Monday, September 8, 2008

2008 vs. 2004: Glass is Half Empty/Glass is Half Full

If you're like I've been today, you've been clicking refresh every so often over at Pollster to see if any new state-level polls have emerged in this post-convention period. [There were several late-day releases, but I'll get to that in a bit when I post the first of the daily electoral college updates. I think we'll have enough polling volume that we'll be able to pull it off. At the end of the election, we'll have a much richer picture of what was happening over these last fifty-seven days.] It is one thing to answer the "convention bounce" question with national polls, but I've always been inclined to discover how this is working out on the state level. Is that national bounce that we've witnessed for McCain uniformly distributed across all states, or is it the case that McCain/Palin just fired up partisans in already-red states with their convention last week? I suspect the answer is somewhere in the middle, but I'd like to take an opportunity to cast an eye to the past for a guide in all this. As you'll recall, about a month ago, I examined how, using FHQ methodology, 2004 would have looked at the same, mid-August point of the campaign. The middle of August in 2004 was roughly two weeks after the conclusion of the Democratic convention, so we would expect to have seen Kerry in a somewhat advantageous position in the electoral college projection relative to Bush. And that's exactly what we saw. Kerry had essentially the same projected lead in the electoral college that Obama held in the same mid-August period.

However, given that mid-August was in the time after Kerry's convention, we'd expect to see a bounce for him as well, right? Well, since Kerry got basically no bounce (see the graph and point D04) out of his convention that isn't necessarily the case. The Massachusetts senator didn't get anything out of the convention in the national polls, but did he in the state polls? The thing that marked 2004 was the tight equilibrium that we saw across much of the campaign cycle. The Democratic convention didn't do anything to shake up the steady state of the race. In fact, as you'll see below, that state was held through and even past the Republican convention in 2004. September 8, 2004 was roughly a week after the conclusion of the GOP's convention and at that point there had not been any change to the distribution in the electoral college. Kerry, then, didn't get a bounce out of his convention, nor does it appear that he was hurt in any way by the modest bounce Bush received from his convention -- at least not in the week following the conclusion of the Republican convention.
[Click Map to Enlarge]

After the conventions then, Kerry still held just enough of an advantage in enough states to provide him with a 44 electoral vote edge over the incumbent president. But as I'm sure President Kerry will attest, that lead did not last. While the margin stayed the same the fundamentals of the race were changing. The states that shifted over the last 100 days of the race had begun, in most cases, their moves toward President Bush. New Mexico shifted from a Kerry lean to a toss up favoring Kerry. And though Florida continued to ever so slightly favor Kerry, the Sunshine state was basically a tie and was slowing inching toward the Republican nominee. The only other state that shifted sides was Iowa and the Hawkeye state actually moved slightly toward Kerry in the mid-August to early September period in 2004. Still, the lead was under three points and Bush was obviously able to swing just enough votes to pull out a victory in the state in November.

Colorado was also an interesting case over this period. The Centennial state, like Iowa, moved toward Kerry over this period, in the process shifting from an Bush lean to a toss up state. Why is that interesting? Well, obviously the trend is counter to what we might expect of a Bush state in the post-convention period, but Colorado also had a special measure on the ballot that fall. The measure, if supported by voters, would have distributed the state's electoral votes by congressional district in the manner that Maine and Nebraska do and would have taken effect for the 2004 electoral college session in Washington in December following the election. The measure was voted down, but in the context of this tightening, is an interesting footnote to the election.

So how does this enhance our understanding of what is happening in the current race for the White House. For that let's start by comparing the map above to the map from yesterday's electoral college projection update.
[Click Map to Enlarge]

There is quite a bit of overlap between the toss up states in each cycle. But 2008 has brought several atypical states into the mix. Indiana, Montana, North Carolina and North Dakota are all much closer than they were just four years ago. All still favor the Republican candidate, but are closer. States like Iowa, Minnesota, Oregon and Wisconsin that were toss ups four years ago are all leaning more heavily toward the Democrat in 2008. That has helped to provide Obama with a cushion that neither Kerry nor Gore enjoyed in either of the last two elections. Obama is ahead and doesn't need Florida to cross the 270 electoral vote threshold. And though the Illinois senator is slightly ahead in Ohio as of now, he could cede the Buckeye state to McCain and still eke out an eight electoral vote victory assuming McCain also inches ahead in currently tied Nevada. In fairness, we don't have even a partial picture of how the conventions are playing on the state level. [Well, we do now, but I'll get to that in a little while.]

The Electoral College Spectrum*
*Follow the link for a detailed explanation on how to read the Electoral College Spectrum.
**The numbers in the parentheses refer to the number of electoral votes a candidate would have if he won all the states ranked prior to that state. If, for example, Bush won all the states up to and including New Hampshire (all Kerry's toss up states, but Michigan), he would have 323 electoral votes. Both candidates numbers are only totaled through their rival's toss up states. In those cases, Kerry's number is on the left and Bush's is on the right in italics.

***Florida is the state where Kerry crosses (or Bush would cross) the 270 electoral vote threshold to win the presidential election. That state is referred to as the victory line

Both the Electoral College Spectrum and the Watch List of this period in 2004 underscore the precarious position in which Senator Kerry was at the time. His hold on Florida was the only thing keeping him above 270 and then it was only by a fraction. Plus the number of light blue toss up states had snaked all the way into the the second column of Kerry states. This was compounded by the fact that all the states that were near moving -- those on the Watch List below -- were predominantly Kerry states. And while many were on the line between toss up and lean, most had already moved into the toss up category and would end up staying there or in the case of Iowa and New Mexico, would move into Bush's column.

The Watch List*
Californiafrom Strong Kerryto Kerry lean
Floridafrom Toss Up Kerry
to Toss Up Bush
Mainefrom Kerry leanto Toss Up Kerry
Marylandfrom Strong Kerryto Kerry lean
Michiganfrom Toss Up Kerryto Kerry lean
Minnesotafrom Toss Up Kerryto Kerry lean
Nevadafrom Toss Up Bush
to Toss Up Kerry
New Hampshire
from Toss Up Kerryto Kerry lean
New Mexicofrom Toss Up Kerryto Kerry lean
Oregonfrom Toss Up Kerryto Kerry lean
from Bush lean
to Toss Up Bush
*Weighted Average within a fraction of a point of changing categories.

So, glass is half empty, Obama is in the same position Kerry was in (in terms of an aggregation of electoral votes). But, glass is half full, Obama has built-in advantages that neither Kerry nor Gore before him held in their respective runs for the White House. Where the 2008 race stands now, though, depends on how these states begin breaking with the information the conventions of the last two weeks have added to the discussion.

We'll get to those shortly.

Recent Posts:
The Electoral College Map (9/7/08)

On to the Debates! -- And a Note on Compression

Presidential Primary Reform: Still Alive with the GOP?

No comments: