Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Electoral College Map (9/12/08)

Well, there wasn't much to look at today. Or, in actuality, we had the biggest one day polling release for this cycle thus far. Altogether, there were 20 new polls out in 13 states and the combined effect was further confirmation of the movement we have witnessed in this first week following convention season. In other words, the campaign since the conventions ended -- "silly season" according to Barack Obama on David Letterman -- has been marked by a decided movement toward John McCain in traditionally Republican states. Traditionally Republican, that is, regardless of whether any state had appeared competitive in the polls up to this point in the race. Alaska, Montana and North Dakota, I'm looking in your direction.

New Polls (Sept. 11)
Capital Survey Research Center
Public Policy Polling
Insider Advantage
Insider Advantage
Strategic Vision
GeorgiaInsider Advantage
Daily Kos/Research 2000
Insider Advantage
Daily Kos/Research 2000
Insider Advantage
North CarolinaCivitas
North CarolinaDaily Kos/Reearch 2000
Strategic Vision
Ohio Quinnipiac
Ohio Insider Advantage

And what we see on that list is that, yeah, states like Georgia and Mississippi -- states that had averages in the single digits over the summer -- now appear to be solidly behind the McCain-Palin ticket. But the shift toward McCain isn't confined to just the typical Republican states; it just hasn't been as pronounced elsewhere. There has been a tightening across many of the Obama toss up states (Colorado, Michigan and Pennsylvania) and a subtle lengthening of the margins in some of the other McCain toss up states (Florida and North Carolina).

Changes (Sept. 11)
GeorgiaMcCain leanStrong McCain
NevadaTieToss Up McCain
North CarolinaToss Up McCainMcCain lean
OhioToss Up McCainToss Up Obama

And after Virgina moved off the Watch List (those states within fraction of a point of changing categories), that left Ohio and Nevada as the two closest states -- those most likely to change hands in the face of new data. Nevada had been tied and with the Insider Advantage poll now gives McCain a very slight advantage at the moment. The Silver state is one that we've waited on for more polling to emerge, but that isn't the case for other toss up states like Ohio. Due to the volume of polling in the Buckeye state and the miniscule nature of the the margin between McCain and Obama there, any new information is likely to swing Ohio in one direction or the other. Just this week we've seen Ohio shift from Obama to McCain and, now with three new polls, back again.

I will say this about both of these states: we may as well color both in white -- to signify a tie -- because that is how close each is right now. Obama's edge in the weighted average for Ohio is at 0.02 points and McCain's advantage in Nevada is 0.15 points. Bascially, each is close enough that any poll favoring either candidate is very likely to move the state from one category to the other. Yesterday I spoke about the beauty of weighting the most recent poll, but this underscores one of the drawbacks. The advantage is that there just isn't the volatility that we see across other electoral college analyses that simply look at the most recent poll(s). That stability exists except in some of the closest states, especially when there isn't a clear pattern to the polling within any one [very] close state. Nevada, at a one point margin, is in line with where we would expect it to be, but the Ohio polls that have been released this week have been erratic, and that's an understatement. Four polls have provided us with a range from +7 for McCain to +5 for Obama.

[Click Map to Enlarge]

The shift of Ohio back into Obama's column likely breaks with many of the other current analyses right now, but those 20 electoral votes give Obama a nearly 50 electoral vote advantage is this was how the election went. However, a better way of discussing this may be to pull the 25 electoral votes of Nevada and Ohio combined and look at the total in their absence. That would yield Obama a 273-240 lead, which still keeps the Illinois senator over the 270 electoral votes needed to claim victory. So even if the momentum was in McCain's direction -- and it certainly appears that it is -- it doesn't necessarily push the Arizona senator over the top. That momentum, though, would likely manifest itself in the Obama toss up states in some way as well. It just isn't clear given the data we now have whether that would be enough in states like Colorado, Michigan or Pennsylvania.

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, McCain won all the states up to and including Pennsylvania (all Obama's toss up states, but Michigan and New Mexico), he would have 299 electoral votes. Both candidates numbers are only totaled through their rival's toss up states. In those cases, Obama's number is on the left and McCain's is on the right in italics.

***The line between Colorado and New Hampshire is the where Obama crosses (or McCain would cross) the 270 electoral vote threshold to win the presidential election. That line is referred to as the victory line.

If we shift our focus to the Electoral College Spectrum, we see that North Carolina has shifted into the middle ground on the McCain side of the ledger. Again, this further evidence of the McCain toss up state list contracting. Both Florida and Missouri are not far behind and there has yet to be a post-convention poll released in Indiana to dispute or confirm the Hoosier state's standing as a toss up state. [It worked this morning when I called for some polling in Nevada, so perhaps it will happen again.] The effect this movement has is that the playing field has shifted. Pink states are turning a darker shade and the real battle is taking place among a decreasing number of McCain toss ups and the more stable, yet no less vulnerable, Obama toss up states.

The Obama campaign has to hope that the Palin phenomenon ends soon -- and with the ABC interview airing today and tomorrow it is likely to extend at least into and through the weekend -- whether by their own efforts to brand her or by some type of gaffe on her part. Shifting that narrative and moving beyond that back to the issues is an important, not to mention difficult, task for the Obama campaign. The big question now is when will the media tire of the Palin story? The McCain folks hope around November 5 or so, but the Obama campaign has to hope that 1) its arguments begin having some traction or if not that 2) the media moves on to something else; something that provides the Democrats with an opening that they can exploit. I would imagine that that something would have to come along prior to the debates which get under way two weeks from tomorrow.

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

Let's close with an eye towards which states may move with new polling. Nevada and Ohio are still the two to watch most closely, but that is likely to be the case all the way up to election day. Other than that, given the current environment, Florida and Missouri potentially shifting in to the McCain lean category is of huge consequence. Yet as we've seen here, all Obama really has to do is play defense in Colorado, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Mexico and Pennsylvania. That would get him to 273 and a win is a win. Obama, then still has more paths to victory, but that victory appears as if it will be a narrow one. The options that have been taken off the table are the blowout paths to victory.

Recent Posts:
The Electoral College Map (9/11/08)

The Electoral College Map (9/10/08)

The Links (9/9/08): Advertising Call and Response

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