Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Electoral College Map (8/17/08)

The latter half of the week closed with just a handful of new polls. That is quite a departure from recent weeks when the bulk of polling releases had been backloaded, occurring between Wednesday and Friday (No, there have not been many polls released over the weekend since primary season ended, and yes, I did put Wednesday's polls in the mid-week update due to the delay caused by my foray into the 2004 data.). Still, even with just six new polls from five states out, there were some shake ups throughout FHQ's various depictions of the race's dynamics.

New Polls (Aug. 14-17)
(With Leaners/ Without Leaners)
Rocky Mountain News
North Carolina
University of Texas

The first impression is that that is a lot of red. Must be good for McCain, right? Yes, but maybe not for that reason. North Carolina and Texas are a toss up and a lean state, respectively and both continue to hold steady in those positions favoring McCain. The same is true of Maine, though the Pine Tree state is blue, not red. With the new polls in Colorado and Minnesota, though, we see a bit of a divergence from what we have become accustomed to in both. Colorado is beginning to look a lot like Nevada: a western state that remains blue but is trending in McCain's direction. Each have been and continue to be toss up states and the polls in each reflect that. An overwhelming majority of the Colorado polls released since Obama clinched the Democratic nomination have been within the margin of error, but since mid-July half of the six polls have favored McCain. That's departure from the pattern that had dominated before that: close polls favoring Obama. And Minnesota? The North Star state also saw a change from typical polling patten.

Changes (Aug. 14-17)
Strong ObamaObama lean

Minnesota becomes the first blue state to move away from Obama into another category since Ohio turned pink based on a Rasmussen poll in late July. But Ohio is a toss up state. We'd expect, to some extent, a toss up state to be more volatile than a state that is either a lean or strong. Minnesota was actually the last such state to move away from Obama all the way back on June 3. [Yeah, the day Obama wrapped up the nomination.] I glanced back through the maps to the point where I adopted the weighted average on April 30, and Minnesota -- a state that has hovered around the line between strong and lead all along -- was the only blue state (lean or strong) to have moved away from Obama in that time. By comparison, McCain has had 6 lean or strong states (Alaska, Florida, Montana, North Carolina, South Dakota and Texas) move away from him since mid-June (not counting the states that shifted in one direction and moved back). Just two of those six (Alaska and South Dakota) have come since mid-July, though.
[Click Map to Enlarge]

So, while some states have shown signs of trending toward McCain of late, that movement has yet to manifest itself in the electoral vote tally. The electoral college still favors Obama by a 298-240 margin. Obama, though, is now 10 electoral votes down in his strong category. The total of Obama strong state electoral votes remains larger than the sum of electoral votes in both McCain's strong states and the states leaning in his direction. That cushion is not as big anymore, though. And while that isn't readily apparent on the map above, we can begin to see it in the Electoral College Spectrum (ECS).

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 New Hampshire (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.
***Colorado is the state where Obama crosses (or McCain would cross) the 270 electoral vote threshold to win the presidential election. That state is referred to as the victory line

Minnesota's shift doesn't look like all that big a deal now. In fact, it hasn't moved at all. The North Star state changed colors but maintained the same position in the ECS. What is different is that, for the first time, a state other than Pennsylvania is in the Victory Line slot. That more accurately reflects what is (and has been) happening in the race. Pennsylvania has been trending toward Obama while Colorado has not. While not necessarily favoring McCain, the margins in the Centennial state have drawn closer to zero. With Colorado and Pennsylvania basically switching places, the result is that Obama's path to 270 is not as clear. If Colorado and Nevada are trending toward McCain (They are both still in blue above the Partisan Line.) that makes Ohio that much more important. If both western states turn pink, Ohio is the state that would put Obama over the top. Without those two western states and Ohio, McCain becomes president. In fact let's look at it this way: if Colorado and Nevada move into McCain's column and Ohio holds its position, the Victory and Partisan line would converge on the Buckeye state's spot in the ECS. In other words, if the election played out that way, we would basically have a replay of the 2004 election. And this election was supposed to be so much different than those before it. It may yet be, but with the way things are shaping up at the moment, we're looking at another close election with the map changing very little.

The Watch List*
from Toss Up McCain
to McCain lean
Floridafrom Toss Up McCain
to McCain lean
Georgiafrom McCain leanto Strong McCain
Minnesotafrom Obama lean
to Strong Obama
Mississippifrom Strong McCainto McCain lean
Nevadafrom Toss Up Obamato Toss Up McCain
New Mexicofrom Obama leanto Toss Up Obama
North Carolinafrom Toss Up McCain
to McCain lean
Ohiofrom Toss Up Obamato Toss Up McCain
Virginiafrom Toss Up McCainto Toss Up Obama
Washingtonfrom Strong Obamato Obama lean
Wisconsinfrom Obama leanto Toss Up Obama
*Weighted Average within a fraction of a point of changing categories.

