Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Electoral College Maps (5/21/08)

In last week's glance at the electoral college, I argued that once there was more polling data, it would be easier to see whether Obama's post-North Carolina/Indiana inevitability (at least as it was designated by the pundits) had any effect on the electoral college projections. After all, if Obama was inevitable, the expectation would be to see his numbers rise while Clinton's numbers dropped. At the national level, that is exactly what the polls are indicating; Obama's lead over Clinton has risen to nine points.

On the state level? Well, the gains haven't been as noticeable there. There were 16 new polls this week in 13 states, and the net effect across both sets of hypothetical races was that Washington flipped from a McCain toss up to a Clinton toss up, handing the New York senator a six electoral vote advantage in the electoral college. However, the one caveat to the polling for the week was that Clinton has begun to be dropped from consideration by the polling firms. In three polls (Georgia, New Mexico and Pennsylvania), the Obama/McCain question was asked but the Clinton/McCain question was not. This isn't widespread yet, so the effect of a lack of data in her weighted average against McCain is minimal. When and if this trend increases as primary season wanes, we may begin to see a more static Clinton/McCain map and a more volatile Obama/McCain map (at least in relation to the Clinton map).

Though the outcome of the electoral college shifted very little this week
, there were some notable changes. To the maps!
This week, having Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania on her side pays off for Clinton. Of course, it took adding Washington's 11 electoral votes to her total to push her over the top. As I mentioned, though, that's all it took to hand her an advantage over McCain, however slight. Again, this looks a lot like the Kerry and Gore maps from the past two cycles. Clinton picks up Florida and Ohio, but loses out in states like Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin and Oregon. McCain actually holds a forty electoral vote advantage (212-172) among states that are either strongly in favor of or leaning toward one candidate or the other. However, Clinton makes up a lot of ground in the swing states, picking up 100 of the 154 toss up electoral votes (states in purple and brown).

Does Clinton increase the number of states where she has a better McCain margin than Obama, though?
The only change there is that she adds New York. The amount of difference between Obama and the former First Lady there are minimal, though, as either Democrat is expected to win the Empire state in November. Clinton continues to hold an edge in McCain margin over Obama in the traditional, big swing states of Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania. The differences in those states are relatively small though (less than 5% in Pennsylvania and less than 10% in Florida and Ohio). Both Clinton and Obama win in Pennsylvania, but Obama comes out on the wrong end in Florida (McCain lean) and Ohio (Toss Up favoring McCain).
The McCain/Obama map is largely the same this week. The electoral college outcome is the exact same. McCain edges out Obama by the same two electoral college votes (270-268) that he did a week ago. In the states where they are either strongly ahead or hold a small but significant lead, McCain leads 213-207. Notably, the number of toss up electoral votes continues to drop in the McCain/Obama match up. McCain became more comfortable in Nebraska this week with that state moving from toss up to McCain lean. Among the remaining toss up states, Obama took 61 electoral votes to McCain's 57. The McCain/Obama race is close no matter how you cut it. They split fairly evenly the number of strong and leaning states and also evenly split the toss up states. The interesting thing is that the McCain/Clinton pairing now has more toss ups than the McCain/Obama race; a decided shift from earlier iterations of these maps.
While the number of toss up states has dwindled for Obama, he still maintains a higher McCain margin than Clinton in 35 states. However, the map is becoming more and more yellow. And a yellower map means that no matter who the Democrat is that faces McCain in November, the results are largely similar. It just happens that Obama hold the (slight) advantage in most of those states. The result is that these maps show that who faces McCain in November makes no significant difference at this point. The electoral college is close no matter who is paired with McCain and the margins in the swing states continue to converge. Clinton, however, has lately continued to contend that she would be the better general election candidate. That is not borne out here. She is doing better than she was, but she and Obama are in the same position relative to McCain.

The pundits calling the race for Obama after Indiana and North Carolina not only hasn't had an effect in states like West Virginia and Kentucky, but it hasn't driven any movement toward Obama on the state level like it has on the national level. At this point, it is not likely that any real change will occur in these head-to-head match ups until primary season is complete. Of course, that's only two weeks away. On to Puerto Rico, Montana and South Dakota.

***Please see the side bar for links to past electoral college comparisons.***

Recent Posts:
Colorado Congressional District Caucuses Final Tally: 67% of the Vote, 64% of the Delegates

And Off Again: Kansas Presidential Primary Bill Vetoed

The Links for 5/19/08: Kentucky, Oregon, Electoral College Ties and More


Robert said...


There was an interesting article on RCP this morning that relates to much of what you have been discussing in this blog It can be found at

I sent a reply to her and have reproduced that reply below. I would be interested in your comments.

I read your column on

Many of your points are well-taken, but you oversimplify many points:

1.The most important outcome of the IA caucuses was not the number of delegates awarded but the bump in popular support it gave Obama. National polls on 1/1/2008 gave Clinton a 29% edge which went down to an 8% difference (see

The biggest lead that she has had since then was 10%. The point of going early is NOT the delegates but influencing subsequesnt caucuses and primaries.

2. Rewarding MI and FL for jumping ahead in line will completely gut the party's ability to curtail frontloading of primaries and caucuses. Unless something is done I fully expect IA and NH to start the next cycle in November, 2011. An excellent description of these implications are highlighted at

3. Movement of the MI and FL primaries ahead of the window was a deliberate ploy to help propel the winner to winning the nomination even if it cost the state delegates. Remember that both states were penalized by the Republicans by taking half their delegates. Since John McCain emerged the presumptive nominee we don't hear about this situation.

4. If the Republicans had forbid campaigning in FL like the Democrats did OR if FL had held their primary on Super-Tuesday, McCain would not have received the big boost he got from the primary, and he might not be the presumptive nominee.

5. The primary in FL also included a ballot issue critical to home-owners that probably skewed the results toward Clinton as much or more than the caucus times in IA skewed the results toward Obama.

6. If the Democrats had not penalized Fl and MI for jumping in line and the results had come out as they did, Clinton would have received a bump and probably would be the presumptive nominee right now. It's not the delegates at stake that are important. It is how those results would affect subsequent contests.

7. However, the primary in FL also included a ballot issue critical to home-owners that probably skewed the results toward Clinton as much or more than the caucus times in IA skewed the results toward Obama.

8. In addition, a do-over in MI excludes those who voted for McCain but would have voted for Obama a chance to vote for him, probably not major but unfair to Obama.

9. The delegate-selection rules in the Democratic party favor loyalty over past elections. No group has been more loyal to the Democratic party over the last 50 years than the African-American community -- a group that Obama originally distanced himself from to be the post-racial candidate and a group that the Clintons alienated by trying to define Obama as the African-American candidate. The massive shift to Obama by African-Americans combined with the delegate-selection rules in place was part of the reason Obama got more delegates than the popular vote would indicate. The other part of the Obama success was that his campaign was much more sophisticated at understanding the delegate-selection rules and exploiting them than the Clinton campaign.

It sounds nice to say we should rerun the MI and FL primaries, but it is just not that simple. It reminds me of the book title I saw at an airport bookstore several years ago "If I don't have the time to do it right the first time, when am I going to find the time to do it again."

Josh Putnam said...

Here's that RealClear link from Rob.