Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Electoral College Map (9/9/12)

Perhaps FHQ should start the week by talking about where the presidential race stands in the wake of the Democratic convention down the road from us in Charlotte. But the truth is that there will be plenty of time to assess the state of the race -- or state of the bounce coming out of Charlotte -- in the week(s) to come. No, what I would like to open with is a discussion of state-level presidential polls in general. Rightly or wrongly, there was something of an assault on Public Policy Polling from some on the right over the weekend. [And if you didn't get to see my Twitter back and forth on this with conservative Washington Post blogger, Jennifer Rubin, go check it out in the FHQ Twitter feed.]

I honestly don't get it. The firm has been transparent with their data in the over four years that FHQ has been following polling first for the 2008 general election and then stretching back to 2009 for some of the company's earliest 2012 trial heats. The simple truth is that even then there were some quirky things in their results. But that is true of all -- ALL -- polling firms. We here at FHQ chalk that up to polling/sampling variability -- nothing more, nothing less. Those are the breaks in the polling game; a game that is only getting more difficult in terms of actually being able to contact people and draw a representative sample these days.

To make a long point short, I have never found anything wrong with PPP. When their surveys are on the money, I say so. When other polls miss the mark, I also say so -- as I did with their Michigan poll just last week. The point is all about context, and that is something that FHQ strives to provide when adding and then commenting on new polling data added to our dataset. FHQ includes PPP surveys because everyone of our peers -- if we can call Real Clear Politics, HuffPo Pollster and the TPM Poll Tracker as peers -- does as well.

Speaking of context...

New State Polls (9/9/12)
Margin of Error
Poll Margin
FHQ Margin
New Mexico1
+/- 3.8%
667 likely voters
North Carolina
+/- 3.0%
1087 likely voters
+/- 3.0%
1072 likely voters
1 The poll numbers used from the Research & Polling survey of New Mexico include Libertarian candidate, Gary Johnson. The former New Mexico governor received the support of 7% of the respondents. There was no other version of the poll without Johnson included in the release, so the impact of his inclusion in the toplines is not at all clear in this instance.

Polling Quick Hits:
New Mexico:
The new Research and Polling survey of New Mexico done for the Albuquerque Journal jumps off the page at you at first glance. It is closer -- much closer than the overall FHQ weighted average might otherwise indicate -- than some recent polls, but is in line with other surveys of the Land of Enchantment that have also included former New Mexico governor and current Libertarian Party presidential nominee, Gary Johnson, as an option in the question's answer set. The governor has routinely polled in the lower teens in the few surveys in which he has been included, but in this poll, he is at his nadir for the year to date at just 7%. Even that seems high. More importantly, neither major party presidential campaign has sunk any significant money into New Mexico. American Crossroads has been on the air there to perhaps lay the groundwork for a Romney campaign entry into the state. That, however, has yet to happen in any concerted way. The Romney (and Obama folks) seem much more intent to take the battle to Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

North Carolina:
Stubborn North Carolina continues to be just that in a follow up to last week's Public Policy Polling survey of the Old North state, stubborn. Unlike most other states that have shifted back toward the Republicans since 2008, the Tar Heel state has barely budged. A narrow one point edge -- and that's rounding up -- on election day is still a one point edge now and it has been throughout the period that FHQ has been averaging the polls in 2012. Simply put, North Carolina is much tighter than it "should" be if one expects a uniform national shift to apply equally in all states. That has been true in our weighted averages and using other metrics.

And North Carolina is not the only "stubborn" state. Ohio has actually moved less than North Carolina; tightly hovering around the same two party breakdown the Buckeye state exhibited in 2008. And while the just-released PPP survey finds something of a bounce for Obama in Ohio, it is in line with other polling in the state of late. Obama (re-)hits his apex in the state in terms of his share of responses while Romney hits the heart of his share (44-46% in most recent polls) at 45%. On some level, this survey is out of line with other recent polls in the Buckeye state, but this is the first post-Democratic convention poll of Ohio and it will take data from other firms to draw a more robust picture of where the race is. Margin-wise, this one overshoots the FHQ average that is right at +3 for Obama. That number has been as consistent as the +1 for Romney in North Carolina.

