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What Happens if there is a Tie in the Electoral College?

September 11, 2012

Update October 24, 2012:   We’ve created a new Electoral College Tie Finder that will let you play around with any combination of 11 battleground states.   We’re planning to add 2nd District in Maine and Nebraska (one electoral vote each) to this in the next couple days, as what limited polling there is shows both are pretty competitive.

Update September, 2012:    The post below was originally written in advance of the 2008 election.   We’ve updated the relevant dates for the 2012 election.    Separately, a few people have asked which candidate would win the presidency should the vote go to the House.   Based on a review of the current race ratings underlying our 2012 House Elections Map, Republicans would have control in 26 states, Democrats 11.   The remaining 13 states are too close to tell.    Note that this is based on ‘safe’ and ‘likely’ races being allocated to a party.   If this were to play out, Romney would have the advantage in a tie scenario.

What are the most likely ties?  For those curious about actual tie combinations for 2012, there are 32 of them if we assume 11 battleground states (FL, PA, OH, MI, NC, VA, WI, CO, NV, IA, NH).     Some don’t think MI and PA are true battlegrounds.  We’ll let the voters decide, but just for purposes of the example, if we remove those, we are left with 5 tie scenarios.   Finally, if we give NC to Romney and WI to Obama, we’re left with 7 states (FL, OH, VA, CO, NV, IA, NH) and a 247-206 Obama lead.      If it plays out this way, there are two tie scenarios remaining.   In the first,   Romney wins all but VA and CO.   In the second, he wins all but OH and NH.     You can use the ‘Road to 270′ feature, which appears below the map on the home page, to see all tie scenarios associated with your own election forecast.

==

Another close election may be coming up in November. It is not difficult to create a realistic scenario where the electoral map on election night is 269-269. What then?

As our site URL says, it takes “270 to Win”. If neither candidate gets a majority of the Electoral Votes, the election for President is decided in the House of Representatives, with each state delegation having one vote. Senators would elect the Vice-President.

It is important to note that an apparent tie on election night does not mean that there is actually a tie.The actual Electors meet on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December (December 17, 2012 15, 2008 ) to cast their votes.Only about half the states have laws requiring their Electors to vote for the popular vote winner.It is possible that an Elector could cast his or her vote for another person.As long as that vote wasn’t for the other major candidate in the race, this wouldn’t be an issue — neither candidate would have 270.However, imagine a scenario where a single Elector in a single state switched their vote to the other party — the vote would be 270 -268.While very unlikely, it has happened before (most recently in 1968, although the election that year wasn’t close).If you thought the 2000 election was controversial, this outcome just might bring the Electoral College system to its knees.

More than likely, the election would remain undecided after the Electors voted.The new Congress meets in joint session on January 6, 2013 2009 to count the electoral votes (this count happens whether the election is close or not).If neither candidate has reached 270 Electoral Votes, then the House and Senate take over and elect the President and Vice-President, respectively.

UPDATE 6/22:   Based on some feedback, we may not have made this point clearly enough:  It is the new Congress, that is inaugurated the first week of January, 2013 2009, that will have the responsibility of breaking any ties.

  • alex

    What is the point of adding the 12th amendment and the house to the equasion if its a tie. A tie should just be decided by popular vote. i like this website very fun

  • mike

    Here’s a what-ifscenario that I just ran on the election, if it were held today (9/22/08):

    Pres: Barack Obama
    VP: Sarah Palin

    Say what??? I’m insane, right? Well, follow along…

    1) I took the current default map from http://www.270towin.com which plots expected outcomes in states where polls are convincing enough to predict a winner. That leaves 13 states undecided.

    2) I plug in all of the light red/blue conclusions from the USA Today poll tracker at http://tiny.pl/8kmm . That leaves 4 states undecided (NV, CO, PA, NH.)

    3) I take the most recent poll data from those four states (in the case of an exact tie, I take the one previous) as reported by USA Today. The polls show NV: McCain (49-46), CO: Obama (51-41), PA: Obama (49-44), and NH: McCain (48-45) Now, I plug these four results into the interactive map at 270towin, and I get…

    *gasp*

    Obama: 269; McCain: 269… A DEAD TIE!!!

