Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Electoral College Map (8/14/08)

The upside to waiting until late in the day to update our electoral college projections is that there is a chance to incorporate all or most of the polls from that day. The downside is that you have to incorporate all those new polls. And when you are already behind adding in the new polls into the existent averages, you make meeting a goal of "I'll have an update up later tonight" that much more difficult to attain. [At least I had that 2004 material up. 2004!?!] Regardless of the timing, there have been 17 new polls released in 14 states since Sunday. Six of those 14 states are toss ups by FHQ's measure and one more state moved into that category with the addition of new polling.

New Polls (Aug. 10-13)
(With Leaners/ Without Leaners)
Public Policy Polling
Insider Advantage
Survey USA
New Jersey
North Carolina
Survey USA
Franklin & Marshall
+8 /+5
Insider Advantage
Survey USA
Survey USA
Strategic Vision

That should serve as a hint that, surprisingly, it was not Nevada that moved over to McCain as a result of the Rasmussen poll that gave the Arizona senator a slight lead in the Silver state. And hey, it was less than 24 hours ago that I lamented the fact that Nevada had not been polled in almost a month. I still think that Nevada has been under-polled given how close it appears. Let's sink some of the resources that have been sunk into (over-)surveying New York and put that into Nevada. The Empire state ain't movin' folks. I expect it to be an easy win for Obama on November 4. Nevada, however, is a close state. By our measure, it is now the closest state, surpassing Ohio to claim that distinction. But I'll save that discussion for when we get to the Electoral College Spectrum below.

Changes (Aug. 10-13)
McCain leanToss Up McCain

With that small rant over, let's shift the focus to Alaska. The Last Frontier (I'm not a Star Trek fan, but I have to fight my subconscious every time I type that. Alaska is not, in fact, the Final Frontier.) on the weight of two new polls moves into the toss up category. That Ivan Moore poll from late July slipped under the radar somehow, but at least I wasn't the only one to miss it. Of course Nate Silver is reporting that poll as having a 2.4 point margin. His link to the poll is dead now and everyone else seems to be reporting it as a 3 point margin. Pushing that point aside for the moment, Alaska is now close enough to be considered a toss up. Yikes if you're McCain. This is a state that Bush won by 25 points in 2004. That's over 20 points that Alaska as slid since November 2004. Now, just to be clear, Alaska still favors McCain but has inched closer to Obama based on these two polls. Bush's approval (of lack thereof) and the Stevens' indictment have put a distinct blemish on the Republican brand in the state and that has translated into the presidential trial heats drawing closer together. [Just for the sake of transparency -- or at least accurate reporting -- I should note that the Moore poll was released a full week before that indictment was handed down.]
[Click Map to Enlarge]

Alaska moved and Nevada didn't, so the shift I expected when I saw the new Silver state poll (but before I imputed it into the state's weighted average) didn't actually happen. As a result the electoral vote tallies for each candidate remain unchanged. McCain, though, loses three more electoral votes from the lean plus strong state total that is, by our estimation, safer for the moment. That total comes to 154 electoral votes for McCain which is over twenty electoral votes fewer now than what Obama has in just his strong category (175 EVs). And that brings into even starker contrast the difference between where McCain-Obama stand in regard to the Electoral College Spectrum (ECS) and where Bush and Kerry were four years ago at this time. The intensity of support for Bush has certainly given way to a far different picture for the Republican standard bearer in 2008. If Obama can force McCain to play defense in those eight states (86 EVs), McCain will be at a distinct disadvantage as we near the heart of this campaign. I have no idea what Obama's schedule is coming off his vacation -- he does have a running mate to name -- but would a quick trip to Alaska be that out of the way? That sort of move could turn 5 point poll leads in the state into more than just an outlier. Granted, driving back from my own vacation in late July, I saw a truck with Alaska tags that sported a "NObama!" bumper sticker. That isn't representative of the entire state but I'm willing to err on the side of caution and give the GOP some credit in a state that has only voted for a Democratic presidential candidate once in its history (LBJ in 1964).

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 Colorado (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.
***Pennsylvania 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

Alaska jumps both Florida and North Carolina on the ECS in the process of becoming a toss up, but with so many new polls being released there were a few shake ups, though, nothing major. Nevada is so close to being a tie now that it jumped Ohio, becoming the least blue state. Those two, along with Virginia are the most closely contested states at this point according to our weighted averages. And even with three polls, Virginia held steady; now firmly within the area that would put the state on the Watch List. Outside of that Pennsylvania is the only other state of note. The Keystone state nearly ceded its position as the Victory Line to New Hampshire. The two are separated by only two one-hundredths of a point. However, I should add one caveat since Pennsylvania is part of the discussion. Franklin and Marshall reported both their likely voter numbers and registered voter numbers in their Pennsylvania poll. Most are reporting that poll as a 5 point Obama advantage, but FiveThirtyEight has decided to use the registered voter numbers and is reporting the 8 point margin among that sample group. Here's the thing: I don't particularly want to wade into this debate here, but I will be open about how each of those results affects the average. With the likely voters 5 point margin, Pennsylvania is not as close to New Hampshire's average (two tenths of a point instead of two one-hundredths), but the 8 point, registered voter margin pushes the commonwealth's average right up against the Granite state's.

The Watch List*
from Toss Up McCain
to McCain lean
Floridafrom Toss Up McCain
to McCain lean
Georgiafrom McCain leanto Strong McCain
Minnesotafrom Strong Obamato Obama lean
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.

