Election News

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

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) 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 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, that will have the responsibility of breaking any ties.

Road to 270 Enhancements

Below the electoral map on our site, there's a feature you may have seen called "The Road to 270". This feature calculates the number of 'critical path' combinations to 270 that remain for either party based on the undecided states in your map, as well as any possible tie combinations. It updates automatically each time you change the status of a state.

By critical path, we mean those combinations that are available to cross the required 270 electoral votes threshold. To take a simple example, let's say Obama has 262 electoral votes on your map, and the only two undecided states are Virginia (13 electoral votes) and New Hampshire (4 electoral votes). While there are two overall combinations there (VA or VA+NH), only one of them is relevant to our goal of 270.  Put another way, if you were managing the Obama campaign in this scenario, how much resource would you devote to winning New Hampshire?

The new features include the following:

  • Must Win for 270: Displayed separately, these are any states that, if lost, would give the other candidate to 269 or more electoral votes. Therefore any states in this category will be required in every critical path to 270.
  • Not Needed for 270: Displayed separately, these are states that are not required in any critical path, like New Hampshire in the earlier example.
  • Filtering: For all the states not fitting into one of the above two categories, we now display the number of combinations that include that state.  You can check one or more states to filter to only those paths that include all the checked states.
  • Totals:  The total electoral votes associated with each combination are shown
  • Probability:  The combinations are ordered by probability of occurring (based on polling averages).   Note that probability doesn't necessarily mean "probable".  For example, if Obama has 268 electoral votes on your map, and the states remaining are Montana and Kentucky, Montana will appear higher than Kentucky on the list, but we're talking about "improbable" in the case of Montana, and "extremely unlikely" in the case of Kentucky. Note also that when dozens of combinations remain, with multiple states in a combination, almost any single specific path is going to have a low probability, particularly if it involves toss-up states.

The Road to 270 also calculates tie scenarios that are possible with your map. Every remaining state is involved in a tie scenario, of course. The Ties page shows each possible tie scenario and how the states break out between Obama and Romney. These tie scenarios are not in any particular order at this time.

The Road to 270 feature appears when 12 or fewer states remain undecided on your map and neither candidate has reached 270 electoral votes.

Probability of 270 Electoral Votes

We've relaunched  "The Probability of 270" to the interactive electoral college map page. This feature works in tandem with your maps, as you create them, to tell you the probability that either candidate will reach 270 electoral votes based on the remaining states undecided on your map. The calculated probabilities for each state are derived primarily from current state by state polls, basically using the same methodology that underlies the 2012 election simulator  (which is also live for 2012). Therefore, it is subject to many of the same limitations as that tool, which you can read about on the simulator page.

You'll find The Probability of 270 underneath The Road to 270, both of which are below the interactive map. As a reminder, The Road to 270 calculates every critical path to 270 electoral votes remaining for each of the candidates. Both of these features will appear with 12 or fewer states remaining undecided on your map, where neither candidate has 270 and will dynamically update every time you change the status of one of the states in the map.

Toss Up and Battleground States for 2012 Presidential Election

For background on this, see this Swing States Update post. The current toss up map is here; 10 states remain in the toss up category based on the criteria of being listed as a toss up by one or more of 4 professional pundits.

NBC and Cook Political have made some race ratings changes this week.   Those that impact the toss up states are shown in the accompanying table.   Seven states are now seen as toss ups by all these groups:  Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio and Virginia. Iowa and New Hampshire are new this time.   There's a difference of opinion on North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. 




In the above table, From R(epublican), From D(emocrat) and From T(oss up) reflect the prior rating for those that have changed.
Prior content in this topic. Original post 4/26/12:

**May 16 Update** A couple weeks back, the New York Times came out with their battleground state analysis.   Wisconsin was included in that list.    Given this plus recent polling which shows the race basically tied, we've added the Times as a 4th resource (see post below) and moved Wisconsin into the toss-up category in our map.

**UPDATE:  Here's a saved/shareable copy of the toss-up map**

We've updated the swing states starting view on our home page 2012 interactive electoral map. As with all the views provided, this is just meant as a starting point for you to create and share your own forecast for the 2012 presidential election.