    Now, I had to look up what happens in the case of a tie: 270towin says: “If neither candidate has reached 270 Electoral Votes, then the House and Senate take over and elect the President and Vice-President, respectively.”

    4) So, let’s go to the House of Representatives to determine the president. Assuming straight party lines, the House is controlled by the Dems, so OBAMA IS “ELECTED” PRESIDENT by the House

    5) Let’s turn to the Senate to determine the VP: 49 Reps, 49 Dems, 2 Independents. Again, going with straight party line, the score is 49-49. Now, we know that Lieberman will vote for McCain, so give John a one vote advantage, but even if Bernard Sanders votes for Obama, you now have a 50-50 tie… bring in Dick Cheney to break the tie, he’ll go party line for sure, and PALIN IS “ELECTED” VICE PRESIDENT by the senate.

    There are still some “ifs” in there, like… the house and senate must stay at their current levels… for the senate, that’s a big “if.”

  • Jeffrey

    Nick-

    You may be right about many resources to support the cities coming from the rural areas but when it comes to government most of the tax money comes from the cities and gets spent in the rural areas so I think things generally balance out.

  • Tyler

    So basically McCain just needs to win it straight up for our contry to even stand a chance. With all of these companies going bottom up I can only imagine how many more will go bottom up when Obama raises thier taxes. Especially in Michigan where I live, we are already loosing jobs left and right because the current legislative branch cant figure out that they need to eliminate taxes for these companies completely. And then Obama will raise them and bye bye Chevrolet, bye bye Ford, bye bye Chrysler, bye bye hundreds of thousands of American jobs.

    And why can either party figure out that we need to close the freaken boarders and keep all illegals out and close down imigration for a while. Get some money back to the people. Obamas crap tax breaks for the middle class are a joke. According to his tax breaks, I would get about an extra $100 dollars a year! WHOO HOO, that is really somthing special, Thanks Obama I can now buy 2 blue ray DVD’s, or I might even be able to get a Walmart Huffy bike for my son. Even though it will break in 2 years, and it will support those companies that are building them overseas.

    Or, if McCain gets in, my boss will continue the 50 cent a year raise that is promissed to us only if McCain is elected. By my calculations… $750 extra next year if McCain is elected.

    Sorry Obama, you need to move to a Socialist nation if that is what you really want, dont come in here and try to please all of your rich Fanny and Freddy friends while destorying life for the middle class. You are nothing but an impostor that can convince people to jump off a bridge just because you can speak well.

  • Kelly

    If NH flips to McCain(And He’s Less than a point behind) and everthing stays the same as it is today..269-269.

    http://www.politico.com/convention/swingstate.html

  • Kelly

    According to the rules,Only ‘One ‘ Congressman from each state gets to vote,and since there are more red states,that favors McCain,and they only get to vote for the top 3 E. C. getters for President.

    The senate only votes for Vice President,and again, only one vote per state,and only the top two E.C. vote getters…We very well could see McCain get elected by the House and Biden by the Senate.

    But I’ve yet to find out who chooses the voter from each State,if it’s Congress McCain is toast,but if it’s Majority of R/D Reps from each state..McCain should win easily.

  • Jeffrey

    Kelly-

    Democrats will or should control most congressional delegations should that come up and it is the delegation as a whole that casts the vote based on the individual members and they could be pressured to not vote party lines by their constituents.

    The Senate vote is by individuals not by state. I don’t see Lieberman voting for Palin and the Democrats should definately pick up more seats there so Biden should win that easily.

  • Kelly

    Yeah.but I’m just saying there are more Red states,and McCain would have a chance to pull 26 votes(All he needs) even if the Democrats are in the Majority,unless the Cop Out Popular vote comes into play,but we all know that doesn’t mean crap because you don’t see McCain out panning for extra votes in NY/CA states he will lose.

    And I agree..Biden would get the nod in the Senate,and Palin would get the shaft should McCain win the House.