Pennsylvania, though, is comfortably within the range of toss up states, but it is trending away from the Partisan line and thus not close enough to be included on the Watch List. The states most likely shift to categories (or across partisan distinctions) have added two states since Sunday. Alaska's new polls put the state on the Watch, but only barely so. Actually, Alaska's presence on the list depends on whether you use the 3 point margin in the Moore poll or the 2.4 point margin (mentioned above) that Nate Silver has reported. The 2.4 point margin would lower the average enough to pull Alaska off the list entirely. As it is, with the three point margin, the Last Frontier is right on the line between categories. Wisconsin slips on to the Watch as well. That five point Obama advantage in the latest Strategic Vision poll out of the Badger state continues a pattern of tighter, yet comfortably Obama, polls. Wisconsin has hovered around the line between lean and toss up for most of this cycle, so this isn't a shock. The state is getting tighter though.

At some point I'd like to address how wide the gaps are between some of these categories, but that point isn't today. Since I've brought in the Wednesday polls to this update, I may have created less work for myself on the weekend update. If that proves to be true I'll make some statements about those spreads then. It would certainly help our understanding of both the Electoral College Spectrum and the Watch List.

Recent Posts:
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

2008 vs. 2004, Part I: What Things Would Have Looked Like 4 Years Ago This Time

The Electoral College Spectrum


Robert said...

In your Watch List, ten of the twelve changes favor McCain. Unlike the steady Obama national totals, your data suggests that a small change in perceptions by the electorate could easily tip the balance to McCain. Very interesting!

Jack said...

Then again, if those changes went to McCain, then those states might well wind up on the watch list to tip towards Obama, and then one could make the very opposite comment.

I'd rather have states just barely on my side than the other.

Some of the changes towards McCain would happen in states that aren't really as important - Alaska, Georgia, or Washington, for example.

Josh, I don't think Obama has any reason to stop in Alaska. Just as I find it hard to see how winning Montana would make a big difference, so it is with Alaska, and AK will be much harder to swing than MT. He does have going for him the fact that neither candidate favors ANWR drilling, which is probably the biggist issue in AK, as well as Stevens' problems, but it is such a red state.

I'd also comment about underpolled states but that's too much to get into in one comment.

Anonymous said...

You've both pointed out the drawbacks to the Watch List and that more than anything gave rise to the Electoral College Spectrum. There's is a good amount of overlap between the two, but they work together to give us a clearer idea of what's going on.

I don't know though Rob. Even if all the states on the list made those moves McCain would still trail in the electoral college (even if Virginia held firm where it is). Now sure, such a statement is made in a vacuum. If those moves were all happening close to simultaneously, it would be indicative of some larger pattern.

And yeah, Alaska is a pipe dream for the Obama campaign right now, Jack. They know the history there. Montana isn't one I'd write off just yet. At least It has voted for a Democratic candidate within the last 20 years.

Now, bring on those underpolled states.

Jack said...

I don't doubt for a moment that Obama has a shot to swing Montana. I just wonder if it can matter. It's very hard to concoct a realistic scenario in which it matters. One of the few I can see (playing with the 270towin map) is: Obama wins NH, PA, CO, IA, MI, MN, and WA, plus the safe states, but loses Ohio, New Mexico and Virginia. Unless something else odd happens, like ND swinging (which could happen), MT really can't matter that much. But it's worth a try, I suppose.

Just curious; which other states do you feel are underpolled?

Unknown said...

jack--Here's a not implausible scenario where Montana (sort of) matters:

McCain picks Romney, and manages to pick off Michigan, and also Ohio and Nevada. All the other states above the partisan line go for Obama. That leaves him at 256. He manages to get Virginia, which gives him a tie. Now although a tie means Obama wins in the end, it's much less messy if he wins outright: Montana.

In any case, winning Montana in a close election, even if it wasn't needed, would terrify the Republicans for several election cycles to come, as it opens up a whole new area of the country.

P.S. Josh--you have a typo in the table. The first number under Ohio should be 293.

Jack said...

Scott, yes, I did find some scenarios in which there was a tie but discounted them as they would go to Obama. I'll take a "messy" win.

And while I think the 50-state strategy is great and all, I also desperately want Obama to win this election. Yes, it would be great to take Montana and, as you said, "terrify the Republicans," but that is far secondary to winning.

I've been trying to remember, though, when people (not just here, but anyway) started to realize that Montana would be competitive. I don't think people saw this coming, and I think most discounted the early polls showing it close. It was only when a few more came in that people started to believe it, right?

Tomorrow, I'm leaving for the place that gave Al Gore two electoral votes in 2000; I'll be there until Sunday. But I'll be checking out this site from time to time.

Robert said...

Josh and Jack,

Sure I would rather be on the plus side of a close situation than be on the minus side. Having said that, the possibility of McCain making a significant pickup in 10 of 12 states could signal a trend to him. As Paul pointed out in our discussion group, general trends at the state level are likely to be similar across the nation (with the exception where there are important local issues such as Nevada and Florida). If several of those on the Watch List start trending to McCain, that points to serious trouble for Obama. Also, As we saw from the RCP poll data in 2004, the first week in September could decide the election.

Anonymous said...

Well, the new poll in Minnesota has pushed it over the line into lean territory now. It will now show a potential move toward Obama on the Watch List.

...a move that won't necessarily happen if a trend emerges there.

From the looks of things in parts of the country, the Democratic convention can't come at a better time for Obama. Well, I suppose this coming Monday may be better. Of course they do have the VP selection at their disposal (the timing of which Allen seems to have nailed).

Ohio's electoral votes are correct in the Spectrum now. Thanks for the heads up, Scott. I'm still moderately shocked that I made it through all the Kerry/Obama and Bush/McCain name-switching without a mistake.