Updated summary: Only a significant upset will see Romney win, possibly resulting from GOP orchestrated voting irregularities and lower than expected turnouts for Obama but the President's lead is likely to be large enough to overcome any of these problems.
Just days to go until the most important election in the world, it generates a lot of interest in Australia as well as around the world. A fascinating election has become even more unpredictable because of Hurricane Sandy.
The polls will start closing at 10am (Eastern Daylight) in Australia next Wednesday 7th November, the time difference means we won't be distracted from the Melbourne Cup festivities (and RBA decisions) also on the first Tuesday in November.
It's very much a winner takes all type of affair. First past the post voting (no preferences so some still think Nader and the Greens cost Gore the election in 2000), voting is not compulsory (George W. Bush exploited this by motivating fundamentalist christian and other right wing groups to get out and vote, and Obama benefited last time by a high african american and hispanic turnout) and in almost all states the candidate that gets the most votes in that state gets all the electoral college votes on offer.
There are 538 electoral college votes (ev), therefore the target is 270.
They are allocated to states according to population, ranging from less than a handful in small states up to 55 in California.
In 2008, Obama won 365 electoral college votes, McCain got 173.
Usually, the candidate that wins the most votes nationally also wins the majority of electoral college votes. This is not necessarily true in a tight election. In 2000, Gore won the national vote but lost the election.
This election is about whether Obama can contain his losses sufficiently to stay at 270 or above.
All the battleground states listed below were won by Obama last time.
America is geographically divided between blue (Democrat) and red (Republican) states.
In the era of Reagan Democrats, a bit like Howard's battlers, the republicans won states like California and New Jersey, but the right-wing transformation of the Republican party in the last two decades may have significantly narrowed Romney's pathways to victory. George W. Bush got just 271 college votes in 2000 and 286 in 2008. A sharp contrast with the 426 his father secured in 1988, the last time a Republican secured what might be considered a decisive result. George W. Bush's wins in both Ohio and Florida were critical to his election victories. Had he lost either state he would have lost the election (of course, some of us think he did lose Florida in 2000). It is reasonable to think that Romney will have to win both Ohio and Florida this time if he is to become President, though not even that would guarantee an election win, such is the impact of the Republicans' narrowed pathways to victory. Currently, polls suggest a narrow win to Obama in Ohio and a narrow win for Romney in Florida. Interestingly, both Ohio and Florida are divided between a part of the state that is predominantly Republican and a part that is predominantly Democrat.
Democrats dominate the west coast (California, Oregon, Washington) and the North East, with only New Hampshire in any sense a swing or toss-up state. The Democrats also poll strongly in the mid-West, what we might think of as industrial, or blue collar, America. There are a number of big states in play in this region: Ohio (18 college votes), Pennsylvania (20), Michigan (16). The Republicans need to win Ohio, if they get more gains in the mid-west then Romney is pretty much a certainity.
Over recent decades the south has transitioned from a Southern Democrat (or dixiecrat) heartland to become the core of the Republican base. Three southern states, however, are contested and will play an important part in the outcome. They are Virginia (13 ev), North Carolina (15) and Florida (29). Florida is the biggest state that is a toss-up and, in a winner takes all system, it is a huge prize. Romney must win Florida.
The rest of the Republican 'safe' states are in the West.
Because states are 'safe' for one party or the other, the starting point according to polls is Obama 201, Romney 191, so Obama has to win 69 (or Romney 79) of the 146 electoral college votes on offer from the 11 states listed below. This is a conservative starting point for the Obama camp, with some pundits arguing that states like Michigan (16), Pannsylvannia (20) and Wisconsin (10) should be also included in the Democrat starting point.
Counting starts when booths close in each state, times are Eastern Daylight saving time in Australia.
I have listed them according to voting closing times because that's the way the day will roll out. Once one candidate reaches the magic 270 college votes the TV networks will call the result.
Updated. In the last week, there has been a swing to Obama of one to three points.
Virginia - 11 am - 13 ev - polls point to a tie update: still close but leaning Obama
New Hampshire - 11am. 11.30am, 12pm - 4ev - polls now suggest Obama will win by several points
Florida - 12 pm and 12.30 pm - 29ev - polls suggest a close Romney win, though it is much closer than a week ago and if GOP orchestrated polling irregularities will be decisive anywhere it will be here in Florida.
North Carolina- 12.30 pm - 15ev - polls suggest a solid Romney victory
Ohio - 11.30am - 18ev - polls suggested it could go either way, but now looks like an Obama win (thanks largely to the auto bailout).
Pennsylvania - 12pm - 20ev - polls suggest a comfortable win for Obama
Michigan - 12 pm and 1 pm - 16ev - polls point to an Obama win
Wisconsin - 2 pm - 10ev - polls suggest narrow win for Obama
Colorado - 3 pm - 9ev - polls suggest a very close race
Iowa 3 pm - 6ev - polls suggest an Obama victory
Nevada 5 pm - 6ev - polls suggest a narrow Obama victory
Enjoy the show folks.
For what it's worth, I think Obama will be re-elected comfortably.