Toward which candidate is the electoral college biased?

I’m increasingly preoccupied with this year’s presidential race, yet I don’t spend much time (at least not yet) thinking about the electoral vote. The way I see it, the outcome in the Electoral College has varied from that indicated by the popular vote only once in my lifetime, and never did in the lifetimes of my parents and grandparents.

So if Romney wins the popular vote, his odds of becoming president are good enough to satisfy me.

To the limited extent that I do think about the Electoral College, I worry that it favors President Obama. This may reflect a pessimistic frame of mind, but it’s mostly about Ohio. As a historical matter, Republicans don’t win presidential elections without winning Ohio. And George W. Bush would have lost in 2004 despite winning the popular vote, if Ohio had gone for Kerry, as it almost did.

This year, polls consistently show Obama ahead in Ohio, whose economy is apparently in better shape than that of the nation as a whole. So from time to time, I worry a little bit about the Electoral College.

However, political scientist Tim Groseclose tells us that it’s Team Obama that should be worried. Using a statistic he developed called Political Quotients (PQ) for each state, Groseclose calculates that if the nation split 50-50, Romney likely would win. He would do so by carrying every state whose PQ is more conservative than Iowa’s – Iowa being the state Groseclose finds most representative of the U.S. in terms of PQ – beginning with Colorado and ending with Utah. In winning this way, Romney would benefit from the fact that conservative states, as measured by PQ, gained six electoral votes in the last census.

Groseclose also notes that the RealClearPolitics average gives Obama a 2.6% lead over Romney. Meanwhile, an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, using a sample of voters from twelve swing states, gives Romney an eight-point lead. The average PQ of the twelve swing states happens to be almost exactly the PQ of the average Colorado voter. Thus, Groseclose considers the twelve swing states in the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll a good predictor of how the Electoral College will vote.

Is Groseclose’s analysis persuasive? I don’t know, and I’m not going to worry about it. Not much, anyway.


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