Any state considered a toss-up by one or more of the professional prognosticators below is shown as a swing state on our map.   The rest of the states are colored blue or red, reflecting an overall opinion that those states are either leaning, likely or safe for one of the two candidates.  All these groups have updated their forecasts this week (late April), so the 270 swing states map reflects the current general consensus of these groups.

We'll try and stick to this more consistent methodology for updating the map as the election draws closer.

Super Tuesday Republican Primary Events March 6 2012

Summary of Results:  
Times displayed below are Eastern time.

  • 7PM: Polls close in Georgia, Virginia and Vermont. Per NBC: Gingrich has won Georgia and Romney has won Virginia and Vermont.
  • 7:30PM: Polls close in Ohio. Romney has won Ohio.
  • 8PM: Polls close in Massachusetts, Oklahoma and Tennessee. Romney has won MassachusettsSantorum has won Oklahoma and Tennessee.
  • 9PM: Polls close in North Dakota. Santorum has won North Dakota.
  • 10PM: Polls close in Idaho. Romney has won Idaho.
  • 12AM: Polls close in Alaska. Romney has won Alaska.

Update March 6: We've now got a Super Tuesday polls page set up to display polls associated with these contests.

Update March 5: Polls out over the weekend and earlier today indicate a momentum shift from Santorum toward Romney in states where Santorum has been leading. In Ohio, which offers the 2nd largest total of Super Tuesday delegates, Santorum's large lead has evaporated, and the two are basically tied. In Tennessee, Santorum's double digit lead has fallen to about 5 points, right around the margin of error. More limited polling is available for Oklahoma, but the trend is the same. However, Santorum still held an 11 point lead in a poll out over the weekend.

270toWin is working on a page to display Republican primary polls. Hopefully, we'll have it up later today.


For the 2012 presidential election, Super Tuesday will occur on March 6. 10 states will hold Republican primaries or caucuses on this date, with 437 delegates up for grabs.   This represents approximately 19% of the 2,286 total Republican delegates. The delegates available on Super Tuesday alone will be greater than in all events leading up to that date.

Here's a bit more on each state holding an event on Super Tuesday. Information compiled from WikipediaReal Clear Politics and fivethirtyeight. The delegate counts listed are the totals for the state at the Republican convention in Tampa this summer. Included in those totals, for most states, are a few unbound delegates that won't be allocated based on the primary or caucus results.

  • Alaska holds a caucus with 27 delegates, allocated proportionately. No polling information is available.
  • Georgia holds an open primary with 76 delegates, allocated proportionately. Recent polling has Newt Gingrich with a low double digit lead, with Rick Santorum slightly ahead of Mitt Romney for 2nd.
  • Idaho holds a caucus with 32 delegates, allocated proportionately. However, if any one candidate receives over 50%, he will receive all the delegates. No polling is available.
  • Massachusetts holds a primary with 41 delegates, allocated proportionately. Romney is expected to win the vast majority of these.
  • North Dakota holds a caucus with 28 delegates, allocated proportionately. No polling information is available.
  • Ohio holds a primary with 66 delegates.  15 of these are at-large and allocated proportionately (except all go to any candidate getting over 50% of the vote). 48 congressional district delegates are winner-take-all. Santorum hold a high single digit lead over Romney in most recent polling. Update:  Quinnipiac poll out March 2nd shows Santorum's lead down to 4%, within the margin of error.
  • Oklahoma holds a primary with 43 delegates, allocated proportionately (except all go to any candidate exceeding 50% of the vote). Santorum has a large lead of about 20% over both Romney and Gingrich.
  • Tennessee holds an open primary with 58 delegates, allocated proportionately (except all go to any candidate exceeding 66% of the vote). Santorum leads Romney by about 20% in polling.
  • Vermont holds an open primary with 17 delegates, most allocated proportionately (except all go to any candidate exceeding 50% of the vote). Romney has a high single digit lead over Santorum based on limited polling.
  • Virginia holds an open primary with 49 delegates. 13 of these are at-large and allocated proportionately (except all go to any candidate getting over 50% of the vote). 33 congressional district delegates are winner-take-all. Romney and Paul are the only two candidates on the ballot; polling has Romney up by over 30%.

This year's Super Tuesday is a much smaller event than the one held on February 5, 2008.   On that date, 24 states and American Samoa held their nominating elections.

