Thursday, March 27, 2008

Is the Electoral College really an Argument Clinton wants to make?

***Please see links to updates of these maps at the conclusion of the post or in the side bar to the right.***

Something that has bothered me
throughout the coverage of the race for the Democratic nomination is the idea that one candidate winning a state translates into general election success in that state. Both sides have used that argument in one way or another as a means of persuading superdelegates: Obama in claiming that he can be competitive in more states and Clinton in claiming she can win the big swing states necessary for Democratic success. On Sunday, Evan Bayh (Democratic senator of Indiana and Clinton supporter) brought the electoral college directly into this conversation:
“So who carried the states with the most Electoral College votes is an important factor to consider because ultimately, that’s how we choose the president of the United States,” Mr. Bayh said on CNN’s “Late Edition.”
But is that really an argument that the Clinton campaign wants to roll out? Is it beneficial? Well, I wanted to find out, so I began looking at the state-level, head-to-head, general election polls (McCain v. Clinton and McCain v. Obama) to see how many electoral votes the candidates would have if those polls accurately depicted how the general election vote outcome would differ based on who was in the race. The data come from Real Clear Politics and their "Latest Polls" section. I averaged all the polls since Super Tuesday in each of the states to see which candidate had the lead. The number of polls ranged from one twenty-four of the states to nine in Pennsylvania. Obviously there are issues with using just one poll, but with few exceptions these are solidly red or blue states. In other words, the polls there are decent indicators of how the general election vote would turn out. However, since most of these one shot polls were conducted at the end of February, they don't account for either the 3am ad or the Jeremiah Wright flap.

The results are interesting and don't really support Bayh (or Clinton). In the McCain-Clinton contest, the solid and leaning categories give McCain a 235-179 electoral college vote advantage with 124 electoral votes falling in "toss up" territory. If you allocate those states' votes to the candidate with the leading average, McCain wins by a 90 electoral college vote margin, 314-224. To a large degree, the map looks similar to the map from 2004. The GOP gains Oregon, Washington, Michigan and Wisconsin while the Democrats take Ohio and Arkansas. These polls indicate that McCain would maintain Florida and Clinton would hold on to Pennsylvania. But even with Pennsylvania and Ohio in the Democratic column, Clinton loses the election.
Contrast that with the McCain-Obama map. The first impression is that there are far fewer solidly red or blue states and a lot more toss up states. Among those toss ups though are several typically ruby red states; both in the South and in the plains (South Carolina, Texas, North Dakota, South Dakota and Nebraska). Factoring in the toss ups, Obama has a 199-174 lead over McCain with 165 electoral votes to close to call. Again, if those electoral votes are allocated to the candidate leading in the average of post-Super Tuesday state polls, Obama claims victory by a 273-265 margin. That's pretty close to the 2000 outcome. Of the red toss up states listed above, Obama manages a win in North Dakota.
Overall, there are 36 states that remain either red or blue no matter who the Democratic candidate is. Among the remaining 15 (DC is counted as a state since it has three electoral votes.), Clinton makes a difference in four (AR, OH, PA and WV) and Obama creates a shift from red to blue in 11 (CO, IA, MI, NV, NH, NM, ND, OR, VA and WI). Republicans then, may be right to hope for Clinton to emerge as the Democratic nominee, keeping the battlegrounds similar to 2000 and 2004. The battle shifts to new territory if Obama is the nominee. Also, as we discussed in our discussion group meeting yesterday, either outcome has real implications for the direction of the Democratic party (with Dean's 50 state strategy clearly on the line). If Clinton were able to win the Democratic nomination, it likely damns that strategy after an assured change in leadership of the DNC. An Obama win (and subsequent performance in the general election) seems to validate that strategy though, ensuring that Dean or someone like him will continue to lead the party. What then, does that say about Howard Dean's current rooting interests in this race?

See an update of the maps to account for poll changes over the last week (4/2/08).

...and a new set of companion maps (4/3/08).

Update for 4/9/08

Update for 4/16/08

Update for 4/23/08

Update for 4/30/08

What happens when the polls are weighted to give more emphasis to the more recent ones?

Update for 5/7/08 (weighted)

Update for 5/14/08 (weighted)

Update for 5/21/08 (weighted)

New Maps? (5/25/08)

Update for 5/28/08 (weighted)

Update for 6/3/08 (weighted)

[Many thanks to Paul Gurian, Del Dunn and Rob Shewfelt for their contributions to this post.]


Robert said...

Great analysis! I suspect the Obama camp would be interested in your results.

D. Hippauf said...

from a non-political scientist:

even more so that in past elections, people are not going to vote for who they think is the BEST candidate, they will be voting for "candidate X" because the other one is worse.

Not what I would call a ringing endorsement of anyone running. I've asked many supporters of McCain, Clinton and Obama to give me one reason, one positive reason, why their candidate deserves my vote.

The results? Either there is silence, or I'm told because the other guy is worse or there's a general "they are all the same" reason given.

This campaign season will go down in history as being the dirtiest. Discussion and debate of the issues will not factor into someone's voting decision.

The candidate that wins will be the one that is able to throw the most mud, have it stick while avoiding the same.

Robert said...


An interesting perspective. One of the strategies that has been applied over the last 20 years is voter suppression to keep all but the most devoted away from the polls. I think there will be several who vote for the "lesser of two evils" and there will be several who choose not to vote. However, there will be many who will believe in their candidate. I have followed eleven Presidential campaigns, and I don't think this will be the worst. I don't believe that this year will be as bad as 1960, 1968, 1972 or even the last two. Even if it is the dirtiest campaign, a strong leader can emerge.