Surprise, surprise: None of these polls did anything to fundamentally reshape the overall outlook in either the map or the Electoral College Spectrum. Ohio is still just as important to Mitt Romney as it was before the PPP survey data was added and North Carolina remains a state that the Obama campaign would like to hold on to -- or at least keep close -- if only to force the Romney team to work to flip a state that only handed the president its 15 electoral votes by the slimmest of margins (save Missouri) in 2008.1 Compared to four years ago, Obama and the Democrats are understandably playing more defense than offense, so having some areas where the incumbent can force the challenger to spend defensively is a cushion of sorts. There are not many of those for the Obama campaign. The Akin situation may or may not have opened the door in Missouri. If it did, the Obama folks are not taking any overt advantage of the opening. The race to 270 is about Romney flipping the states between North Carolina and Ohio on the spectrum and forcing the Democrats -- in the most ideal situation -- to expend valuable and finite resources in the Michigan through Nevada group of states on the spectrum.

But following convention season, the Republican nominee is seemingly having trouble moving the needle on the first step much less moving on to the second described above.

There was one shift on the Electoral College Spectrum: New Mexico, with the introduction of new data, jumped Minnesota one spot closer to the partisan line separating the two candidates groups of states.

The Electoral College Spectrum1
1 Follow the link for a detailed explanation on how to read the Electoral College Spectrum.

2 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, Romney won all the states up to and including Ohio (all Obama's toss up states plus Ohio), he would have 281 electoral votes. Romney's numbers are only totaled through the states he would need in order to get to 270. In those cases, Obama's number is on the left and Romney's is on the right in italics.

3 Ohio
 is the state where Obama crosses the 270 electoral vote threshold to win the presidential election. That line is referred to as the victory line.

That means, given that Minnesota has not left the list, that New Mexico rejoins the Watch List of states that are within a fraction of a point of switching to a new category (see footnote in table for more). The Land of Enchantment is now within a point of moving into the Lean Obama category, but with a couple of caveats. First, there has not been a whole lot of polling conducted in New Mexico. Secondly, and related to the first point, polling and the averages have fluctuated when Gary Johnson is included in polls that draw the margin closer there. This +5 for Obama may be the start the trajectory turning downward for Obama in the state or it could simply be a function of poll including Johnson in the answer set, driving both major party candidates' shares of support and the margin between them down. In other words, watch New Mexico along with the others on the list, but do so with these two factors in mind.

The Watch List1
from Lean Obama
to Strong Obama
from Toss Up Obama
to Toss Up Romney
from Toss Up Obama
to Lean Obama
from Strong Obama
to Lean Obama
from Strong Romney
to Lean Romney
from Toss Up Obama
to Lean Obama
New Hampshire
from Toss Up Obama
to Lean Obama
New Mexico
from Strong Obama
to Lean Obama
from Toss Up Obama
to Lean Obama
1 The Watch list shows those states in the FHQ Weighted Average within a fraction of a point of changing categories. The List is not a trend analysis. It indicates which states are straddling the line between categories and which states are most likely to shift given the introduction of new polling data. Michigan, for example, is close to being a Lean Obama state, but the trajectory of the polling there has been moving the state away from that lean distinction.

Please see:

1 See the comments section for a clarification on this point.

Are you following FHQ on TwitterGoogle+ and Facebook? Click on the links to join in.


DavidT said...

"flip a state that only handed the president its 15 electoral votes by the slimmest of margins (save Missouri) in 2008"

Correction: It was Indiana that very narowly went for Obama and Missouri that very narrowly went for McCain.

Josh Putnam said...


Good catch. I'm damned if I do, damned if I don't on this one. I added that parenthetical at the last minute for fear that some one would point out that Missouri was technically closer (though still a McCain state) than North Carolina. That was the intent, but yeah, I can see the need for clarification.