Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Electoral College Map (7/20/08) [Update]

Things are starting to settle in to place in the McCain-Obama race, or that has been the mark of the polls during July at least. No poll has come along that has fundamentally changed the averages in any state enough push it from McCain to Obama or vice versa, much less alter its distinction whether favoring the Arizona senator or the Illinois senator. That being said, this is another electoral college breakdown with new data that does little to change what we knew of the landscape prior to when it was revealed. That is not to say that things won't change; I'm of a mind that they will, but as FHQ reader, Scott, pointed out--eloquently, I might add--in the comments to the last electoral college analysis, both McCain and Obama have established national polling ceilings and floors that have remained relatively persistent across polling firms and over time. The interesting thing is that of the ten new polls since last Wednesday, 60% of them represent new data from states currently (Well, formerly in some cases. See below.) on FHQ's Watch List. And even with that much possibility for change nothing happened. Of those six Watch List states, half came off the list and half held firm.

New Polls (July 16-20)
StatePollMargin
Alaska
Research 2000/Daily Kos
+10
Arkansas
Rasmussen
+13
Kansas
Rasmussen
+23
Maine
Rasmussen
+8
Nevada
Rasmussen
+2
New Jersey
Strategic Vision+9
North Carolina
Rasmussen+3
Oregon
Rasmussen
+9
Virginia
Rasmussen
+1
Washington
Survey USA+16

Watch List aside--at least for now--each candidate had five polls in his favor. And each acted in a manner as to confirm what we already knew about the race for the White House in each state. McCain holds slim leads in the mid/South-Atlantic states and continues to do well in the heartland. Obama, on the other hand, remains strong in traditionally blue states in the northeast and northwest. And while that may be true, the underlying electoral college numbers remain unchanged. Obama continues to maintain a 298-240 electoral vote advantage over McCain with no states shifting categories in either direction.
[Click Map to Enlarge]

As for the Watch List (the list of states most likely to change categories in the event of new polling), Alaska, Oregon and Washigton all come off. Alaska and Oregon became more firmly "lean" states favoring McCain and Obama, respectively while Washigton barely crossed the threshhold to keep it off the list for the time being. Nevada, North Carolina and Virginia just continue to look like toss up states. And that cannot be welcome news for the Arizona senator, since all were carried by Bush four years ago. If just those three states shifted from red to blue with the rest of the 2004 map remaining unchanged, it would be enough to essentially reverse the 286-252 margin that Bush won by over Kerry. Of course, that doesn't include the other Bush 2004 states that are already favoring Obama now.

The Watch List*
StateSwitch
Arizonafrom Strong McCainto McCain lean
Floridafrom Toss Up McCain
to McCain lean
Minnesotafrom Strong Obamato Obama lean
Mississippifrom McCain leanto Strong McCain
Nevadafrom Toss Up Obamato Toss Up McCain
North Carolinafrom Toss Up McCain
to McCain lean
North Dakotafrom Toss Up McCainto Toss Up Obama
Ohiofrom Toss Up Obamato Toss Up McCain
South Carolinafrom Toss Up McCain
to McCain lean
Virginiafrom Toss Up McCainto Toss Up Obama
Wisconsinfrom Obama leanto Toss Up Obama
*Weighted Average within a fraction of a point of changing categories.

What we know, then, hasn't changed all that much from before. We may be in the midst of a calm before the storm though; a time when everyone is on vacation (at least from the race for the presidency) and not putting too much stock into the race--or less than they did before. So, we have emerged from a period of activity in the polls following Obama's clinching of the Democratic nomination that set the stage for the general election. It will be interesting to track the movement between now and when the conventions kick off following the Olympics. I will be surprised to see any wholesale changes from what has been established up to now prior to that point. There may be some movement on the margins, but nothing earth-shattering.

As I think about this more, I wonder if the excitement surrounding the Democratic nomination race deprived McCain of an opportunity to effectively define Obama in a way that would help him to shift the race in his direction. Some have argued that the Arizona senator missed his chance during late April and through May. At that point, though, it was hard to get a word in a edgewise, much less define the Illinois senator for the fall campaign. Once Obama wrapped things up though, the public--the non-political junkies excluded--largely eschewed the campaign due to fatigue, waiting to pick back up in the fall before the election. If that is the case--that people were wrapped up in the Democratic race and then collectively tired of politics once the nominee had been determined--then we're talking about an environment that, like the other indicators of presidential success, does not favor John McCain. While on the national level, the two are still close, the state level picture gives the edge to Obama currently. And McCain doesn't seem to have a way to reverse this during a typically crucial period (the summer) anytime before the conventions in late August and September.

