Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Update(s): The Electoral College from a Different Angle

It's time for another update of the Electoral College via the 50% Rule from Scott. I've been swamped this last week plus, but he has updated his examination of the electoral college a couple of times over the past week or so, and I thought I'd put a map (or two) up so we can "see" the shifts. For those who missed the first two versions, you can find the first here and the update here. Here's the premise (...from the original post):

There are two basic questions being asked:
1) Is one of the candidates above the 50% mark in a state currently?

2) Has one of the candidates been the only one to surpass 50% in any reputable state poll?
If the answer is yes to both, then that implies there has been some consistency to the candidate being or having been over 50% in those averages. Those are the states that are designated solid states for either McCain or Obama.

If the answer to the second question is yes but the answer to the first question is no, that state is a lean state. In other words, there is some potential there for one of the candidates to cross that threshold. It has happened before. However, that support has either waned and is dormant or is latent in the current period.

If the answers to both questions are no, then that state is a toss up according to this metric. In this scenario, neither candidate has demonstrated the level of support in the polls to translate to an outright win in the state. As Scott put it:
"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."
He added:
"There are two different ways a state can end up a toss-up. One is to have neither candidate reach 50 in any poll since McCain became the presumptive nominee. The other is to have both candidates do it, but to have neither break 50 in the pollster.com average."

And how does this change things on the map?

Changes (Oct. 6-21)
StateBeforeAfter
New Mexico
Toss Up
Strong Obama
Virginia
Toss Up
Strong Obama
Colorado
Obama lean
Strong Obama
Michigan
Obama lean
Strong Obama
Minnesota
Obama lean
Strong Obama
Pennsylvania
Obama lean
Strong Obama
Wisconsin
Obama lean
Strong Obama
Missouri
McCain lean
Toss Up
West Virginia
McCain lean
Toss Up
Montana
Strong McCain
McCain lean
North Dakota
Strong McCain
McCain lean

Says Scott:
"While every change favored Obama, it's worth noting that Florida briefly turned solid Obama between updates, before going back to toss-up status.

"I'll also note that under this methodology, the current toss-up's can't go to lean no matter what, because both candidates have had polls showing them breaking 50. They are "battlegrounds"--they can shift to one candidate's camp, but they no longer have the luxury of "leaning," as the race in these states is not due to people who have not yet decided, but rather to people changing their minds."
[Click Map to Enlarge]

What we are seeing here is the continued surge Obama has enjoyed since the economic downturn at the end of September. The Illinois senator's position has been strengthened and in the process the lean category has contracted rather substantially. We can expect to see that to some degree just based on the fact that over time more and more undecideds are filing in behind one or the other of the two candidates. They aren't deciding and then changing their minds, for instance. What that is coupled with here, though, is the fact that Obama has surpassed 50% in a host of states over the two weeks examined here and the McCain has dropped below that point in a couple of his solid states.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------
But let's bring that up to the present -- as defined as a couple of days ago* -- and see whether the Obama gains have continued.

Changes (Oct. 21-27)
StateBeforeAfter
New Hampshire
Toss Up
Strong Obama
Ohio
Toss Up
Strong Obama
Rhode Island
Strong Obama
Obama lean
Indiana
McCain lean
Toss Up
Arizona
Strong McCain
McCain lean
South Dakota
Strong McCain
McCain lean
West Virginia
Toss Up
Strong McCain

The short answer is sort of. Both New Hampshire and Ohio have moved over into the solid Obama category as polling in each has shown the Illinois senator surpassing 50% and staying above that point. Meanwhile, West Virginia reversed course, moving from a toss up to a solid McCain state. All the other shifts are intuitive enough except for Rhode Island. To which Scott responds:
"Yes, Rhode Island is only an Obama lean. That's one place where the 50% methodology isn't very good, because the handful of recent polls are showing a bizarre number of undecideds."

[Click Map to Enlarge]

What's interesting here is that some of the states -- Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, for example -- where the margins have decreased moderately for Obama are still solid because of the Illinois senator's position relative to the 50% threshold in the polls. Obama is still above that point consistently enough there that those states are still among the most safe for him.

*I should note that Scott will have another of these ready for what the two of us have been calling election eve. He does include one addendum to that though:
"Incidentally, expect significant changes on the Monday night map in this series, because I've been planning a methodology shift. For the very last update, I'm going to change to Pollster's "more sensitive" average; i.e. the one that reacts more quickly to changes. That way if there is some event that dominates the last few news cycles, it will be accounted for."

Recent Posts:
The Electoral College Map (10/29/08)

The Debate Last Night

The Electoral College Map (10/28/08)

2 comments:

SarahLawrenceScott said...

Thanks, Josh!

A little expansion on the current status of Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

21 out of 22 polls since Sep. 27 have shown Obama breaking 50% in Pennsylvania. Given the large number of different pollsters in the field, that indicates that methodology issues are moot: if the election were held today, Obama would win Pennsylvania. In order to lose Pennsylvania, some voters who are currently supporting Obama would have to change their mind or stay home.

In Wisconsin, it's 15 out of 15 polls since Sep. 27 that show Obama breaking 50%, so the same argument applies.

The bottom line is that McCain can only win those two states if he changes the minds of voters who have already decided.

This is in contrast to, say, Ohio or Florida where we can't be sure which way the election would go if it were held today, because of a combination of undecideds and of the uncertainty added by effects of polling methodologies.

Josh Putnam said...

Nice addition Scott. Some good background work there.