    NH is the key state that can force a tie,and we all know the polls were wrong this year about Obama beating Hillary there,and if McCain makes a last ditch run-through there like Bush did in 2000..WE VERY WELL COULD SEE A TIE.

  • brent

    Ha, that would be something else! The house would vote Obama! But, in The Senate it would be a tie if I am not mistaken, Liberman goes McCain thats 50-50, then Cheney is the tie breaker and Palin is VP! Obama/Palin!

  • Jeffrey

    Brent-

    If you read the earlier posts you will learn why it is so unlikely for Palin to win in the Senate. In addition, I could even see some Republican senators voting for Biden due to the experience/judgement factor and the fact that he is one of them so they probably would feel they could work with him better.

  • The Dude

    Come on folks, read the other posts before you join the discussion. E.g., Brent, it should be pretty clear by the end of this 59-comment page that it is the new and no longer Lieberman-dependent Senate that votes.

    I don’t mean to be grumpy. Most of the comments here are great.

  • The Dude

    How is that for irony? I told Brent to read the other posts in order not to repeat them, just to see someone else make the same point while I was writing, so I was the one repeating. Egg on my face.

  • Kelly

    Yeah they would vote for Biden for the simple fact that he will be the leader of the Senate,but do they need that? a few years ago maybe…

    McCain could vary well win a State by State vote in the House as of today (It would be close)but any more Democrats in November could seal his fate..It is the NEW CONGRESS that elects in a tie,not the old.

  • Kelly

    Ok,I just got clued into the fact that Obama does lead in the delegation count 27-21 in States,and it would be an imediate vote…McCain or Palin have very little chance in a tie…270 to win for McCain and just 269 for Obama.

  • Matt

    There’s one other interesting thing about the tie scenario to point out that I haven’t seen mentioned on these posts-

    In the tie scenario, Biden would essentially be voting for himself for VP. According to what I’ve read, his state allows him to simultaneously run for VP and the Senate, so if he wins that Senate election and there was an electoral college tie, my guess is he would be sworn in to the new session of Congress, and vote for himself for VP as his only act of that Congressional session. Of course others casting notable votes in that would be none other than McCain and Obama as well.

    One other thought- it seems that having an odd number of total electoral college votes available would avoid the whole tie-breaking mess, assuming that we continue in our 2 party system and forgoing the possibility of faithless electors. Though of course that would ruin some of the “fun” I guess…

  • Kelly

    The Electorial College numbers for each state are equal to the House+Senate members of each state,so depending on redistricting or Census the total could very well change,but they cant very well just make it odd for the heck of it.

    I also heard on Fox News yesterday that although there is confusion,the vote can be immediate,but McCain is behind in delegation numbers 27-21-2,so unless they honor the voters of there state(McCain is sure to win more States),McCain cant win a house vote,and any new Congress would surely have worse numbers for McCain.

  • Jeffrey

    Interesting thought on the number of electors. There would have to be another seat added to the House of Representatives to make it work but then there would be an even number of voting members of the House. The best solution is along the lines of the current DC voting rights act being considered. It would give the next state in line to gain a representative based on the census that representative (currently would be Republican) in return for giving DC’s non-voting delegate (currently and for the foreseable future a Democrat) full voting rights. This doesn’t correct the fact that the delegate couldn’t constitutionally vote when the House decides presidential elections and DC would still be unrepresented in the Senate. Also the current bill would have the new non-DC seat disappear after the next census and redistricting.

    In addition, having an odd number of electors doesn’t change the fact that the winner still needs an absolute majority. So one elector intentionally or unintentionally not voting for their candidate, not voting, or being unable to vote could theoretically throw the election to the House if things are close enough. Also if three or more different people win electors then all of them could be short of the necessary majority.

  • Ron Murphy

    All of this possible tie of electoral college votes only proves that something has to be done to change this mess, so we won’t have another 2000 quaqmire. What’s wrong with the candidate with the most popular votes winning the election?

