Based on the results of the last presidential election there is a strong possibility that neither 2012 candidate will win the 270 Electoral College votes required for a winning majority.
The circumstances that would allow for this to happen are illustrated in maps one and two below, with the possibilities illustrated being well removed from simple speculative conjecture.
In Map #1 most of the states projected as possibly going to the Republican candidate in 2012 went for G.W. Bush in either 2000 or 2004. Most also withstood the substantial swing to the Democratic Party in 2012.
The swing states which bring the GOP candidate to 269 electoral college votes include Ohio/Iowa/Colorado/Florida/Virginia/Indiana. All of these went for G.W. Bush in both of his elections. New Hampshire went for Bush in 2000.
The states which deny the Republican candidate victory in this scenario are Nevada/New Mexico/North Carolina and, which would no doubt cause the GOP much pain, one electoral college vote from Nebraska.
Nebraska, along with Maine, are the only states that distribute their electoral votes based on congressional districts. President Obama won one of Nebraska's districts in 2008 along with the three states won by Bush in 2004.
The other, realistic, way a 269 vote tie can be achieved is seen in Map #2.
This map is, perhaps, a bit more speculative, although entirely plausible, as it is based on Wisconsin going to the GOP.This did not happen in the last three elections, but much has changed since 2000, or even 2008.With Map #2, the addition of Wisconsin and North Carolina, and the loss once again of Virginia for the GOP gives a realistic adjustment of the swing states and shows a simple path to a 269 each tie.
Wisconsin experienced one of the largest swings from the Democratic Party to the Republicans in the November 2010 mid-term elections. Long standing liberal Dem. Senator Feingold was defeated, the Republicans won the Governorship, and the states congressional delegation now numbers five Republicans to three Democrats.The current labor unrest may further end up making the state a Republican pick up in 2012.
Should either of these scenarios play out there is the strong possibility of a constitutional crisis, the likes of which has not been seen since the "stolen election" of 1876 . The crisis of the 2000 election hinged on a recount in one state. Whomever was awarded Florida's popular vote, and thus its Electoral College vote, and thus a majority of electoral votes in the country, was the overall winner. The crisis of 2012, should it occur, would see a situation where neither candidate has a majority. At that point the constitution and the House of Representatives comes into play.
The constitution is very clear on the matter fortunately. Article 12 states, inter alia:
"The person having the greatest Number of votes for President, shall be the President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed; and if no person have such majority, then from the persons having the highest numbers not exceeding three on the list of those voted for as President, the House of Representatives shall choose immediately, by ballot, the President. But in choosing the President, the votes shall be taken by states, the representation from each state having one vote; a quorum for this purpose shall consist of a member or members from two-thirds of the states, and a majority of all the states shall be necessary to a choice."
Thus, if the tied vote scenario plays out, and presuming there are no other, third party type, candidates who have won electoral votes, the House would meet to choose the next president by January 20th 2013, with the states having one vote each, whilst the Senate would meet to choose the Vice-President.
Based on the current composition of the House, and if voting went strictly on party lines, with no vote switching or abstentions in states with a close proportion of Republicans and Democrats, the Republican candidate would be chosen on the first ballot.
According to information supplied by the Clerk of the House of Representatives, the current composition of the house by party is:
States with a Republican party majority of Representatives 31
States with a Democratic party majority of Representatives 18
States with an equal number of Representatives (Minnesota) 1
In 2012 there will be a population based adjustment in the electoral college (which has been allowed for in the two maps) in a number of states with a net gain for the Republicans, based on the 2008 election, of 6 electoral college votes. However, in none of these states would the loss, or gain, of members affect the current balance. For example, Texas is gaining four members whilst Ohio is losing two members. However, in both cases the loss or gain of members would not affect the overall Republican majority in those states because the majority is so large in both.
What can happen to cause a crisis, or give victory to the Democrats? If there are changes in swing states delegations due to a move back to the Dem's from the GOP's, perhaps, high watermark result in November 2010, the making of an Obama re-election, or constitutional crisis come into play.
The following states currently have a one or two member Republican majority:
Colorado 4 3
Nevada 2 1
West Virginia 2 1
New Hampshire * 2 0
Wisconsin * 5 3
Thus, if the Republicans lost their majority in these five states the delegation results would be (*or they lost in three of the five and the other two became tied delegations and voted with the Democrats as might, most likely, tied Minnesota).
REPUBLICAN STATES 26
DEMOCRATIC STATES 24
If one further state went to the Democrats, and all politics is local so anything could happen, by the GOP losing one Representative in either Montana, or North or South Dakota, the House would be split 25/25 and a constitutional crisis of massive proportions would eventuate.
The "stolen election" of 1876 brought the country to the brink of civil war. The election of 2012 gives the possibility of a situation where, as in 1824, when no candidate had an electoral majority, the candidate with a significant minority of popular votes might be chosen by the House under heated circumstances.
This brings also the possibility of an inflamed racial environment, subsequent to a heated election campaign, over a long period of wheeling and dealing balloting to try and resolve the results of the election.
For all these reasons, especially if the economy is at the current level of unemployment-or worse, the election of 2012 is fraught with a terrible danger for the country.These dangers could be averted, or ameliorated if, well before the actual election, the constitutional possibilities are well canvassed with the public so they are aware of what might need to be done.
Otherwise, if by the first Monday following the second Wednesday in March 2013, as the constitution requires, there is no President, the Senate's choice of Vice-President will take over-to who knows what effect.
A more likely result is, and presuming Sarah Palin is the Republican nominee, set out in this map which reflects current and historic voting trends trends, and is adjusted for the Electoral College's population changes. This map shows a close, but clear, Republican victory, because of a substantial GOP base turnout, which would prevent the possibility of a tied vote scenario unfolding.