26 November 2012

Pennsylvania: A Path For Republicans To Win

In the run-up to the 2012 Election, I noted that Mitt Romney spent too little time campaigning in Pennsylvania. It was only in the final days that the Republican candidate actually made some campaign stops in the Keystone State.

But at that point, it was way too late.

Over at FiveThirtyEight, Nate Silver suggests that had Mr. Romney carried the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, there would have been a better path to 270 Electoral College votes:

Immediately after the election, it appeared that Colorado was what we called the “tipping-point state”: the one that gave Mr. Obama his decisive 270th electoral vote once you sort the states in order of most Democratic to least Democratic.

Mr. Obama’s margin in Colorado has expanded to 5.5 percentage points from 4.7 percentage points as more ballots have been counted, however. He now leads there by a wider margin than in Pennsylvania, where his margin is 5.0 percentage points. Neither state has certified its results, so the order could flip again, but if the results hold, then Pennsylvania, not Colorado, will have been the tipping-point state in the election.

Does this suggest that Mr. Romney’s campaign was smart to invest resources in Pennsylvania in the closing days of the campaign?

The short answer is yes. The longer answer is that it might have been better served by contesting Pennsylvania throughout the campaign, rather than just at the last minute.

Pennsylvania alone would not have won the election for Mr. Romney. But if the national climate had been slightly better for him over all, he might have won Ohio and Florida. Winning Pennsylvania as well would have given Mr. Romney the Electoral College, even if he had lost Colorado, Virginia and the other swing states that Mr. Obama in fact carried.
Silver goes on to explain that, despite being what I consider a "purple" state, Pennsylvania's are hardly "centrist". Rather, we are solidly Republican or Democrat -- depending on our geographic location in the state. Cue the concept of "elasticity":
Certain swing states have an especially large number of persuadable voters. New Hampshire is a paradigmatic example of this. About half that state’s voters identify as independents. Moreover, they have demographic characteristics that tend to balance one another out. New Hampshire is overwhelmingly white, for example, and quite wealthy, which tends to favor Republicans. It is also quite well-educated, and socially liberal, which tends to favor Democrats. Many voters in the state may shift their votes along with the political tides. When Democrats are having a reasonably good night over all, as they did in 2012, they can sweep almost all contests on the state ballot. But they can lose almost everything when the political climate works against them, as in 2010. We term this an elastic state.

Pennsylvania is considerably less elastic. Certainly Republicans can do pretty well there when they have a very strong wind at their back, as in 2010. But it has few independent voters, and instead large numbers of people who are almost certain to vote for one or another party, almost no matter what else happens.

The Democratic vote, of course, is highly concentrated in Philadelphia and other counties in the southeastern portion of the state, along with Pittsburgh. Republicans do pretty well everywhere else, and very well in central Pennsylvania.
Fascinating stuff. There's a reason that Nate Silver is a friggin' rock star in political circles. And this is a great example of that.

Read the whole piece, if you have a minute or 20.

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