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Where Electoral Forecasts Agree and Disagree

FiveThirtyEight’s initial 2012 presidential forecast found President Obama as a slight favorite to win re-election. These projections are unique, both in means and ends, but the FiveThirtyEight model is operating in a crowded field.

State-by-state race ratings have been published by The New York Times (these come from the politics desk and are distinct from FiveThirtyEight’s forecast), The Washington Post, RealClearPolitics, Pollster, CBS News and NPR (actually, many more projections are available, but these maps use the same five-level ratings scale, making comparisons easier).

Although each map takes a slightly different approach to projecting state-by-state results, they all have Mr. Obama leading Mitt Romney in “solid” and “leaning” electoral votes. It’s in the breadth of that lead and the most likely paths to those vote totals where disagreements arise.

The New York Times sees Mr. Obama with the slimmest edge, a mere 11 electoral votes. Pollster, on the other hand, has Mr. Obama with 270 electoral votes, a 79-vote advantage over Mr. Romney and already enough for a second term.

As one would expect with an incumbent president elected by a fairly large electoral-vote margin but now facing a teetering economic recovery, the horse-race debate revolves around the vulnerability of Mr. Obama in states he won in 2008, both handily and by a hair. Accordingly, more divergence is found in Mr. Obama’s column than in Mr. Romney’s. Mr. Obama’s total ranges from 212 to 270, a 58-vote difference. Mr. Romney’s range is more narrow at 36 votes.

The disagreement among the six maps — as measured by the standard deviation — is concentrated in states where the ratings range from tossup to solid Obama.

All six maps agree on the status of 32 states and the District of Columbia. But there is at least one dissenter about each of the 18 other states. Only four states are rated a tossup by everyone: Colorado, Florida, Iowa and Ohio. Colorado and Ohio are indeed the two closest states according to the FiveThirtyEight model, but it gives Mr. Obama a modest advantage in Iowa and Mr. Romney a solid lead in Florida.

The ratings diverged the most over New Hampshire, chiefly due to Pollster, which rated it solid blue while everyone else rated the state a tossup. FiveThirtyEight sees New Hampshire somewhere in the middle, giving Mr. Obama a 72 percent chance of winning there.

The next two most disagreed upon states — Pennsylvania and New Mexico — have ratings ranging from tossup to solid Obama. The FiveThirtyEight model doesn’t see either state as a tossup, judging both close to solidly Obama.

Where does FiveThirtyEight stray farthest from the pack? Five of the six maps rated Wisconsin a tossup, but the model expects Mr. Obama to have little trouble in the Badger State, giving him an 83 percent chance of winning there.

The reverse is true in Arizona. The model believes the state is mostly safe for Mr. Romney, pegging his chances at 87 percent, but it’s rated as only leaning in Mr. Romney’s direction in five of the six recasts and a tossup by RealClearPolitics. The FiveThirtyEight model is also more skeptical of Mr. Obama’s chances in North Carolina and Florida than the consensus.

Over all, the FiveThirtyEight model and the consensus are relatively close in their assessments of the electoral landscape, and some of the differences are likely semantic. RealClearPolitics rates both Wisconsin and North Carolina as tossups, but they would probably concede that Mr. Obama’s odds are steeper in the latter.

FiveThirtyEight’s model, however, distinguishes between states that are true tossups and states that are merely competitive. While the term tossup is usually applied to about 12 states, the model sees a true coin-flip in only Ohio and Colorado, and a near coin-flip in Iowa, Virginia and Nevada. States like New Hampshire, Florida, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan, meanwhile, are certainly in play, but one candidate has a clearer advantage.

Of course, there is a lot of uncertainty this far from Nov. 6, and everyone’s projections will likely shift at least a little as the election nears. But if you disagree with FiveThirtyEight and all the maps above, you can always make your own map (You can also share a link to your map in the comment section here, and if we receive enough entries we’ll do a roundup of how the FiveThirtyEight readers see the race).

Micah Cohen is FiveThirtyEight’s former managing editor.