I am reading "Applebee's America" which catalogs how Clinton won in 1996 and Bush won in 2004 without having the issues on their side. It shows how these campaigns have used sophisticated marketing techniques to sell a "mediocre" candidate. I highly recommend it to give a broader perspective.

Another non-political scientist but confessed political junkie.

Anonymous said...

Your study ignores what the map will look like after the Republican 527's shred Obama. I doubt very much any red state will go for Obama after months of replaying Michelle dissing America, Wright sound bites over and over, the pledge, etc. Sad to say but the Republicans will paint Obama into the minority, too-liberal, America hating corner. It will be ugly but it will probably work.

Robert said...

You may be right, Anonymous, but I am not sure that Clinton will fare any better from the 527s than Obama. The Republicans have much more on her than they have on him. The Rodney King tapes suggest that people become numb after a while and fail to continue to connect after being shown the same thing over and over. I also wonder where the Wright tapes came from in the first place? the Clinton campaign, the Republican 527s or someone else? Sean Hannity has been talking about Wright for months without any traction. It seems that the Republicans would much rather face Clinton than Obama. I also think that the Independents are beginning to react negatively to dredging up dirt. Obama took a hit when the tapes first appeared, but since then Clinton has lost more ground than he has.

McCain is very vulnerable on Iraq and the economy. The last week has not exactly been that encouraging on either front. I expect many twists and turns before it is all over. Few of the lessons from past elections appear to apply to this year's race.

Anonymous said...

Hillary is so defensive because she's a chronic liar:

Seriously, I think I understand why she feels everyone is out to get her. She lies so much she's haunting herself mentally. Maybe her supporters should be more honest with her and ask her to seek real professional help before running for the highest office of the land.

Anonymous said...

I think any democrat needs a strong turnout of the black vote to win in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Michigan.

I suspect HRC has burned that bridge.

Anonymous said...

Great stuff, Josh. How did you compose your electral map? Did you need a special computer program? I've been trying to do one of my own.

Sam Rapson said...

Well done analysis...Something else that's interesting:

If Hillary was to win all of the purple states then end result would be Hillary 304 - 234 (Think I added correctly there). So she can give up 36 of the purple state EVs.. meaning (basically) she can only give up one of OH, FL, PA or two of the any of the other purples. That's a tall order.

Obama's map says one thing to me: He should have Richardson as his VP. Imagine a strong pro-Obama/Richardson Latino vote applied to his map. Turns TX, NM and puts FL back in play.

Tom Swift said...

I find it very hard to believe that Clinton would lose Washington, Oregon, Michigan AND Wisconsin. But, I haven't done the research and you have.

But, if just ONE of those states flips for Clinton (like Washington, for example) does that change your numbers? Or, a combination of those?

Just wondering. Note, I am not a Clinton supporter, but when was the last time that Washington went Republican in the Presidential election.

Also, I do not believe that ALL voters are going to be voting for the lesser of three evils. I don't see how the current data on registration and fundraising (particularly for the Dems) can support that view. I find it needlessly hopeless and, worse, not supported by the facts at all.



Josh Putnam said...

I'll have more tomorrow on some of those states when I do an update of the maps to account for the new polls that have come out in the last week.

Anonymous said...

Interesting analysis indeed. I think either Clinton or Obama will be a strong candidate against McCain. I think the Dems need to continue the McCain=Bush or McCain is worse than Bush mantra. Obama's message of change is perfect to counter that message.

Anonymous said...

more great analysis here:

Xactiphyn said...

The discussion on how Obama is a map changer while Clinton is not ignores McCain. McCain himself is a map changer, which is why he puts the North-West into play. The NW has a long tradition of liberal Republicans, only recently put to rest, that McCain seems to be tapping into.

But Obama changes the map once again, which is why the two facing each other gives such a strange and interesting map.

Anonymous said...

Massachusetts a swing state in McCain vs. Obama? Not bloody likely.

Calls the whole analysis into question. Not to mention the data's two months old and November is 7 months away.

I guess it's worth the paper it's printed on.

Sean Ryan said...

Do you mean Strong = >10% and Toss-up = <5%?
Strong = <10% (Stong = less than 10 %) and Toss-Up = >5% (Toss-up = greater than 5%) just doesn't make sense.

Anonymous said...

McCain's perceived involvement in Boeing losing to France for the recent tanker deal is literally strong enough to cost him Washington state. That and the war is incredibly unpopular here, or at least on the west side of the Cascades where most of the state lives.

Any analysis where Washington is portrayed as in play for the GOP is questionable.

Washington state resident

Anonymous said...

Your map shows Texas as a toss-up? You just lost all credibility right there. Neither democrat will come within 10 points in that state.

Anonymous said...

(To stone waves' assertion that, even nmore than in previous elections, people will be voting for the lesser-of-two-evils)

Sure, there will always be people who are some people who are disenchanted with the choices on offer, but if you think this year is worse than in years past, you must be very young or have a very short memory. Bush/Kerry, Bush/Gore, or Clinton/Dole? Both Obama and McCain are godsends compared to that list of clowns.

This is the first election year in recent memory in which we have not one but two candidates who are truly appealing to the middle of the elctorate that decides these things. Both Obama and McCain have pledged to work across party lines rather than demonizing their ideological adveraries as extremists. Both have at least tried to rise above petty mud-slinging (I'm sure they'll leave that to their surrogates, but still, it's an imporvement in tone). Both are personally inspiring -- a real war hero, and the first African American with a real shot at the presidency.

With Hillary finally out of the picturem, I'll be happy whichever way this one goes.

Juegos de Motos said...

I suspect the Obama camp would be interested in your results.