  • McCain/Palin

    The current House would decide, right? Not the newly elected one? I guess it doesn’t matter too much, though, since democrats are in control now and look to be gaining even more seats in November. Barring a faithless elector, it looks like Mccain needs 270, but Obama only needs 269.
    —————————————
    It’s probably good for Obama the new House and Senate would decide. The Senate picks VP and right now they have an advantage of one, Joe Lieberman! The man they said is out after this election! If he voted for Palin it would be a 50/50 tie. Of coarse, it’s the NEW Senate, not this one! I don’t understand giving the Senate more Democrats, however. They have a lower approval rating than Bush! As an Independent I don’t understand wanting to throw out all Republicans and give more Senate seats to a Party less popular than Bush when it comes to that! It is so strange! Still, that seems to be what Americans want to do, and will most likely do. Regardless, of how much or how little sense it makes! Imagine Republicans win the Senate, they could name Palin as Obama’s VP. Now, that’s bipartisan! lol :)

  • McCain/Palin

    And I agree..Biden would get the nod in the Senate,and Palin would get the shaft should McCain win the House.
    —————————————–
    That wouldn’t be so strange. Remember when Biden said he would be honored to run WITH or against John McCain? He’s already doing one, there’s a crazy chance he could do both! lol.

  • Myles

    IF it was a tie, Obama would likely win it, being that many state delegations have more Democrats (even the red states), however the electors would have trouble going against their state which would be the only way Obama could win if it was a 269 tie (God forbid)

  • Jay

    Just a thought I hope someone can comment on. Granted, the democrats have the edge in state delegations. But the republicans have more red states. If the state delegation goes against the popular vote in their state… WOW, it’s not only D.C. being disenfranchised.

  • Kelly

    The Popular vote by itself would be fine with me,but the rules are Electoral College,for instance..McCain will not spend any money in CA/NY because he’s going to lose those states,but if it was the popular vote he would spend,so You’re an idiot if you run around like Gore did in 2000 claiming some sort victory,when the smart guy spends his money in states he has a chance to win.

    Also,Military and provisional ballots were not counted in in at least two states in 2000 CA/MI only because they would not mattered in the overall outcome of the state,Bush clearly would have won those 2-1..That happens all the time,some votes are just are not counted,so popular vote is fine with me if changed,but as long as it’s Electoral College and those are the rules right now…Popular vote will not mean a lick of sh’t to me this go around.

    I do feel because McCain will not spend in NY/CA,Obama could very well win the Popular vote and lose the Election just like 2000,but if it’s a tie and they start on that Popular vote crap to claim why they should win…THATS GOING TO BE A JOKE,EVEN IF HE WOULD WIN A HOUSE VOTE ANYWAY.

  • Jeffrey

    Any attempt to claim Democrats as a whole are more unpopular than the president based on congressional approval ratings is flawed. The unpopularity of the Congress has to do with the institution as a whole: Republicans, Democrats, how the system is set up, and how those three factors interplay. Part of the unpopularity is people who would otherwise be supportive of Democrats alone being frustrated by the Republicans actions and vice versa.

  • http://www.google.com/search=whatatie Bolt

    Well after the first debate Obama got a boost and no president has had the galup poll (created since 1960 election) lead after the first debate has ever lost. So I guess we’ll take history’s lesson and just assume Obama wins. But God allows a 269-269 tie then the E.C. is on the rocks and our Democracy has some real questions to answer. Does anyone have any ideas of alternatives to the E.C. and suggestions to what will happen to it if there is a tie?

  • http://www.vojt.com Eppie

    To everyone who suggests we should just rely on popular vote as the tie-breaker when an insufficient number of EC votes have been obtained – you are taking an extremely short-sighted view of the electoral process. The rules for elections are meant to consider not only our present situation, but future potential scenarios. Envision a change in our political climate such that we no longer have 2 party system. If there are 3 or 4 major competing parties, you could conceivably have an individual get elected with 25.1-33.4% of the popular vote… hardly a mandate. The electoral process is designed to yield a valid compromise in the event that the general public cannot decide on a clear-cut winner. While it’s not perfect, it’s still a very good system.

  • Courtney

    Here is a fun exercise:

    Take the map as is (with polling data). Then go through and take any undecided state that voted two times in a row for Clinton in ’92 & ’96 and put it in the Dem column (sounds reasonable, right?).

