Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Electoral College Map (9/21/08)

There's a lot of blue out there today. Much of that has to do with the fact that the group of states represented in the polling out on Saturday was comprised mostly of blue states. States like Connecticut and Maryland continue to solidly support Illinois senator in the polls. Also, we see both Illinois and Maine bounce back from tighter polls over the last few days with margins closer to what FHQ's average projects. But it isn't all rosy for Obama. The two polls out of Michigan show a dead heat between McCain and Obama. Michigan has been a toss up state all year long, but it, to some extent, has been immunedto some of the fluctuations that have typified other state surveys in this post-convention period. Michigan is one of the few blue toss ups that hasn't shown at least one poll favoring McCain during that time.

New Polls (Sept. 20)
Research 2000/Daily Kos
Research 2000
Research 2000/Daily Kos
Research 2000
North Carolina
Public Policy Polling
South Carolina

And the red states? Well, the polls from Idaho, Missouri and Tennessee are right around where we would expect them to be. Like Michigan, Misssouri is a red toss up state that has been resilient to the volatility we've witnessed lately. In the Carolina's, however, there is a lot of action. Above, we discussed states bouncing back from seemingly anomalous polling results. Both North and South Carolina fit well in that discussion. North Carolina has been all over the place in September; from a 20 point McCain advantage immediately following the GOP convention to a tie in the PPP poll released just yesterday. The Tar Heel state is close to being out of reach for Obama, but it is closer to being one of the competitive states than it is a safe McCain state at this point. Is a tie accurate? No, but it is a better indication of the state of play in the Old North state than that bounce-inflated 20 point margin.

Changes (Sept. 20)
South Carolina
Strong McCain
McCain lean

Just south of North Carolina, the six point margin in yesterday's Rasmussen poll of the Palmetto state is likely below where South Carolina will end up in November, but it is closer to right than the 22 point range in Friday's ARG poll. Again, like Alaska, a lack of overall polling in South Carolina makes the average -- even a weighted average -- more vulnerable to outliers than traditional swing states like Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania, each of which have over 40 polls each during this cycle. The outcome? South Carolina shifts back to a McCain lean state. Will it stay there? My guess is that it won't (Yeah, a big blow to some South Carolina Democrats I know.). South Carolina just feels like one of those 10-12 point margin states for McCain. FHQ typically steers well clear of gut feelings, but this is one I feel fairly confident about. [Keep in mind that this election is one that is tailor made for making such predictions look stupid in a heartbeat. Those same SC Democrats I mentioned above won't let me hear the end of it if I'm wrong, I'm sure.]
[Click Map to Enlarge]

So South Carolina, after looking like it was moving with the recent trend line away from Republican "lean" status, appears as if it may be crowding in on West Virginia's place as the "contrary state" of the moment. Caution alert: we'll need more polling in South Carolina to back that assertion up. Just based on my gut feeling above, we would be expected to see South Carolina move closer to McCain than away from him at this point.

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), 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.

With those 8 electoral votes shifting back into the middle category on the Republican side, the total grows to 19 electoral votes; hardly better than the 11 before hand. That doesn't give FHQ much reason to alter its thinking about this race at the moment. There are three very clear distinctions among the blue states, but only two on the Republican side. Though that is being reiterated again today, it doesn't change that fact that the bottom line remains the same. Obama continues to maintain a slight advantage in the electoral college.

The Watch List*
Alaskafrom McCain leanto Strong McCain
Delawarefrom Strong Obama
to Obama lean
Georgiafrom Strong McCainto McCain lean
Nevadafrom Toss Up McCainto Toss Up Obama
New Mexicofrom Obama leanto Toss Up Obama
North Carolinafrom Toss Up McCain
to McCain lean
Ohiofrom Toss Up McCain
to Toss Up Obama
Texasfrom Strong McCainto McCain lean
Washingtonfrom Obama lean
to Strong Obama
Wisconsinfrom Obama leanto Toss Up Obama
*Weighted Average within a fraction of a point of changing categories.

South Carolina may be physically off the Watch List now for immediately changing categories, but it remains a state to watch simply because of where it is taking up space: the shrinking McCain lean category. But with South Carolina off, the list is down to just ten states and only half of those involve states that could move into or away from toss up status. The gaps in the other states are too great at this point for either candidate to make it interesting. So though Georgia and Texas are on the line close to switching to lean states, that really wouldn't help Obama much. Losing by 7 points in November is the same as losing by 20 or 40 points. [Alright electoral college haters, that's your cue.] With just more than six weeks left, those margins are too wide to make any difference.

Recent Posts:
The Electoral College Map (9/20/08)

The Electoral College Map (9/19/08)

The Electoral College Map (9/18/08)


SarahLawrenceScott said...

Speaking of the Carolinas, does anyone have an idea what's going on in North Carolina? The polls recently have been all over the place. PPP has shown the race tightening from around +3 to a tie. That could be statistical fluctuation, but at least it doesn't show gains for McCain. SurveyUSA shows the race going from +4 to an eye-popping +20. Research 2000 also shows it going from +4 to +17.But Civitas shows it holding around +3.

