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)|
|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|
"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."
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)|
|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."
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."
The Electoral College Map (10/29/08)
The Debate Last Night
The Electoral College Map (10/28/08)