    Take any undecided state that does not fit the above criteria and put it in whatever column the state voted for most in the last ten election (this will usually be Republican).

    This ends up with Florida and Ohio going Red. For example, calling states like Indiana a ‘swing” state is kind of a joke. It hasn’t voted Democratic in the last ten elections. I think we can safely put that in the Red column.

    After all those adjustments are done, you end up with with a 169-169 tie.

    Go figure. :)

    The final map looks like this:

    Blue States (Democrat):
    WA, OR, CA, NM, HI, MN, IA, WI, IL, MI, WV, PA, NY, VT, NH, ME, MA, CT, RI, DC

    Red States (Republican):
    AK, ID, NV, MT, WY, UT, AZ, CO, ND, SD, NE, KS, OK, TX, MO, AR, LA, MS, IN, OH, KY, TN, AL, VA, NC, SC, GA, FL

  • jsonitsac

    Everybody needs to remember that if it gets to the House it would be 1 state, 1 vote, meaning you would have a race to 26. Each state delegation would have to determine for themselves whom they wanted to vote for. Needless to say this method would have a lot of wheeling and dealing.

  • jc

    So, your comment is that “This might bring the electoral college system to its knees.”

    What a STUPID comment. We have this little document called the CONSTITUTION. This is the way its supposed to work!

    People have to remember this is not a national referendum vote for President and Vice President from one big monolithic federal election. States elect POTUS and VPOTUS through Electors that are the best mechanism to equalize representation and respect the independent voice of each state in the Union. Electors in most cases are not bound by law to cast the actual vote for President and VP based on the popular vote.

    What – you suggest we tweak the Constitution for “little things” like voting process?

    Those are the rules as ratified in the Constitution and you’re comment is irresponsible.

    270toWin: We run an electoral college website; it isn’t in our interest to bash that process and that wasn’t the point of the comment. In fact, we made the exact point you make in an article in the Wall Street Journal last Friday, where we indicated that the electoral college approach made sense because we are the United States of America. The point was that the 2000 election was controversial because the popular vote winner was not the electoral college winner. A similar, or even greater controversy could happen if there was a tie. Controversial in both cases because to the vast majority of people this would be something with which they are unfamiliar. Just because something is the way it is supposed to be doesn’t preclude it being controversial.

  • Amy in Mineapolis

    Pres: Barack Obama
    VP: Sarah Palin

    What a mess!!
    I cam see them argue about who is a better point guard.
    Like an old couple!! haha lol

  • Jim

    One scenario I like in the tied EV case is McCain wins president, but Biden wins VP. We get our two most experienced candidates to the White House and let them show us how well they really work across party lines. Anyone else like that?

  • Pingback: Obama will Win: Polling Data Assures This - Page 3 - Ajarn Forum - Living and Teaching In Thailand

  • http://www.nytimes.com jack s.

    Expect some behind the scenes promises — since individuals (the one guy from N Dak or S Dak or Alaska or other small states) have far greater power than normal, it is plausible that a deal is cut with one or more of them. An offer of a cabinet position to a guy who might otherwise spend his career as the congressman from some small state. A promise of funding some project… a job for the congresswoman’s husband… you name it. If there is a tie, it should come down to the party by party breakdown of each state’s delegation in the house… but this not what will happen. A few side deals will be cut and the perpetrators will find a lame excuse (my state voted for this guy… or the national count was higher for this guy… or my district went with this guy… or I trust this guy better… ). It is no sure thing that party or state discipline will win the day.

  • jsonitsac
  • JimW

    I don’t have anything to add to this great discussion; but I wanted to express my thanks for the information. It really helps me understand what, why and how the election could turn out. My sincere thanks to all those who contributed constructively to this discourse.

  • Billy

    Let’s see how the democrats try to fix it this time. They tried to whine there way through the courts last time. There is no limit to what a sneaky democrate would do!

  • Jim

    We get “hanging Chads?”

  • Wes

    Hey Billy,

    It was actually BOTH parties that “tried to whine there (sic) way through the courts,” and it wasn’t “last time” it was eight years ago. Objectivity, please.

