Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Electoral College Map (8/3/08)

Now that's more like it. After a mini-break at the beginning of last week, the major polling firms got back to work, releasing 16 new polls in 15 new states. And one of them was Idaho! Enough said. I am mindful of the fact that Idaho is likely to be as red a state as many others out there in November, but it is always good to have some polling to confirm that impression (even if it is on a whim). What was interesting about the Research 2000/Daily Kos poll from the Gem state is that it further cements Idaho's status as a strong McCain state, but is far less solid for the presumptive Republican nominee than it was in any of the last two cycles. Bush polled about 30 points ahead of Kerry in 2004 and 28 points ahead of Gore in 2000. Just for comparison's sake, Bush actually won Idaho by 39 and 41 points in 2004 and 2000 respectively.

So, even though the Kos poll confirms the February Survey USA poll -- that Idaho is closer than it has been -- that may not necessarily translate to voting in November. What we can see is that, on average, Idaho polling underestimates the Republican share of the general election vote by about 11 points. With the two polls that we now have in Idaho, FHQ's weighted average for the Gem state sits at exactly 15 points. If we correct for the GOP underestimate, that puts Idaho at 26 points now. Certainly closer than it has been in the last two cycles, but right on the line for where Kos indicates Obama would have to be to potentially affect downballot, congressional races.

New Polls (July 30-Aug. 2)
(With Leaners/ Without Leaners)
Research 2000/Daily Kos
Research 2000/Daily Kos
Public Policy Polling
Survey USA
New York
North Carolina
Research 2000/Daily Kos

Alright, that's now two Sundays in a row that you've focused on red states that are relatively safe for McCain. What about the states where the real action is? Well, the series of Quinnipiac out this week in the three "traditional" swing states (Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania) shifted the Buckeye state back into Obama's column after the most recent Rasmussen poll there pushed it to McCain's side almost two weeks ago. Other than that though, Mississippi was the only other state to shift from one category to the other here, moving from a McCain lean to a strong McCain state. There have been some single digit polls out of the Magnolia state, but I'd suspect this is the last the last we see of Mississippi moving. It just isn't a state where Obama matches up well, either demographically or traditionally.

Changes (July 30-Aug. 2)
MississippiMcCain leanStrong McCain
OhioToss Up McCainToss Up Obama

With those two changes, then, the map shifts back to the 298-240 Obama advantage in the electoral college that marked the tail end of June and most of July. That brings the lean and toss up categories across the partisan line largely in line with each other. Among the toss up states McCain holds 83 electoral votes to Obama's 76. Similarly, the distribution of lean state electoral votes is split 63 to 47 in favor of McCain. However, the strong state electoral votes continue to overwhelmingly favor Obama. And like the pledged delegate lead Obama maintained from mid-February up to the final nominating contests, this strong state advantage may offer the Illinois senator the cushion he needs in the general election. Again, like what we saw in the Idaho example above, that may not translate to the actual voting in November. What it does do, however, is provide Obama with enough leeway that he could "give away" states like Nevada, Ohio and Virginia and still win, albeit narrowly. Granted, Virginia is already a McCain state, but those three states represent the closest states currently.
[Click Map to Enlarge]

And that's as good a place as any to jump into a discussion of how the states rank compared to each other given the new polling that was released during the latter half of the week. You'll note that the states' electoral votes have been added to the table as well since Wednesday. I've been playing around with some other enhancements as well, but this is the less complicated version that I'll go forward with today. For a review of how the rankings are to be read, please see the post from Wednesday.

The Electoral College State Rankings
* Pennsylvania is the state where Obama crosses (or McCain would cross) the 270 electoral vote threshold to win the presidential election.

