Something that has bothered me throughout the coverage of the race for the Democratic nomination is the idea that one candidate winning a state translates into general election success in that state. Both sides have used that argument in one way or another as a means of persuading superdelegates: Obama in claiming that he can be competitive in more states and Clinton in claiming she can win the big swing states necessary for Democratic success. On Sunday, Evan Bayh (Democratic senator of Indiana and Clinton supporter) brought the electoral college directly into this conversation:
“So who carried the states with the most Electoral College votes is an important factor to consider because ultimately, that’s how we choose the president of the United States,” Mr. Bayh said on CNN’s “Late Edition.”But is that really an argument that the Clinton campaign wants to roll out? Is it beneficial? Well, I wanted to find out, so I began looking at the state-level, head-to-head, general election polls (McCain v. Clinton and McCain v. Obama) to see how many electoral votes the candidates would have if those polls accurately depicted how the general election vote outcome would differ based on who was in the race. The data come from Real Clear Politics and their "Latest Polls" section. I averaged all the polls since Super Tuesday in each of the states to see which candidate had the lead. The number of polls ranged from one twenty-four of the states to nine in Pennsylvania. Obviously there are issues with using just one poll, but with few exceptions these are solidly red or blue states. In other words, the polls there are decent indicators of how the general election vote would turn out. However, since most of these one shot polls were conducted at the end of February, they don't account for either the 3am ad or the Jeremiah Wright flap.
The results are interesting and don't really support Bayh (or Clinton). In the McCain-Clinton contest, the solid and leaning categories give McCain a 235-179 electoral college vote advantage with 124 electoral votes falling in "toss up" territory. If you allocate those states' votes to the candidate with the leading average, McCain wins by a 90 electoral college vote margin, 314-224. To a large degree, the map looks similar to the map from 2004. The GOP gains Oregon, Washington, Michigan and Wisconsin while the Democrats take Ohio and Arkansas. These polls indicate that McCain would maintain Florida and Clinton would hold on to Pennsylvania. But even with Pennsylvania and Ohio in the Democratic column, Clinton loses the election.
Contrast that with the McCain-Obama map. The first impression is that there are far fewer solidly red or blue states and a lot more toss up states. Among those toss ups though are several typically ruby red states; both in the South and in the plains (South Carolina, Texas, North Dakota, South Dakota and Nebraska). Factoring in the toss ups, Obama has a 199-174 lead over McCain with 165 electoral votes to close to call. Again, if those electoral votes are allocated to the candidate leading in the average of post-Super Tuesday state polls, Obama claims victory by a 273-265 margin. That's pretty close to the 2000 outcome. Of the red toss up states listed above, Obama manages a win in North Dakota.
Overall, there are 36 states that remain either red or blue no matter who the Democratic candidate is. Among the remaining 15 (DC is counted as a state since it has three electoral votes.), Clinton makes a difference in four (AR, OH, PA and WV) and Obama creates a shift from red to blue in 11 (CO, IA, MI, NV, NH, NM, ND, OR, VA and WI). Republicans then, may be right to hope for Clinton to emerge as the Democratic nominee, keeping the battlegrounds similar to 2000 and 2004. The battle shifts to new territory if Obama is the nominee. Also, as we discussed in our discussion group meeting yesterday, either outcome has real implications for the direction of the Democratic party (with Dean's 50 state strategy clearly on the line). If Clinton were able to win the Democratic nomination, it likely damns that strategy after an assured change in leadership of the DNC. An Obama win (and subsequent performance in the general election) seems to validate that strategy though, ensuring that Dean or someone like him will continue to lead the party. What then, does that say about Howard Dean's current rooting interests in this race?
See an update of the maps to account for poll changes over the last week (4/2/08).
...and a new set of companion maps (4/3/08).
Update for 4/9/08
Update for 4/16/08
Update for 4/23/08
Update for 4/30/08
What happens when the polls are weighted to give more emphasis to the more recent ones?
Update for 5/7/08 (weighted)
Update for 5/14/08 (weighted)
Update for 5/21/08 (weighted)
New Maps? (5/25/08)
Update for 5/28/08 (weighted)
Update for 6/3/08 (weighted)
[Many thanks to Paul Gurian, Del Dunn and Rob Shewfelt for their contributions to this post.]