Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Electoral College Map (7/30/08)

Yesterday we passed the 14 week marker on the way to election day (But who is counting?). And things seem to be heating up...unless, of course, you are talking about state-level polling. After a flurry of polls came out at the end of last week, the polling firms took a couple days off before picking back up yesterday. Still, a paltry three polls is all they had to offer. [But hey, if you average that with the 17 polls that came out in the window of the previous electoral college post, you come up with 10. And that so happens to be the number polls that we have become accustomed to seeing lately. Amazing things, these averages.]

New Polls (July 27-29)
North CarolinaPublic Policy Polling+3
PennsylvaniaStrategic Vision+9
WashingtonStrategic Vision+11

These numbers don't stray too terribly far from the established averages in North Carolina and Washington. The Pennsylvania result, though it is outside of where our weighted average has the state currently, is within one standard deviation of the average and is consistent with the direction polling has gone in the Keystone state of late. With only three polls, though, the chances of having any change -- significant or otherwise -- to the electoral college map are slim.
[Click Map to Enlarge]

And that happens to be the case: there were no changes to the map. However, that gives us an opportunity to unveil a new feature to these posts. Our discussion on Sunday of where South Carolina ranks on Obama's list of states to potentially pick off from McCain (and Paul's response) got us to thinking about ways that we could show the current balance within the electoral college projection. It is one thing to show this on a map, but the goal is differentiate between even the states within one category, not simply across categories. The Watch List gives some indication of this, but the graphic below is logical stepping stone from the map to that list. So, though Obama's 278-260 electoral vote advantage remains unchanged from Sunday we have this new graphic to help us better understand the state of play in the race for the White House.

The Electoral College State Rankings
* Pennsylvania is the state where Obama crosses (or McCain would cross) the 270 electoral vote threshold to win the presidential election.

Let me explain what you see. Basically, this is a fleshed out version of what I posted in response to Paul the other day. The five columns align the states from the most Democratic to the most conservative, working from top to bottom and left to right. Hawaii, in the top left corner, is the state most heavily for Obama at the moment and Utah is its counterpart on the other end of the spectrum, favoring McCain. The color scheme from the map is the same, so we can see that when light blue switches to pink, the states thereafter begin shifting toward McCain, increasing in their intensity of support for the Arizona senator as they move toward that lower right corner. For example then, the color change tells us that Alaska more strongly favors McCain than Florida, but that within the Toss Up category, Florida is a more solid McCain state than North Carolina. You'll also see Pennsylvania is shaded in yellow. Pennsylvania may not have this distinction in the future, but a state shaded yellow denotes the state that puts or would put either of the candidates over the top in the electoral college. The Keystone state is among the 23 states (and the Distict of Columbia -- which is excluded for aesthetic purposes and because it will undoubtedly go for Obama in November.) that comprise Obama's current electoral college coalition. In fact, it ranks 22, which would mean that McCain would have to change his fortures in Nevada and Pennsylvania to get to 270.

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

The new graphic enhances The Watch List. We can see that, for example, Washington (the only new addition to the list today) is close to potentially shifting from a strong Obama state to merely leaning toward the Illinois senator. But we also know that, in conjunction the two figures add yet another line of gradation to our discussion, between states that are comfortably within one category and those likely to change with new polling. That adds some complexity to our discussions, but at the same time provides everyone with a bit more information on how things are progressing in the race.

Note: You'll notice that I annoyingly referred to the new graphic as "the new graphic" way to many times. Yes, there's a name atop that addition, but I'm not necessarily sold on permanently calling it The Electoral College State Rankings (too long and probably too boring). Obviously the Tipping Point is being used, and even though that isn't proprietary, it has been overused over the years in these sort of analyses (Plus, you never want to seem like a copycat.). So I'm open to suggestions about what to call not only the entire thing, but the state where the 270 threshold is crossed. If you have any thoughts, the comments section awaits.

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Anonymous said...

Useful, cogent, informative.

Your jib appears to be cut well, sir.

cbsmith42 said...

Excellent. Love "the new graphic." (Sorry can't think of a snappy name).

The one addition I would consider is the electoral votes for each state within the table. This saves the reader/viewer from having to cross reference with the map. But, it would also be useful in this scenario:
PA (21) is shaded yellow;
Obama loses PA;
NV (5) is the next closest in the spectrum but, because it's only worth 5 EV's, Obama carrying NV (while losing PA) doesn't win the election;
OH (20), as the next in line, would also be necessary and you could leave the math to us :) but it would perhaps give us a richer view.

Don't get me wrong, though. I like the spectrum analysis... hey, maybe that'd make a good name (?): "Electoral Spectrum Analysis" or "Electoral Vote Spectrum"

cbsmith42 said...

Whoops. My scenario assumes that Obama would need all 21 of PA's EV's. Nevermind :)

dwbh said...

Thanks for this, Josh. I can see myself printing out this table on Election Night and using it to follow along as results are announced on TV.

(Well, an updated table, of course :)

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

I also like this new addition, and agree with cbsmith42 that the EV's of each state should be included, perhaps in parentheses following the name. To make that really useful, the "extra" EV's each candidate would get if they won the yellow state and all more favorable to them should accompany the table. For example, in your current table Obama's number would be +3, meaning that if he loses PA he'd have to make up 18 EV's somewhere else. McCain's number would be +16, meaning that if he lost PA he'd just need 2 EV's from somewhere else. So McCain could trade PA for NH and still win. But Nevada alone wouldn't make up for PA for Obama.

Anonymous said...

Good suggestions everyone. I sincerely appreciate the input.

I've already added the electoral votes for each state for the table to go in Sunday's update. And I have played around with some other additions as well. However, the problem I run into there is that the table begins to get crowded and a little messy. What I may do is put some mock ups in a post tomorrow and see what people think. I think this will ultimately be a useful addition, but we may need to tinker with it a bit to get it right.

Robert said...

What you are saying, Josh, is that McCain needs all three of the big ones (FL, OH & PA) to win, But Obama only needs PA. Very interesting. Once again, as I have been pointing out, other polls have Obama stronger in FL than you do. However, McCain seems to be getting the bounce after a week that was incredibly positive for Obama and negative for McCain! I suspect we will have many more twists and turns before it is all over.

Anonymous said...

As of right now, that's what I'm saying. FL, OH and PA (in that order) are states that McCain would need to break the 270 barrier. However, PA could just as easily be replaced by CO or MI (each has enough EVs to put McCain over the top), both of which are behind PA in the rankings (from McCain's perspective), but not by much. In fact, the way both are trending, they are likely to come out on the other side of PA in our average if the current trends continue.

Anonymous said...

Do you think there would be a noticeable difference if some of the oldest polls in each state were de-weighted?

After all, people's opinions of Obama and McCain on Super Tuesday are different from their opinions of them today.

For a name for the graphic, best suggestion I can think of is "The Cutting Edge"

Anonymous said...

I'll be honest with you. I don't know. I have been asked about this a few times and have had several discussions concerning that with other people. I've decided to re-examine things following the conventions and may cut off some of the slack then.

I'm currently in the process of evaluating the movement of all the polling in July. It may be instructive to look at the polling since Obama clinched the nomination, and look at the difference between that and the average as it stands with everything since Super Tuesday. That "clinch point" is probably the clearest line of demarcation we can draw.

I should be able to do that without too much trouble and get something out over the weekend.