Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Electoral College Map (9/23/08)

There's some good and some bad for each candidate in the polls out yesterday. Most of the good seems to be on Obama's side. There has been some contraction of the margins recently in states like Minnesota, New Mexico and New Jersey, but the surveys that were released just yesterday, showed some movement back toward Obama in each. The bad for the Illinois senator is that Pennsylvania and Wisconsin continue to get closer. Well, Wisconsin is in a holding pattern. The Badger state is close, but it is still hovering around the line between toss up and lean. In Pennsylvania, however, the gap continues to close. Without the Keystone state, the math for getting to 270 gets a bit tougher for Obama. Not insurmountable, but certainly more difficult.

New Polls (Sept. 22)
New Hampshire
Univ. of New Hampshire
New Jersey
New Mexico
Public Policy Polling
North Carolina
Research 2000
South Dakota
Survey USA
ABC/Washington Post

For McCain, the good is that Florida and Ohio are like Wisconsin is to Obama: stuck in a close, but advantageous position for the Arizona senator. New Hampshire is also turning into a bright spot for the McCain campaign. A string of recent polling in the Granite state has shown the McCain-Palin ticket ahead. It is still within the margin of error, but the trend is a change from the narrow leads the state had given Obama up until this recent period. On the other hand, the margins in the peripheral South are narrowing. Both North Carolina and Virginia are seeing Obama make inroads in recent polling with Virginia offering some alarming numbers for the GOP. The commonwealth continues to favor McCain, but only barely. [For transparency's sake, one note that should be made is that I'm using the registered voters number from the ABC/WaPo poll. Please see the notes on upcoming changes at the end of the post for more.*] Nevada has been as close as any state with the exceptions of Ohio and sometimes Virginia, but the series of solid polling that McCain was able to put together following the Republican convention, has been replaced a much closer race according to the Suffolk survey of the Silver state.
[Click Map to Enlarge]

But we have all those polls and there's no change to the map. Obama maintains a tenuous 273-265 lead over McCain. And that's a lead that's slight enough to underscore the importance of the Illinois senator defending Pennsylvania from the McCain campaign's efforts in the state. Without the Keystone state, Obama is staring at a Kerry-like deficit in the electoral college. In fact, if McCain is able to pick off Pennsylvania and win all the states in shades of red, he'll win by the same 286-252 electoral vote margin that George W. Bush won by four years ago. Talk about a "the more things change the more they stay the same" sort of scenario. Even if Obama were to win Virginia while McCain wins Pennsylvania, all that would do is reverse the tallies we have on the map above. If Florida and Ohio are cementing themselves as McCain states -- and there is some indication of that in today's Rasmussen polls in each state -- losing Pennsylvania means Obama would have to swing two of those other pink states not including Montana.

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. Both states are currently favoring Obama, thus the blue text in those two cells.

For now, however, Pennsylvania, while becoming more competitive, is still within Obama's coalition of states. There has been some shuffling among the swing states on both sides recently, but the volatility in the Obama lean state polls has triggered a constant shake up among those states. [And that is likely to continue for tonight's update. Several of those lean states are experiencing a simultaneous move toward Obama in the polls out so far today. But I wouldn't hint at anything to get you to come back later. No, that's not in my nature.] I've done a lot of talking about the near disappearance of the McCain lean states, but all the while the Obama lean states have been far more interesting. Across the board, those states have seen tighter polls in the post-convention environment.

The Watch List*
Alaskafrom McCain leanto Strong McCain
Delawarefrom Strong Obama
to Obama 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
Virginiafrom Toss Up McCain
to Toss Up Obama
Washingtonfrom Obama lean
to Strong Obama
Wisconsinfrom Obama leanto Toss Up Obama
*Weighted Average within a fraction of a point of changing categories.

On the Watch List, we gain one, we lose one. Georgia is off the list and likely for good. A couple of weeks ago, we discussed the Obama campaign pulling resources out of the state to focus on more competitive states and that shift has been borne out in the polling coming out of Georgia since the conventions. Now we are seeing something similar in North Dakota. With the competition heating up in nearby Minnesota and Wisconsin, that is a move that makes sense for the Obama campaign. The side effect, though, is that North Dakota will likely continue to inch closer to safe territory for McCain and the internals in the Obama campaign likely show that already. On the strength of a couple of solid results in Virginia, the Old Dominion is back on the watch. This really isn't that much of a surprise. Those results are canceling out the larger margins McCain enjoyed in the state in the immediate aftermath of his convention in St. Paul.

Anyway, those are the states to watch for today. We already have a Quinnipiac survey from Wisconsin. So that's a start.

*Three switches that will be made this weekend following the first debate:
1) Dropping the Zogby Interactive data.
2) Lowering the Toss Up/Lean line (Lean/Strong line change still pending -- likely this weekend sometime)
3) Full time switch to "likely" voter poll results over registered voter data.

Recent Posts:
The Links (9/23/08): Debates and Nightmares

The Electoral College from a Different Angle

About Those Zogby Interactive Polls...(The McCain Bounce Revisited)


Jack said...

Glad to see you're dropping that Zogby garbage. Only legitimate scientific polls should be included.

What's the "string of recent polling in the Granite state" that shows McCain ahead that you refer to? Besides the Zogby poll, there are only two straight polls that I see that show McCain ahead there, and less than a week before the first of those, Obama was ahead by 5.

Josh Putnam said...

String was probably a bit excessive there. But when you only get two or at most three polls out of New Hampshire in a month, it makes even a, let's say, series of just a couple of polls seem like a string by comparison. But you're right in the polls you cite. Once you remove the Zogby polls, New Hampshire has been narrowing since peaking after Obama clinched.

As an aside, I'm a little unsure of CNN's efforts (eg: the 5 point margin you cite) in general at this point in time. I have no reason to doubt their reliability other than they have only now started polling in these states. They are just now setting their baselines for comparison.

Jack said...

Well, I guess you only need two points to make a string.

Flipping through CNN's polls, they seem to tend to be pretty good for Obama (FL +4, MN +14, NM +14, OH +2, PA +9) though there are exceptions such as the McCain +6 in VA on 9/6, and many that fall right where other pollsters have them. I'd like to see more polls of NH before I draw any conclusions that it's moving towards McCain, but it seems to be a real tossup this year (as usual).

Josh Putnam said...

Two points to make a string, indeed.

That's right. And we have to remember that a few of those CNN polls came out in the time between the two conventions. That either makes them look like solid prognosticators (OH +1) or like something went wrong (MN +14) when people look back a year from now.

The jury is still out on New Hampshire. Everything since June has pretty much been within three points in either direction. And it will take a few 5 point margins in one direction for me to say that either candidate has an advantage there. I don't think we'll be able to say it. New Hampshire is just going to be close.