Go Big or Go Home - Second Term Electoral Votes

An interesting historical fact as we move closer to the 2012 election:

Every president re-elected for a 2nd term*, except Wilson in 1916 won more electoral votes the 2nd time around.

On the other hand, most presidents who run for re-election and lose get beaten soundly in the process. Looking at those occurrences since 1900:

  • 1992:  Clinton 370, Bush 168
  • 1980:  Reagan 489, Carter 49
  • 1976:  Carter 297, Ford 240
  • 1932:   FDR   472, Hoover 59
  • 1912:  Wilson 435, Taft 8
Ford vs. Carter was pretty close, but the rest.. not so much. (An interesting side note -- Ford is the only person to assume the presidency as Vice-President who then lost when running for re-election).


Purely based on history, it would seem a close electoral outcome is unlikely this year. However, as a reminder, with only 56 prior presidential elections, each 4 years apart, these kinds of facts are of very limited predictive value.

*After following that trend, Roosevelt saw a decrease in both his 3rd and 4th terms).


Presidential Election Trivia

During the early part of 2012, we gave away copies of our iPad app to the first twitter follower that correctly answered a trivia question. Those queries are summarized here:


February 14: Name the 4 presidents (excluding FDR), with Vice Presidents that served 2 full terms with them, who weren’t subsequently elected President

Answer: James Monroe (Daniel Tompkins), Woodrow Wilson (Thomas Marshall), Bill Clinton (Al Gore), George W. Bush (Dick Cheney).

  • Although we excluded FDR, his first vice-president, John Nance Garner served the first two full terms of that administration.
  • It is interesting that this was a rare event until recent times. Is the vice-presidency no longer a path to the highest office, or is this just a temporary historical blip? Only time will tell.
  • For a full list of presidents and their vice-presidents, see this Wikipedia article.


February 9: Part 1: Name the first President born as an American citizen.  Part 2: Of all the Presidents born as American citizens, name the state that has been the birthplace of the greatest number of them.

Answer: Part 1:  Martin Van Buren    Part 2:   Ohio with 7.     Many of our early presidents were born while the now United States was still under British rule. In fact, each president from Washington to Andrew Jackson was born a British subject.  Martin Van Buren was the first born an American citizen (born 1782 in Kinderhook, New York). Van Buren’s successor, William Henry Harrison was the final president not born as an American citizen.

As for part 2, Virginia is the birthplace of 8 presidents. However, 5 of the 8 Virginians were in the group born as British subjects.  Therefore, Ohio, with 7 presidents born there (all American citizens at birth) is the correct answer to the question asked. For more information, see this Wikipedia article.


February 6: Since 1900, there have been 28 presidential elections. Only 3 states have voted exactly 50% of the time (14 elections each) for the Democrat and Republican nominees. Saturday’s caucus state, Nevada, is one of them. Name the other two.

Answer: Missouri and Virginia, along with Nevada, have voted 50% of the time for the Democrat and Republican nominee since 1900. Related facts on voting since 1900:

  • South Dakota has voted Republican the most often, 24 times
  • Arkansas has voted Democrat the most often, 20 times


February 1: Name the last election year where one candidate won the electoral votes of all states with any territory in the Mountain time zone? 

Answer:  In 1984, Ronald Reagan won all the states in the Mountain time zone. Most of this time zone votes Republican in each election. In fact, 7 states with some territory in that time zone haven’t voted for a Democrat since 1964. (See accompanying screen shot from our iPad app’s map library). The answer would have been 2004, except for the fact that Oregon has a small sliver of territory in the Mountain time zone. Armed with that information, one could use 270toWin Answers to see when the last time a Republican won Oregon.    It was 1984 and, conveniently, all the other Mountain states (and almost the entire map) were red that year.


January 31: After each of last 7 Censuses, 1 state has gained 2+ electoral votes, one has lost 2+. Name both. 

Answer:   Florida (+2 or more) and New York (-2 or more). Coming close were California, Pennsylvania and Texas. California had gained 2 or more in 7 censuses from 1930 through 1990. However, this dropped to +1 in 2000 and no change in 2010. Pennsylvania has lost at least one electoral vote in the last 9 censuses, while Texas has gained at least one in the last 7.


January 30: How many presidential incumbents have won re-election?

Answer:   21 incumbents have won re-election. See the list below. 

