President Obama Needs to Win Just Two of Six Coin Tosses on Election Day

I just thought of something cool. President Obama is highly likely to win the election because he basically just has to win the equivalent of two out of six coin tosses. The odds against that not happening are pretty low.

What are those six coin tosses? Here they are:

  • The first coin toss consists of the states that seem to give President Obama a clear lead going into the last week before the election. Aside from obvious Obama states like California and New York, everybody agrees that President Obama is strong in the following (potential) swing states: Oregon, New Mexico, Minnesota, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Nevada. The odds that Nate Silver puts on Obama winning these states individually range from 78% to 99%. Obama’s also solid in Maine’s District 2, a potential swing district with one electoral vote. Winning all these states and Maine’s District 2 gets Obama to 253 electoral votes, just 17 shy of the 270 needed for victory. But Mitt Romney might pick off one of these states. The odds are about 50-50. It’s a coin toss, therefore, that Obama runs the table on these seven states and the Maine district.
  • The second coin toss is Ohio (18 electoral votes). If Obama wins the first coin toss and this one, he’s at 271 and Romney’s done.
  • The third coin toss is New Hampshire and Iowa (10 electoral votes combined). Obama is polling well in these two states, but the odds that he wins both of them are a coin toss. If he loses the first coin toss above, these two states can probably make up for a loss there (Wisconsin, for example, is worth 10 electoral votes, the same number of electoral votes as New Hampshire and Iowa).
  • The fourth coin toss is Colorado (9 electoral votes). If Obama wins the first coin toss (all the states where he’s clearly favored), but loses the second coin toss (Ohio), then winning the third coin toss (New Hampshire and Iowa) and the fourth coin toss (Colorado) will save him. Combined, New Hampshire, Iowa, and Colorado have 19 electoral votes–one more than Ohio.
  • The fifth coin toss is Virginia (13 electoral votes). Virginia combined with either New Hampshire, Iowa, or Colorado would also make up for a loss in Ohio, and Virginia alone could offset an Obama loss in, say, Colorado or Wisconsin.
  • The sixth coin toss is Obama winning a Romney-leaning state (Florida, North Carolina, Arizona, etc.). Doing that would goof up Romney’s route to the presidency big time, but it could happen. Call it 50-50 that it could happen somewhere.

Math-wise, I’m certainly open to being corrected here. But it seems to me highly unlikely that on the day after the election, Obama has lost five out of six of these coin tosses, and that’s got to make him a heavy favorite for reelection.

Therefore, to “break on through to the other side” of 269 electoral votes, I would distribute my remaining resources (were I heading Obama’s campaign) evenly between these six coin tosses (1/6th devoted to Colorado, 1/6th to Virginia, 1/6th to Iowa and New Hampshire, etc.).

Early on election night, I’ll be watching New Hampshire and Virginia. If Obama is clearly winning in New Hampshire and Virginia, that’s what I would call “Ohio on the East Coast” and Romney will be on his way to losing the equivalent of a key coin toss.

Then, of course, if Romney is clearly behind in either Florida or North Carolina as well, that would already make for the two coin tosses that Obama needs to pretty much guarantee victory.

If, however, Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, and New Hampshire are all looking solid for Romney early on, then Obama is in a much more difficult situation: he then has to win two out of the three remaining coin tosses (Ohio becomes a must-win and if Obama loses any of his solid states, such as Wisconsin, then the election will likely come down to what happens in Iowa and Colorado).

Ohio, Iowa, and Colorado, therefore, are the palms at the very end of the election trail. If it’s super close throughout election night, they’re at the end of the line.


About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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