Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Electoral College Map (10/7/08), Part II: The Changes

New Methodology:

There would have been a lot packed into one post if I would have included this discussion in with the other pre-change version of the map for yesterday. However, you can either scroll down (if you are on the main page) or click here to compare how things were different pre- and post-change.

To reiterate a point made earlier today, FHQ, in an attempt make our map more reflective of the current dynamics of the race for the presidency has made a slight alteration to its underlying statistical formula. Long story short, we have changed the weighting that is applied to all the past polls (back to Super Tuesday) in our data set. For a broader discussion of this change please see this link.

Changes (Oct. 6)
Obama lean
Strong Obama
Toss Up Obama
Obama lean
Toss Up Obama
Toss Up McCain
North Carolina
McCain lean
Toss Up McCain
North Dakota*
McCain lean
Strong McCain
Toss Up Obama
Obama lean
Toss Up McCain
Toss Up Obama
*These states changed categories based on a slight change to FHQ's methodology. You can read more about that shift here.

Alright, let's start with the basics. How does the map change given the change to the methodology? Given yesterday's polling, North Carolina and Virginia still would have shifted into the McCain toss up and Obama toss up categories respectively. However, there several other noticeable shifts as well that are attributable to our decision on the averaging formula. Most notably, both Michigan and Pennsylvania move into the Obama lean category. Iowa, too, moves further into Obama territory, crossing the lean/strong threshold. But McCain is not without gains in this. Nevada, which had just recently shifted over into the Obama toss up category is back on the McCain side of the partisan line. And North Dakota shifts into the strong McCain area. All of these are pretty much no-brainers given recent polling. Nevada is perhaps surprising, but we have seen throughout this cycle an oscillation between +5 for McCain to +5 for Obama in the Silver state. There are some exceptions, but that is the basic trend. The one notable exception is the first poll in our time frame from Nevada. Obama had an early 12 point margin in a February Rasmussen poll and when that one is weighted appropriately, the Illinois senator lost some of the statistical advantage he had in the state. The remaining polling pretty much cancels each other out and give McCain a minutely sized edge there.
[Click Map to Enlarge]

But the real change is in the perception of the race with Michigan and Pennsylvania in the Obama lean category. With that change Obama is now relatively safe in states totaling 260 electoral votes and as you'll see just below on the Watch List, New Hampshire is also close to joining that group as well. The two comparable categories for John McCain add up to only 163 electoral votes.

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), he would have 278 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 line is referred to as the victory line. It is currently favoring Obama, thus the blue text in that cell.

This all works out quite well in terms of the Electoral College Spectrum. The states still in play are conveniently contained within the middle column there. But there is some differentiation within that group as well. New Hampshire is within range of switching into the Obama lean category, Colorado has and average above two points and Virginia is within range of crossing back over into the McCain toss up area. Once you cross the partisan line into the pink, McCain toss up states, there is now a line that can be drawn between Florida and Missouri. Florida, Nevada and Ohio are all in danger of turning blue, while Indiana and Missouri are in positions comparable to Colorado on the Obama side of the ledger. Finally, North Carolina is in a similar position as New Hampshire, competitive, but not as competitive as these other states.

The Watch List*
Floridafrom Toss Up McCain
to Toss Up Obama
Iowafrom Strong Obama
to Obama lean
Michiganfrom Obama lean
to Toss Up Obama
Nevadafrom Toss Up McCain
to Toss Up Obama
New Hampshirefrom Toss Up Obama
to Obama lean
New Jerseyfrom Obama lean
to Strong Obama
North Carolinafrom Toss Up McCain
to McCain lean
North Dakotafrom Strong McCainto McCain lean
Ohiofrom Toss Up McCain
to Toss Up Obama
Oregonfrom Obama lean
to Strong Obama
Pennsylvaniafrom Obama lean
to Toss Up Obama
Virginiafrom Toss Up Obama
to Toss Up McCain
Washingtonfrom Strong Obama
to Obama lean
*Weighted Average within a fraction of a point of changing categories.

Aside from Michigan and Pennsylvania, Florida is the other big story here. The Sunshine state had moved in a middle ground area within the McCain toss up category, but was seemingly stuck there. When the past polls are weighted based on when they were conducted, Florida jumps into the discussion with Nevada, Ohio and Virginia; states that could switch sides of the partisan line with any new poll released. Presidential campaigns on both sides are used to playing some form of offense or defense in Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania, but McCain seemingly had Florida nailed down over the summer. But that's not the case anymore. Playing defense in Florida and Ohio -- not to mention Virginia -- in an unfriendly political environment makes it even tougher to go on the offensive in places like Pennsylvania and...


Put very simply, McCain is in trouble and has to devise a formula that can somehow reverse the trend toward Obama. Over the weekend and into the beginning part of this week, it looks like the campaign has decided to go negative to bring Obama down, but hopefully not bring themselves down too far in the process. The political science literature tells us that negative attacks bring both sides down, but the aggressor/underdog has to hope that the fall is much greater for opposition. That seems to be McCain's strategy now and, though, we don't have a full picture of this given the lag time inherent in polling, we do know that the polling out thus far this week has continued to move toward Obama. That is the context in which the debate will be held this evening. McCain will have to be aggressive, but as Rob notes in the comments, the town hall format is not a particular conducive format for an attack.

Speaking of debates, I'll be back later this evening to provide insta-analysis as well as discuss the events as they happen and maybe even afterward.

Recent Posts:
The Electoral College Map (10/7/08)

The Electoral College Map (10/6/08)

The Electoral College Map (10/5/08)

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