  1. Washington, 1792
  2. Jefferson, 1804
  3. Madison, 1812
  4. Monroe, 1820
  5. Jackson, 1832
  6. Lincoln, 1864
  7. Grant, 1872
  8. McKinley, 1900
  9. T. Roosevelt, 1904
  10. Wilson, 1916
  11. Coolidge, 1924
  12. F. Roosevelt, 1936
  13. F. Roosevelt, 1940
  14. F. Roosevelt, 1944
  15. Truman, 1948
  16. Eisenhower, 1956
  17. Johnson, 1964
  18. Nixon, 1972
  19. Reagan, 1984
  20. Clinton, 1996
  21. Bush, 2004
Some related trivia
  • The longest period between incumbent re-elections was between Andrew Jackson in 1832 (7th president) and Lincoln in 1864 (16th president).
  • Of the 19 different presidents in the list above, 12 served two full terms (including F. Roosevelt, who served 3 full terms).
  • Four of the 19 succeeded into office when the president died (T. Roosevelt, Coolidge, Truman and Johnson) and were subsequently re-elected to a full term
  • Three of the 19 were elected to two terms but either died (Lincoln, McKinley) or resigned (Nixon).   F. Roosevelt also died in office; during his 4th term
  • Grover Cleveland was the only president to serve two non-consecutive terms.   Since he was not an incumbent when elected again, he is not on the above list.


January 27: What state has voted Republican in the most presidential elections?

Answer: Although it is a very blue state today, Vermont has voted Republican 33 times, more than any other state. From 1856 to 1960, Vermont voted Republican in 27 consecutive elections. After siding with Johnson in 1964, the state vote Republican from 1968 (Nixon’s first term) through 1988 (George Herbert Walker Bush’s first term).



From 2008: 270toWin Mentioned on The Daily Show

This segment ran on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart a few days before Election Day, 2008. The 270toWin map is in the background and the site itself is mentioned at the 2:19 mark. A pretty entertaining skit, with the theme of "let's get this election over with, already". Guessing there will be similar election burnout by October of this year as well.

Obama Campaign Paths to 270 Electoral Votes

According to Political Wire (originally sourced from Newsweek), the Obama campaign sees five paths to 270 electoral votes, all starting with the assumption that Obama will win all the states captured by John Kerry in 2004.

Those states awarded 252 electoral votes (although Kerry only received 251 electoral votes as a Minnesota elector voted for John Edwards). As a result of the 2010 Census, those same states now award 246 electoral votes.

Here are interactive versions of the 5 strategies. Which strategy is most likely to be successful? What if the basic premise (of winning all the Kerry states) is wrong? These maps are editable.... use them as a starting point to test the Obama campaign's beliefs against your own. 

  1. West Path: 2004 Kerry states +  Colorado, Iowa, Nevada and New Mexico  (the Newsweek article leaves Iowa out)
  2. Florida Path: 2004 Kerry states + Florida
  3. South Path: 2004 Kerry states + North Carolina and Virginia
  4. Midwest Path: 2004 Kerry states + Iowa and Ohio
  5. Expansion Path:  2004 Kerry states with a loss in Pennsylvania and New Hampshire, offset with gains in Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, Nevada, New Mexico and Virginia.   (this strategy is not fully spelled out in the article).
YouTube video from Obama campaign manager Jim Messina articulates these strategies as well.
Also, if you haven't done so, please check out our new 270toWin iPad app and put the election in your hands.

Swing State Trivia

Let's be clear up-front:   With only 56 prior presidential elections, each 4 years apart, these kinds of facts are of dubious predictive value. That said, we find these kinds of facts interesting.   Use 270toWin Answers to get the answer to these types of questions for any combination of states, as well as other historical election trivia.

  • Nobody has ever won a presidential election when losing both Iowa and Missouri
  • Nobody has ever won losing both New Hampshire and North Carolina
  • A Republican has never won when losing Ohio; 1960 for a Democrat
  • The last time a Republican won while losing Florida was 1924
  • The last time a Democrat won while losing Pennsylvania was 1948
  • The last time a Republican won while losing Colorado and Nevada was 1908
  • Early primary trivia: The last time a Democrat won while losing Iowa and New Hampshire was 1976; it has never happened for a Republican
  • One must go back to Zachary Taylor and the Whig Party, in the 1848 election, to find the last time someone won when losing Michigan and Missouri