Your Vote Really Counts

All too often, Americans say their votes don’t count, at least for much — especially in presidential races. Well, Nate Silver has news for you, Nevadans. Your votes may just matter than anybody else’s.

Silver operates FiveThirtyEight: Nate Silver’s Political Calculus for The New York Times. Silver did sports statistics until getting attention in 2008 for crunching poll numbers in the presidential race and coming within a percentage point of the final vote totals. Then, in 2010, he proved a bit less accurate—midterm elections don’t lend themselves to the same kind of polling—but nailed all but two Senate races and predicted large gains in the House for Republicans, who took over that chamber.

Silver’s forecast has become must-reading for political junkies, but to the right side of the webpage—you have to scroll down about one-third of the way—is a section called “Return on Investment Index.” That refers to “The relative likelihood that an individual voter would determine the Electoral College winner.” It works like this: if the election comes down to one state, and that state is so close that one voter decides it, what are the chances that the one voter will be in, say, Nevada? In turn, if your campaign is spending big bucks in Nevada—and both campaigns and the PACs and Super PACs are—what are you getting for your money?

As the first debate began between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, Nevada had the best chance. The Return on Investment Index showed Nevada at 12.8. Ohio ran well behind at 9.4, followed by New Hampshire (6.2), Virginia (5.3) and Wisconsin (4.6). This suggests that Nevada is indeed the swingingest of swing states.

How much your vote counts also may be explained by electoral maps. As the debate began, Silver forecast Obama receiving 319.3 electoral votes and Romney 218.7, with Obama having an 86.1 percent chance of winning. He pegged Nevada as being 87.2 percent sure of being in Obama’s column. But all along, both candidates and their campaigns have been trying to figure out how best to get to the magic number of 270 electoral votes.

Here’s the best map of all: a 266-266 tie, with one state’s six electoral votes deciding it. The state is Nevada. It could happen.

It did, once, on The West Wing. That’s the show that featured the only great liberal Democratic president in my lifetime, Josiah “Jed” Bartlet. Competing to be his successor were Rep. Matt Santos, a relatively inexperienced Democratic congressman from Texas, and Sen. Arnold
Vinick, an older, moderately liberal Republican from California. Coincidentally, a West Wing staffer had talked with an Obama adviser and apparently based Santos, to some degree,
on Obama.  The election ended up coming down to Nevada, which voted for Santos by about 30,000 votes.

So, if it happened on television, could it happen in real life? It won’t if you don’t vote.