Presidential election: There are 16 crucial questions that will determine whether Barack Obama or Mitt Romney win the White House.

The 16 Biggest Questions About the 2012 Election

The 16 Biggest Questions About the 2012 Election

Who's winning, who's losing, and why.
Nov. 5 2012 3:00 PM

The 16 Biggest Questions That Will Soon Be Answered

If we knew the answers now, we would know who will win the White House.

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How will the low unemployment swing states vote? There are five swing states with unemployment rates below the national average of 7.9 percent: Iowa (5.2 percent), New Hampshire (5.7 percent), Virginia (5.9 percent), Wisconsin (7.3 percent), and Ohio (7 percent). There are four swing states with a rate above the national average: Nevada (9.6 percent), Florida (8.7 percent), North Carolina (9.6 percent), and Colorado (8 percent). Nevada has the worst rate in the country. Seventy percent of the houses have mortgages that are worth more than the property. Yet Obama is likely to do well there—and without an auto-bailout to champion. Perhaps it’s all about demographics in Nevada (26 percent of the state is Hispanic, making it the largest relative percentage of Hispanics in a battleground state). In other words, demographics keep Obama competitive, but he must rely on enough low unemployment states to break his way to win.

Who had the better ground game? The Obama team’s vaunted ground game banked a lot of early votes. Republicans say that they will be able to make up their deficit on Election Day. We’ll know soon whether Democrats only turned out their usual supporters in early voting—cannibalizing their numbers—or whether they found new voters, turned them out early, and then still held strong on Election Day.

What is the relative health of the Tea Party? In the Senate contests, Republicans are counting on some conservative candidates like Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock whose recent missteps may cost the Republicans their chance at controlling the Senate. On the other hand, Ted Cruz, a Tea Party favorite in Texas, will win and is poised to become a strong conservative voice. Depending on which Senate candidates win and whether the Republicans take control of the Senate, we’ll get an early sense of the sophomore reputation and development of the movement that was so crucial to the GOP victories in 2010.


Did the selection of Paul Ryan change the map at all? Before Obama won Wisconsin’s 10 electoral votes in 2008 by 14 percentage points, the state was very close. Al Gore won it in 2000 by just 5,000 votes. In 2004, John Kerry won it with just 11,000 votes. How close will it be this year and will that be attributable to Paul Ryan? Obama won Ryan’s district by 14,000 votes in 2008, but George W. Bush carried it with 27,000 votes. In 2000, Al Gore won it by 4,600 votes. If Romney doesn’t win Ryan’s district, how much can the veep pick have been worth?

Did seniors get spooked by Medicare? Democrats traditionally lose the older vote. Obama lost it by 8 points in 2008. Seniors represented 22 percent of the vote in Florida, one of the highest in the country. (Seniors only make up 18 percent of the vote in Ohio, for example.) Will Obama get more than 45 percent of Florida’s seniors, which is what he got in 2008? Paul Ryan's plan for Medicare vouchers were supposed to move some seniors into the Obama camp. But maybe the relentless years of advertisements against Obamacare turned off elderly voters for good.

Did Romney out-perform McCain in his red counties? John McCain really did not turn out the Republican base in 2008. In 44 states Republican turnout was down in 2008 from the previous election. Can Romney fire up the team across the board?

Will there be ticket-splitting? We look at the presidential map, and the ideologies of our country seem fixed. There are red states and blue states. But in the Senate races in Indiana, Arizona, Montana, Massachusetts, and Missouri, candidates from the “other side” are doing well. The races are close, demonstrating that the nation is more purple than the maps charting the presidential contest suggest. There are also some interesting Senate races in the battleground states of Wisconsin, Ohio, Florida, Virginia, and Nevada. Will voters pick a Senate candidate of one party and a president of another? The most interesting place to watch that will be Virginia. Democrat Tim Kaine looks strong going into the home stretch. Watch how voters in Henrico, Hanover, and Chesterfield counties vote.* Kaine was the former mayor of Richmond, the city surrounded by those counties. That might get him more votes than president Obama which could mean Kaine could win the state while Romney does too.

Correction, Nov. 6, 2012: This article previous referred to the city of Richmond, Va. as a county.

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