So what should we be watching for in the next week? New polling in any of the twelve states above could potentially bring about the changes charted in the Watch List. Minnesota is the only change on the list since Thursday. But that tighter Rasmussen poll didn't shift the state enough to pull it firmly into the lean category. The North Star state continues to oscillate relatively tightly around the line between the lean and strong categories. Finally, even though Colorado jumped both New Hampshire and Pennsylvania in the ECS, the average still isn't close enough to warrant its inclusion on the Watch List. If the Centennial state keeps trending toward McCain, though, it will work its way to that point.

Recent Posts:
Which States are Underpolled in the Presidential Race?

The Electoral College Map (8/14/08)

2008 vs. 2004, Part II: What Happened in the Final 100 Days in 2004 and What That May Mean for the Rest of This Campaign


Robert said...

Obama is slipping nationally and in the states. He must have four really good weeks or he could be toast! The polls by this time on September 15th will be critical. A pattern is developing that he may not be able to stop. I'm not sure a safe choice for VP is an option. He may need to go with Clinton or Richardson.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, this is looking -- How should I say this? -- Kerry-esque. August has not been a good month for the Democrats in the last two cycles.

I'll have something up in a bit about VP selection, but it won't be about Obama's choice.

Unknown said...

Obama has had a slide in the polls recently, but the comments above mine come off sounding much more negative for Obama than I think is warranted.

In a low-political-news period, there's been a little bit of movement toward McCain; i.e. toward a toss-up race. But that kind of movement before the conventions doesn't mean much. Remember: Kerry's August slide was after his convention.

If things were sliding toward Obama right now, considering negative attacks, Obama's vacation, Russia behaving badly, and that Obama is ahead, it would signal that McCain was in very deep trouble. As it is, it's just expected movement in a race that shows Obama with the upper hand for now, but vulnerable if something were to change.

If Obama makes a big change in his plans now (e.g. for VP), he risks turning a subtle shift into a flailing nightmare. But that has not been his style; I doubt there's a lot of alarm in the Obama campaign right now.

(Incidentally, I have to give a piece of evidence for the argument that there is serious deterioration for Obama. For the first time since April, Obama's RCP National average has dropped significantly below 46%. I'd attribute that to a quirk of averaging, with the high-undecided IBD/Tipp poll being 1/5 of the mix. But it does mean that average can no longer be considered ultra-stable.)

Anonymous said...

I agree. Linking Obama to Kerry given the way the Obama campaign has been run thus far may have been premature. At the same time, though, he has to show that he can navigate these troubled August waters. He's in a bit of a tricky spot here and needs to proceed carefully lest he actually follow Kerry's path.

I wish Holbrook would have responded to your point on his blog. You raised an interesting conundrum for this cycle.

Robert said...

I still say that Obama is in deep trouble. McCain is making the election a referendum on Obama. Obama needs to make the election a referendum on Bush and the Republicans. Obama's slide may not become evident until September, but it is starting now. Kerry's slide did not become evident until after his convention, but the swift-boating was in August.

Anonymous said...

Hello everyone, I'm happy to have been lead to this site. Much relieved to find informed reason after the plummet of the "comment average" on 538. I think I remember SLS posting excellent comments there but there no more? Well, I better say something intelligent, simple though I am. Clinton because progressive politics tell you to be inclusive, that is strength. O and C lapped the field, there is a clear separation. Best outcome is she isn't made to walk the plank, that creates a great deal of negative sentiment up to and including Clinton in 12. I know what you mean by safe but safe gives McCain the opportunity to add his own "exciting woman" as his change act and to build a positive narrative atop the negative attacks which appear to be the source of his recent traction. That's too easy, make the old man work harder than that. The way C has behaved she does not deserve it perhaps, but O should suck it up for the good of the country and the party. As to practical, in brief, if you’re self financed and relying on GOTV, you can't make it easier for yourself than bringing aboard C with her troops and money raising potential. It doesn't matter about the teapot tempests the cable news makes of the Clintons. She will deliver Ohio for him, that's what matters. I think O is sharp but nothing makes me doubt that assessment more than his seemingly devil may care attitude toward Ohio; i.e. show up there for once Mr. B. The announcement should be in Cleveland. McCain's water compact blunder has created a real opportunity to flip NM and CO but Ohio is easier and death to McCain if he loses it...