Friday, September 7, 2012

The Electoral College Map (9/7/12)

Convention season has come and gone. The two week mad dash through Tampa and Charlotte was a blur of activity every place save one: state-level polling. From the time the Republican convention kicked off on August 26 (or was supposed to kick off anyway) to Thursday's finale for the Democrats there were just 22 new polls released. That is an average of less than two new polls per day during the 12 day period encompassing both conventions. Of course, that probably makes it sound worse than it actually is. We have the benefit of looking back four years to another cycle with conventions in back-to-back weeks. In 2008, there were 25 polls released publicly during the time the conventions were in session.

It is not, then, as if there was a significant drop in data from 2008 to 2012. The bottom line is the same now as it was then: Polling firms can attempt to survey the electorate at three points in time -- before the conventions, after the first convention and after the second conventions -- or they can do a simple before convention season round of polls and follow that with the after version that captures the aggregate change of convention season.

But the political scientist in me wishes for the halcyon days of a July out-party convention and an August in-party convention that afforded us all the opportunity in a more robust fashion examine the impact each party's convention had on the race. With conventions being back-to-back as they have been the last two cycles, that is harder to parse out. [I'll thank Mitt Romney later for selecting Paul Ryan as his running mate when he did. That, at least, gave us a chance to get a feel for Ryan's impact on the polls prior to the conventions. ...unlike in 2008.]

All this is to say that the slow (state) polling week(s) continued during the rest of the Democratic National Convention. There were just two surveys that emerged after Monday's update to the map.

New State Polls (9/7/12)
Margin of Error
Poll Margin
FHQ Margin
New Jersey
+/- 2.6%
1471 likely voters
+/- 2.9%
1381 likely voters

Polling Quick Hits:
New Jersey:
There is very little evidence thus far to indicate that New Jersey is as close as the latest survey of the Garden state from Quinnipiac suggests. No 2012 poll of the state has shown the race any closer than eight points until now. What is driving this is the Romney share of responses. Obama has been fairly stationary in New Jersey. The president's level of support has hovered in the 49-51 range in most surveys, but with some mid-50s peppered in occasionally as well. Romney, on the other hand, has seen support levels in New Jersey polling centered the upper 30s with some variability (read: outliers) pushing the former governor into the mid-30s and lower 40s. In other words, this latest Q poll represents Romney's high water mark in Garden state polling this year in relation to the extant data. Compared to the previous Q poll, both candidates gained support at the expense of undecideds, but that is more a function of the shift from a registered voter sample to a likely voter sample. Not unexpectedly, Romney's share grew more in that transition. Does that make New Jersey like Connecticut (closer than expected given 2008 results)? Not yet, but we'll wait on some more data.

One of the few exceptions to the polling rule described at the outset of this post is Gravis Marketing in Ohio. In this one case we have a before the Republican convention poll and an after the Republican convention poll. Again, it is one firm -- so take this with a grain of salt -- but it shows that the convention in Tampa was a plus for Romney in Ohio. [Then again, it could also be that what we're seeing is just polling variability. Thus the grain of salt reference.] The former Massachusetts governor went from down just under a point, pre-convention, to up a shade over three points, post-convention. In context, this survey from Gravis is in line with much of the August and onward polling in Ohio, where a +3 Obama to a +3 Romney range has been established with only one exception (Q poll in mid-August). Granted, that merely refers to the margin between the two candidates. In terms of their shares of support, the story is a bit different. This poll represents a low point in Ohio polling for Obama, but is right on as far as the 44-46% range Romney has found himself in in the Buckeye state.

Another slow few days on the polling front meant that the likelihood of change on the electoral college map or the Electoral College Spectrum were quite low. New Jersey is comfortably within the Strong Obama category and Ohio, though it may be closing by the smallest of margins, has consistently been in the Toss Up Obama area all along. The Buckeye state is certainly within range for Romney, but tips toward Obama at this point in time.

This election is still about the the eight states in which the Romney campaign has placed ad buys (plus or minus a state or two). None of this should really come as any surprise to anyone who has followed this here at FHQ or elsewhere. The cast of characters is comprised of the eight to ten closest states. The Romney camp did not venture into either Michigan or Wisconsin even though both are slightly closer in the FHQ weighted averages than Nevada and New Hampshire. My hunch -- and I think this is a fairly educated hunch -- is that this is based on a couple of things: 1) the Romney-Ryan campaign has some internal polling suggesting that the two upper midwest states are just beyond the Republicans' reach and/or 2) we just have more polling and thus a better sense of the state of the race in Michigan/Wisconsin than in Nevada/New Hampshire. Regardless, that quartet of states is all very much clustered together and beyond that fact are superfluous to Romney reaching 270 electoral votes anyway. But you don't put all your eggs in a Florida-Iowa-Virginia-Colorado-Ohio basket that leaves you with no margin for error. The number of electoral votes in Michigan/Wisconsin (26) would have to be tempting to the Republican ticket; especially when the other two equivalent states (Nevada/New Hampshire) only sum to ten electoral votes.

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.

But though it is fun to extrapolate strategy from ad buys, things are going to change and the campaigns can adapt. A bigger key may be organizing efforts in some of these periphery toss up states. Ads are typically shallow in terms of their impact -- the impact dissipates quickly -- but a true measure of how Romney-Ryan approach that quartet of toss up states straddling the lean line on the Obama side of the partisan line (and the other toss ups for that matter) is what they are doing on the ground.

Speaking of states straddling the lines between categories, the Watch List remains unchanged from earlier in the week. The states to watch most are the four states mentioned above and Florida. Florida is important because it could shift toward Romney, though it has remained stationary of late (a tie), and the so-called quartet to see if they go off the list, drawing closer and thus away from the toss up/lean line.

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
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.

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1 comment:

L.T. Wisp said...

It wouldn't surprise me if New Jersey and Connecticut would both swing together towards Romney. Michael Barone has suggested that Romney's style and moderate reputation could help him with affluent suburbanites, two groups overrepresented in Connecticut and New Jersey. I hope they're both polled more so we can get a better sense of where they're at.

As for the Romney team focusing ads in New Hampshire and Nevada but not Wisconsin and Michigan, it could be that they are waiting to see how competitive WI and MI will be later before dumping ads in them. This is in contrast to NH and NV, both of which are probably far less expensive to advertise in, so running ads there would have less of an impact on the campaign's coffers.