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Obama’s Electoral Cushion

Throughout this election cycle, there was some debate about whether either candidate had a structural advantage in the Electoral College, with our model generally insisting that Barack Obama was more likely to win the Electoral College while losing the popular vote rather than the other way around.

Obviously, this became something of a moot point once the vote began rolling in on Tuesday and it became clear that Obama was going to win decisively. But nevertheless, there is evidence that if the race had tightened significantly, Obama had an electoral cushion of between 2-3 points. Specifically, while Obama won the national popular vote by 6.5 points, he accumulated 269 electoral votes — guaranteeing him at least an electoral tie — between 22 states and the District of Columbia which he won by 9.3 points or more. And he went over the top to 278 electoral votes with Colorado, which he won by 8.6 points.

In other words, if you had subtracted 9.3 points from Barack Obama’s margin in every state, he would still have tied the Electoral College — even while losing the popular vote by almost 3 points. And if you had subtracted 8.6 points, he would have won the Electoral College outright, while losing the popular vote by 2.1 points. McCain’s strategy of in effect conceding Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada, while trying to compete in states like Pennsylvania and Iowa where Obama was already comfortably over 50 percent in almost all pre-election polls, was in retrospect a complete disaster.

Nate Silver founded and was the editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.