Recent Posts:
The Electoral College Map (7/16/08)

The 30/30 Rule: Obama's Chances in Georgia...and across the South

Can the World Position Itself for the Next President Before the Actual Election? In 2008, it won't be easy.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

The real issue is not how well Obama or McCain might do in the closely divided battleground states, but that we shouldn't have battleground states and spectator states in the first place. Every vote in every state should be politically relevant in a presidential election. And, every vote should be equal. We should have a national popular vote for President in which the White House goes to the candidate who gets the most popular votes in all 50 states.

The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC). The bill would take effect only when enacted, in identical form, by states possessing a majority of the electoral vote -- that is, enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538). When the bill comes into effect, all the electoral votes from those states would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

Because of state-by-state enacted rules for winner-take-all awarding of their electoral votes, recent candidates with limited funds have concentrated their attention on a handful of closely divided "battleground" states. Two-thirds of the visits and money were focused in just six states; 88% on 9 states, and 99% of the money went to just 16 states. Two-thirds of the states and people have been merely spectators to the presidential election.

Another shortcoming of the current system is that a candidate can win the Presidency without winning the most popular votes nationwide.

The National Popular Vote bill has been approved by 20 legislative chambers (one house in Colorado, Arkansas, Maine, Massachusetts, North Carolina, and Washington, and two houses in Maryland, Illinois, Hawaii, California, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Vermont). It has been enacted into law in Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, and Maryland. These states have 50 (19%) of the 270 electoral votes needed to bring this legislation into effect.

See http://www.NationalPopularVote.com

susan

Robert said...

This comment sounds familiar. I will refrain from repeating my challenge to it from the past.

Josh Putnam said...

Yeah, me too. This is the last time that I will allow this message to remain up on one of the posts here. It is one thing to add to the discussion, but to essentially shout the same thing over and over again isn't adding anything to what we're trying to accomplish at FHQ.

SarahLawrenceScott said...

Speaking of bringing up the same issue on a variety of blogs...

Josh: I'm curious as to your reasoning for using the Rasmussen state numbers "with leaners." You do it, RCP does it, pollster.com does it, and 538 does it.

But Rasmussen himself does not. He treats the "without leaners" number as the headline, and compares it, even averages it, with earlier Rasmussen state polls that did not break out separate numbers for with and without leaners. This implies that the earlier numbers must have been without leaners.

I don't really have a big problem with your using either set of numbers. It will introduce a slight shift toward McCain on average, because leaners tend to go disproportionately for McCain. But that may be more consistent with the results of other polls, so it's just a correction to more closely reflect what you're trying to get at.

At 538, on the other hand, I've been jumping up and down trying to get them to notice that, since their model includes a "trend," it's inappropriate to compare old Rasmussen state numbers with the current numbers with leaners. That treats the half point or so adjustment as if it's temporal, and implies an ongoing trend rather than a one shot change in methodology. You don't have a trend piece like that, so it's fine other way. But I would like to understand your reasoning better, since almost everyone seems to be doing what you're doing.

Josh Putnam said...

Scott,
At the risk of sounding like a hack, I have made it a rule of thumb to follow everyone else on this type of issue. My thinking here is that it should be the methodology that is unique in our electoral college analysis, while the underlying data is as close to everyone else's as possible.

Nate at FiveThirtyEight explained his reasoning on July 9 in a post called "Leaners". My reading of that is that Rasmussen was running with the "with leaners" numbers before the switch to the new presentation. That happened around the first of July. The question then is "Why the change at Rasmussen?" And why push the formerly headline numbers on the backburner? That's a question for Rasmussen.

But you know what? We can look at this here. And why not? FHQ is a forum to explore this too. All the data (the links to them at least) are right there in our electoral college breakdowns. So let's look at those numbers and see what exactly the changes would have been. I might be inclined to shrug this off, but Rasmussen has provided a substantial amount of the state-by-state polling data recently, and it would behoove us, or anyone else with any lingering doubts about this switch, to check it out. So let's do that.

I've got the electoral college post and another post that I want to roll out today. If I have time I'll get this one out as well. One thing I've been thinking about as I've been typing this is that we could put this in with our end of month examination of the polling changes during July. I think this deserves its own post though.

Robert said...

I think this question needs more attention. I note that Rasmussen's latest Ohio Poll has McCain ahead by 10% while other recent polls favor Obama.

http://www.realclearpolitics.com
/epolls/2008/president/oh/ohio
_mccain_vs_obama-400.html

Josh Putnam said...

Here's that RCP link from Rob.

And here is the direct link to Rasmussen's report on the poll. I'll have the new map up in a bit with more on Ohio. Hint, hint.