  • Dresden Black

    The most recent CNN Electoral College map still shows a possible tie. If the “tossup” state of Nevada went to Obama and all other “tossup” states went to McCain, there would be an EC tie.

  • Freshly Squeezed Cynic

    Eppie – well, in that case, just have IRV or similar voting systems which need 50% or more of the popular vote for a candidate to win. Simple, eh?

  • http://www.270towin.com scott

    Now when there is a tie breaker and the house of represantive has to vote. And each state get one vote (=50). What would happen if there was a tie 25-25 in the tie breaker. In others world what would happen if there was a tie breaker in the tie breaker.

  • Frank Coleman

    Being that the number of electors is the total of the house membership, 435, plus the total senate membership, 100, there should be 535 electors. Being that 535 is an odd number, we wouldn’t have to worry about a tie. However, with the 23rd amendment giving 3 electors to Washington, DC we now have 538 electors, an even number. Fact is that the 23rd amendment was a poor attempt to solve one problem, in turn creating another. Maybe we could give 3 electoral votes to Puerto Rico.

  • Dude!

    Personally, I hope the whole thing ends in the dissolution of the electoral college. It discourages people from voting and doesn’t give the true reflection of the population.

  • http://270towin.com robert hardaway

    From reading the posts, I fear there is a lot of misundersanding of the applicable election provisions of the constitution. Here are the facts, which can be checked be reference to Art. III and the 12th Amendment:

    1. First, it is not at all clear from the 12th Amendment that it would be the incoming Congress that would select the president in the case of a tie in the Electoral College. Indeed, the language of the 12th Amendment suggests the exact OPPOSITE, stating that the House shall “immediately” choose the President upon tallying a tie in the Electoral College. Interpreting the word “immediately” severall months later (i.e. sometime in January after the incoming House has been sworn in), is, if anything, a rather far-fetched reading of the words of the 12th Amendment.

    2. According to the only precedent we have for a conginent House election (the House election of 1824), each delegation shall have an internal vote to determine how each state shall vote. If the vote is tied within a state’s delegation, that state loses its one vote.

    270toWin: The tally in the House doesn’t take place until 1/6/09, after the new Congress is inaugurated. The House would immediately move to choose a President after that.

  • David Wirth

    I am hoping for a 268-269 and 1 electoral vote for me! Both of these candidates are second rate! We shouldn’t elect either of them. Elect me! do a search for Dave Wirth for President!

  • Volunteer Firefighter

    You want an idea that could fix the college system. In the event of no one reaching a plurality and the first ballots are not broken in the house for president. Take the college vote and and have it proportionally divide 2/3 of the total electoral college up between the top two candidates. Take the popular vote and have it divide the other 1/3 of the vote up according to the top two candidates.Either way you end up with someone who is most likely to balanced and a universally likeable candidate. Incorporating both the state by state basis and the nation as a whole. While downplaying the population advantages of california, and other more populous states.

  • Volunteer Firefighter

    Correction no one reaching a majority, and not having been decided on the first ballot.

    And it’s a all in one method, not “either way” as i said.

  • Jeffrey

    In regards to the concern about House of Representatives not being able to give at least 26 states to one candidate or the other, they would hold revotes until a winner emerged.

  • Ulysses

    In the event of an electoral tie, certain types of “faithless electors” would be unlikely – an elector wouldn’t want to accidentally flip the Presidency to somebody else. But they might decide to add another candidate for the Presidency into the House vote.
    I think the most likely “faithless elector” scenarios would be for both Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin to receive one or more electoral votes. Hillary could receive votes from Democratic electors who thought she deserved the nomination, and Sarah could receive votes from far-right electors who think McCain is too moderate. If that happened, whichever of them received more faithless elector votes would be eligible for votes by state delegations in the House. It’s conceivable that Sarah Palin could be elected both President and Vice President. It’s much more likely that Obama and Biden would be elected, and it’s somewhat likely that McCain and Biden would be elected.

  • Volunteer Firefighter

    Jeffery history has shown that “corrupt bargains” and up to thirty five tries have happened when you do it that way. creating a constitutional crisis.

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