I don't have a ready explanation. These are generally reliable pollsters. While the polls with a huge McCain margin have less undecided than the others, it's not enough to explain the difference, so it's not entirely a matter of McCain getting all the leaners. It's possible there was a very brief Palin surge, but the Civitas poll overlaps the two with the big McCain lead.


Josh Putnam said...

This has been a strange period for polling. North Carolina, like many other states we've discussed recently, has had a really wide range of results in the last month.

I was going to say that a bunch of the Survey USA polls have stood out to me of late, but I went and looked across the whole data set and that really wasn't the case. I just think we have been in a period of volatility here. And that is understandable given the compression of both the VP picks and the conventions.

I think you are right on with your Palin guesstimate, Scott. While there was a blitz over the weekend after she was introduced, the real introduction was her speech. Many were seemingly reassured by that, but have since, after adding new information, perhaps reconsidered. Buyer's remorse? In politics?

Still, these are wide margins in Ohio, in Minnesota, in North (and South) Carolina. And we won't likely see any relief with the debates upon us. This week will be crucial for both campaigns. The McCain folks may like to see a continuation of the current trends. Yes, it puts pressure on both McCain and Palin, but it also lowers the bar for them in the debates. And we all know that expectations are hugely important in those proceedings.

As a side note on North Carolina: It was odd to me when the Research 2000/Daily Kos and Civitas polls were released on, I think, the same day. Civitas is seen as having a GOP lean while Kos very obviously represents a more liberal approach (not necessarily in their polling, but that is the perception that many would take away). However, each released results that were the opposite of what each would ideally "like" to see. Look, the Tar Heel state is a McCain state. Not as strongly Republican as it has been in past presidential elections, but probably strong enough. It is right on the line between a toss up and a lean for McCain.

The big questions is, does Obama have time to make up that sort of deficit? My suspicion is no. But I'll pose this question a bit differently in a separate post some time today.

SarahLawrenceScott said...

I just tried something I've been meaning to do for a while.

I went through and classified states as follows:

Solid for a candidate if the average is above 50.

Lean for a candidate if the candidate is the only one to have reached 50 in a poll since McCain became the presumptive nominee in March (Zogby Interactive doesn't count).

Toss-up if neither of the above apply.

The idea is that if a state consistently polls 50-47, regardless of the methodology of the poll or the state of the national race, it's very hard for the trailing candidate to win. But if a state has a lot of polls like 46-40, but the leading candidate never breaks 50, the trailing candidate has a chance.

The results:

Solid McCain:ID, UT, AZ, WY, AK, ND, SD, NE, KS, OK, TX, LA, MS, AL, GA, SC, TN, KY

Solid Obama: CA, IA, IL, NY, VT, ME, MA, RI, CT, DE, MD, DC, HI

Lean McCain: MT, MO, AR, IN, NC, FL

Lean Obama: WA, OR, CO, MN, WI, MI, PA, NJ

Toss-ups: NV, NM, OH, WV, VA, NH

There are a couple of intriguing things buried in there. West Virginia as a toss up is startling. It's true McCain broke 50 in late February, which is just before my cut-off, so it could easily be called a McCain lean. But still, I agree with Josh that Obama should have put some more resources there. Maybe it's not too late.

Also notable is that Colorado is an Obama lean but New Mexico is a toss-up. Obama winning Colorado and losing New Mexico is not a popular parlay, but it's not out of the question.

Those are the most notable surprises, although there are a few others that caught my eye (Maine and North Dakota are safe, New Jersey, Arkansas, and Washingon not entirely so.

At any rate, it's a little different way of looking at it, so I decided to share. :)

Josh Putnam said...

Awesome Scott. Thank you very much for sharing. If I get a moment (and have your permission) I'll put a map with that and give it its own place.

What is interesting is that the widening group of competitive states we were talking about Friday evening contracts by half under this methodology.

Now I may be stretching things here by crossing different metrics (FHQ's and what you have here), but among those six swing states, McCain would be playing defense in 4 while Obama would have to defend his turf in just two states. That meshes well with the current direction of the race heading into this new week. Stated differently, it feels about right.

Good stuff Scott.

SarahLawrenceScott said...

Feel free to put it up in whatever form you see fit, Josh.

Pinyan said...

Just as a comment/suggestion: When you list the EC spectrum, the victory line is in yellow. However, it's hard to tell without going back to the map just what category the victory line states are in. Could you put some sort of indication as to whether they are light blue or light red in the table?

Josh Putnam said...

Sure, Pinyan. With the victory and partisan lines so close together now, that is more of a problem, isn't it. I'll see what I can do for this morning's update.

Josh Putnam said...

I've had trouble with the HTML on this in the past, but putting the text in blue seems to be working now. I'll make a note of it in the update.