidates, based



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on the last five presidential elections. The blue states (safe Democratic states) amount to 242 electoral votes for President Obama. The red states (safe Republican states) number only 101 electoral votes for Mr. Romney. Based on this map of reasonably safe states for each party, President Obama needs only 28 more electoral votes to reach the magic 270 and reelection.

by taking smaller (normally Republican) electoral prizes such as Colorado, Indiana, and Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional district encompassing Omaha (earning Obama 1 electoral vote and creating the term “Obamaha”). In 2012, the Romney campaign seems to be targeting Colorado, Iowa, Nevada (large Mormon population), New Hampshire (where Romney has Swing States in 2012 a vacation home), and Maine’s 2nd Swing states will be critical to the Congressional district (1 electoral election, but they will be more vote). so for Republicans. In most elec- • Surprise Swing State: In the final tions the incumbent, in this case weeks, as people start focusing President Obama, has the advanon the election, some states will tage, and he won in 2008 with 365 emerge as surprise swing states. electoral votes—95 more than the In the 2000 election, Tennessee 270 necessary. This means that was a surprise swing state for Al the Republican candidate, Mitt Gore (his home state swung to Romney, will need an overwhelmGeorge W. Bush). Frequent visits ing number of swing states. There to a state (or lack of visits) by a are different types of swing states candidate can create a surprise as the summary below indicates. swing state situation. Obama’s frequent trips to Indiana in 2008 • Strategic Swing State: For some, the term “swing state” made that a swing state. Georgia, means a state that could South Carolina, Tennessee could swing between Democratic be possible 2012 surprises due to or Republican presidential their large minority populations, candidates. But others define high population growth since it as a strategic state that could 2008 (including migration from swing an entire presidential northern states), and proximity to election, and there are four September’s Democratic National states that fit this definition Convention in Charlotte, North for 2012: Florida, Ohio, North Carolina. Carolina, and Virginia. It • Superficial Swing State: A appears that Romney will need superficial swing state is not all four of these states to win really a swing state, based on the presidency (keep in mind polls and election results. In the all voted for Obama in 2008). early months of a presidential On the other hand, Obama will campaign, both parties designate likely need only one of these a wish list of swing states, often states to earn reelection. with some fanciful entries. In early 2012, the Republican • Smaller Swing State: In 2008, the Obama campaign Party identified an ambitious caught Republicans off guard list of swing states, including   geoMedia

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Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. Obama won all three states by at least 11 percentage points in 2008. Wisconsin is a special target for Republicans because Paul Ryan, Republican nominee for Vice President of the U.S., and Reince Priebus, Chairman of the Republican National Committee, are both from that state. However, Republican votes are largely limited to several counties in the state’s southeast.

A Quick Look at Strategic Swing States in 2012 Florida: 29 electoral votes. This swing state possesses the most electoral votes and is a make or break state for Republicans; but voting history and demographics favor Democrats. Florida went for Barack Obama in 2008, although it went for George Bush in 2000 and 2004. Mr. Obama gained 4.1 million votes; his Republican opponent, John McCain, garnered 3.9 million. High voter turnout, especially in the Miami area, with its large African-American population, would help Democrats. Northern Florida tends to vote Republican, but a critical geographical pivot is whether the Tampa and Orlando areas swing to one candidate or the other. The Republican National Convention will be in Tampa in August 2012, and this should help the Republican cause. Finally, about 23 percent of Floridians are Hispanic and most of this vote should go to President Obama, with the exception of the CubanAmerican vote (about a third of the Hispanic vote), which usually goes to Republicans.


Ohio: 18 electoral votes. More than 2.7 million Ohioans voted for Mr. Obama in 2008 (versus 2.5 million for Mr. McCain), but Republicans dominated the 2010 elections. Mr. Romney seems to have hurt his chances here by opposing President Obama’s bailout of the auto industry which employs some 800,000 Ohioans. The Democratic base encompasses the northern cities of Cleveland and Toledo, whereas the southern part of the state is a Republican stronghold. The geographic key to the election depends on Ohio’s largest city, Columbus, in the center of the state.

convention in North Carolina’s largest city, Charlotte, in September 2012. Mr. Obama won the Charlotte area by some 100,000 votes in 2008. The Charlotte metropolitan area includes counties in South Carolina, which could help Democrats convert some South Carolinians.


margin, with 357 electoral votes, versus 181 for Mr. Romney. Media conglomerates and political parties have a vested interest in purporting that this will be a close election, but a state-by-state count reveals otherwise. Ohio or Virginia will be the first of the swing states to report vote tallies, and if Mitt Romney loses either state, then he will not become president. The choice for many voters will be based on the economy and between “the lesser of two evils.” Of course, both parties can share blame or credit for the economy. I am taking into account polls as of early August and would note that the Tea Party could fragment the Republican Party, costing Romney votes in some states. Based on past reelection trends, not many states will change their vote from 2008. I predict that Indiana, which went for Obama in 2008, will go to Romney in 2012; South Carolina, which went for McCain in 2008, will go to Obama in 2012. Other states, in light blue or light red on the map, will be close (with narrow margins) and could go either way. Regarding election prediction, Vaclav Havel perhaps put it best, “None of us know all the potentialities that slumber in the spirit of the population, or all the ways in which that population can surprise us when there is the right interplay of events.” However, some would favor Winston Churchill’s rather negative viewpoint, “The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.”

Virginia: 13 electoral votes. More than 1.9 million Virginians voted for Mr. Obama in 2008; Mr. McCain lost with 1.7 million votes. In 2012, a U.S. Senate race, pitting two former Virginia governors against each other, should drive up the vote in Virginia. High voter turnout is usually good for Democrats, especially in North Carolina: 15 elec- urban areas ranging from Northern toral votes. Mr. Obama won by only Virginia to Norfolk. 14,000 votes in 2008, with each candidate getting about 2.1 million votes. Finally! The 2012 Predictions Voter photo identification require- Map 3 anticipates what the elecments were voted down in 2011, toral map will look like the evening David Miller is Geography Instructor which could help Democrats. Also, as of November 6. 2012. In short, it at Northern Virginia Community part of a southern strategy, the Dem- looks like President Obama will College. ocratic Party will have its national win reelection by a comfortable august 2012  geoMedia  

A Geospatial Prediction of the 2012 Presidential Election