As I said above, the current map favors Obama in such a way that he yield that trio of close states to McCain and still emerge victorious in the electoral college. That obviously isn't the strategy the Obama campaign is proceeding with, but is more a reflection of the current state of the race. There are two lines of demarcation to note in the rankings. One is where blue turns to pink (the partisan divide) and the other is the point that has been referred to as the tipping point -- the point where either candidate would cross over the 270 electoral vote barrier to win the election. [I should take a moment to mention that I'm still open to suggestions on what to call these things. I quite liked "The Cutting Edge as a name for the "yellow state" in the bi-weekly rankings. However, I'm still willing to listen to ideas for what to call the entire figure and that particular breaking point.]. These two lines are a great lens through which to view these rankings. The closer they are, the more even the overall distribution of electoral votes is. The further apart they are, the greater the electoral college margin becomes (in either direction). As the rankings stand now, McCain would want to push the partisan divide line higher so that it, at the very least, converged with where Pennsylvania is or, more ideally perhaps, past the point where it takes in all the light blue (Toss Up Obama) states. In other words, McCain is forced to play offense. All Obama has to do is play defense and protect the current distribution. That's a low bar that the Obama campaign seems to be exceeding by leaps and bounds given their ad buys thus far (including 14 states won by Bush in 2004) and their 50 state organizational strategy. The partisan divide line and the (Well, shall I call it the...) breaking point line are close to each other given the information we have. That translates into a relatively close electoral college results, but also means that the pursuer (in this case McCain) has only three states to flip to overtake Obama in the electoral vote tally. [Yes, there are other ways McCain can get to 270 than pulling Nevada, Ohio and Pennsylvania over to his side, but this ranking tells us that, given FHQ's weighted average, those three are the most likely to potentially switch at this point in time. So while McCain could swing just Colorado, Michigan and New Hampshire -- three toss up Obama states -- to get to exactly 270 electoral votes, he'd have to do more in each of those states to move the averages than he would in the states between Virginia and Pennsylvania.]

The Watch List*
Arizonafrom Strong McCainto McCain lean
Georgiafrom McCain leanto Strong McCain
Minnesotafrom Strong Obamato Obama lean
Mississippifrom Strong McCainto McCain lean
Nevadafrom Toss Up Obamato Toss Up McCain
New Mexicofrom Obama leanto Toss Up Obama
North Carolinafrom Toss Up McCain
to McCain lean
Ohiofrom Toss Up Obamato Toss Up McCain
Virginiafrom Toss Up McCainto Toss Up Obama
Washingtonfrom Strong Obamato Obama lean
*Weighted Average within a fraction of a point of changing categories.

Another (good for Obama) poll in Florida pulled the Sunshine state off the Watch List into a more solid toss up distinction. The Quinnipiac poll in Ohio, while it did bring the weighted average back into the blue didn't pull Ohio off the Watch List. The Buckeye state remains the closest swing state by our measure. Like Florida, Mississippi also left the list and as I said above, likely does so permanently. With those departures the list is down to just ten states and of those only half involve states either moving into or out of the toss up category. That's as good an indication as any that things, though still in flux, are continuing to settle into place.

Note: For those who read the forecasting post yesterday, the link I was unable to provide to the International Journal of Forecasting's online home at Science Direct is now up. Simply click on the first link under Recent Posts just below to get to the post and that link. Again, the articles in that special issue discuss presidential election forecasting and the debates therein generally. They don't contain the actual forecasts for the 2008 election. Those are due in the October issue of PS: Political Science and Politics. In the meantime, I'll be on the lookout for the manuscripts for those pieces. The Erikson and Wlezien link from yesterday's post is actually one of those drafts.

Note II: Also, I'll be back tomorrow with a look at how things changed for McCain and Obama during July. The map looks a little different from the June map.

Recent Posts:
So, Who's Going to Win This Race? The Forecasts are Starting to Come In

VP Announcement Timing

5% of Democrats Say They'll Vote for McCain


konokwee said...

This is a great post. I copy edit for PS and have only so far seen the Lockerbie piece, but my colleague who has seen others notes that all so far have forecast strong Obama wins.

One oversight, however, is that you are leaving out DC and its 3 electoral (Democratic) votes.

Josh Putnam said...

Awesome! Thanks for the heads up, konokwee. Good to hear Brad Lockerbie is contributing again in 2008. He's a former colleague of mine here at UGA.

On the DC thing: If you're talking about the rankings, yeah, I left the District out. The grid looks weird with 51 blocks versus 50. But I didn't only make the move for aesthetic purposes. There are no polls for DC, so there's no real way of ranking it, though I would wager a guess that the District would be above Hawaii.

Robert said...

I have two suggestions for the yellow state --

The Finish Line

With either you could make it balck and white checkered.

OK, so what do you expect from a NASCAR fan?

SarahLawrenceScott said...

You could call the yellow state "The Victory Line."