How To Teach Quantum Physics To A Monkey

If you arrived at this post expecting me to actually answer the question in the title, than you have even less of a clue than a monkey. Today, during a break from school, I tried to explain the Electoral College to a friend of mine, who most people agree isn’t the smartest person around.

When a passerby noticed this, he laughed, saying my efforts were like “teaching quantum physics to a monkey,” and that’s where I got my title. But in reality, it was a lot easier to explain the Electoral College, and how the U.S. runs their election, then I assume it would be to teach Quantum Physics to a monkey. If you have a general knowledge of quantum physics, and happen to own a monkey, I urge you to try it, and get back to me with your results.

Anyways, my friend, whose name I will not say for his own confidentiality, has a much higher brain capacity then a monkey. And the way the U.S. runs their presidential election is a lot easier to explain then quantum physics, whatever they are. The guy, and a group of his friends who were near enough to hear my attempt at the explanation, were all interested to eavesdrop and add their input.

Just thought I should note that they are all Canadian minors, so even if they did live in the U.S, they couldn’t vote. And I guess it’s good they couldn’t, because in just a few minutes statements like “no chance any rappers are voting for McCain,” and “Sarah Palin is more qualified than Obama to be president.” While I am a supporter of Obama, and I don’t pretend to know everything about politics, I know those two statements are wrong.

What I told my friend, who asked me if Obama was going to win the election, is not necessarily how the Electoral College works, nor what it is, but how and why Obama will be elected. As a service to you, my readers, I will explain how the election is decided, and using surveys and math, why Obama will win.

Each state is designated with a certain number of “Electoral Votes,” which is equal to its number of Senators and Representatives in the United States Congress combined. The most populous states have the highest number of Electoral votes. Click here to see how many electoral votes each state has. Anyways, with each election, many news sites like to put out their own electoral predictions. Slate’s is the most informative (providing you with recent polling data for each state, and using that to determine who will win,) and USA Today’s is the most interactive, allowing you to look at all elections since 1960 and see how they worked out.

There are a total of 538 electoral votes up for grabs, from all 50 U.S. states plus Washington D.C., and a total of 270 is needed for election. States that are “Safe Obama/McCain” are almost guaranteed to vote for that specific candidate, and in some cases (McCain in Michigan) candidates have completely given up trying to “win” that state. Aside from special cases in Maine and Nebraska, if a candidate wins the popular vote in a state, he receives all of the state’s electoral votes. Here’s a breakdown (using Slate’s data) of how the election will likely play out, with the number of electoral votes that state has in brackets:

Disclaimer: The classification as states “Safe,” “Leaning,” or “Tossup,” were made by Slate based on scientific polling. It does not mean those states are guarantees in any way.

“Safe Obama” states (states that are almost guaranteed to vote Obama):

California (55), Oregon (7), Washington (11), Iowa (7), Wisconsin (10), Illinois (21), Michigan (17), Virginia (13), Pennsylvania (21), New York (31), Maine (4), Massachusetts (12), Rhode Island (4), Connecticut (7), Vermont (3), New Jersey (15), Delaware (3), Maryland (10), Washington DC (3), Hawaii (4).

“Safe McCain” states (states that are almost guaranteed to vote McCain):

Alaska (3), Idaho (4), Utah (5), Arizona (10), Wyoming (3), South Dakota (3), Nebraska (5), Kansas (6), Oklahoma (7), Texas (34), Arkansas (6), Louisiana (9), Mississippi (6), Alabama (9), Tennessee (11), Kentucky (8), West Virginia (5), South Carolina (8).

“Lean Obama” states (states that are likely to vote for Obama, but where the race is close enough that McCain could still win):

Colorado (9), New Mexico (5), Minnesota (10), New Hampshire (4).

“Lean McCain” states (states that are likely to vote for McCain, but where the race is close enough that Obama could still win):

Georgia (15).

“Tossup” states (states where the race is so close, they could vote either way, also called “swing” states or “battleground” states):

Nevada (5), Montana (3), North Dakota (3), Missouri (11), Indiana (11), Ohio (20), North Carolina (15), Florida (27).

If both “safe” and “leaning” states for those candidates, Obama is projected to get 286 electoral votes, McCain 157, and 95 remain tossups. Because this result would give Obama the majority (270) he needs to win, McCain needs to work hard to win states that should be his in the first place.

Winning Florida and Ohio are crucial to McCain’s chances. It’s likely that if McCain ends up winning, it’s due in part to his winning of those two states. In addition to winning all, if not most, of the remaining tossup states, McCain will have to win states that generally vote republican, but are shifting towards Obama.

He’ll likely need to win Virginia, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Nevada, North Carolina, Indiana, and the previously mentioned Flordia and Ohio. A scenario like that would net Obama 273 votes and McCain 265. This situation would still give Obama a victory, but it would make McCain much closer.

So in addition to winning all those states, McCain will have to pry one from Obama’s grasp. If this were to happen anywhere, New Hampshire or Pennsylvania is probably his best chance. Pennsylvania’s 21 electoral are extremely valuable to either candidate, and if McCain can pry Pennsylvania from Obama, as well as win the states in the previous paragraph, McCain will win the election. If McCain can’t get Pennsylvania, but manages to win the states in the previous paragraph as well as New Hampshire, a very unique situation would occur. There would be an electoral tie (269-269), in which case the House of Representatives would decide who’d win.

Even though McCain is making gains in Pennsylvania, it still seems likely that state will vote for Obama. Recent Slate data has Obama with a big lead, 53.7% to 38.4%, but anything can happen between now and election day (November 4th.) As the election nears, expect a lot more politics-related posts, as well as new electorla updates next Monday, as well as the Monday after, the night before the election.

I hope this explanation helped, and even though most of my readers are Canadian and therefore ineligible to vote, I still think (and hope) you will find it interesting and informative.

Albums listened to while writing/researching this post:

“Across The Universe Soundtrack” – Various Artists

“After the Gold Rush” – Neil Young


7 Responses to “How To Teach Quantum Physics To A Monkey”

  1. I loved the blog Jamie. I found it informative and well written. And thanks for helping to clear up some of the mysteries involved in the American government.

  2. Max Harris Says:

    Hey man check this out:

  3. Informative for sure, and accurate for the most part.

    Keep in mind one simple but extremely weird fact, just because a state’s popular votes vote one way does not mean the electoral votes will go the same way.

    There is to date only 1 election where the president with the highest number of popular votes did not win, and the electoral college went with someone else.
    I do not remember the election and I’m sure Jamie would have fun looking for it; happy hunting

  4. Trina: thanks.

    Max: I know about that site, but forgot to put it in the article.

    Darryl: You’re probably thinking about the 2000 Bush-Gore election, where Gore won the popular vote but Bush won the presidency. But that’s not the only time it happened; it also happened in 1876 and 1888.

  5. Didn’t see Jamie’s reply for a second, so I was going to say that the election darryl is thinking of is the 2000 one, but of course Jamie’s got the stats and knows two others.

    Anyways, I meant to comment yesterday: good stuff. As good an explanation of a complicated system as any I’ve heard.

  6. I was thinking of the 1888 election,

    and I didn’t even realize the 2000 election was a similar case.

    Shows what I know…

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