Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Electoral College Map (9/11/08)

Ugh, internet connectivity issues are the worst. [So are blog posts that start off by making excuses.] Sorry for the delay.

Anyway, the polling yesterday was interesting. Again, we saw the continuation of the post-convention trends into which we have settled...for the most part. [There are always exceptions.] Most importantly though, we saw the list of battleground states continue to contract. First, Alaska, then Montana and now North Dakota slipped out of the toss up McCain category and into a safer, and more traditionally Republican, position for McCain. If anything, the Palin selection seems to have taken some of those traditionally red states that have been surprisingly competitive in the trial-heat polls off the board. The biggest convention bounces have been in already Republican states.

And the result is that the electoral map has suddenly taken on a more traditional look. Now it's all about Florida and the typical collection of Midwestern states. Sure, you can add in Colorado and Virginia, but when this election was discussed early on as a "map-changing" election, those saying it had more than two states in mind. The more this election resembles a traditional election, the more that favors the GOP and McCain. First of all, it is an alignment of states under which Republican candidates (read: George W. Bush) have fared well recently. But also, it means that McCain won't have to play defense in states where, traditionally, he wouldn't have to. Now, it may come to pass that some of these states inch back toward competitiveness once the post-convention environment settles down, but I wouldn't necessarily count on that.

New Polls (Sept. 10)
(With Leaners/ Without Leaners)
New Hampshire
New Mexico
North Carolina
Public Policy Polling
North DakotaRasmussen
Strategic Vision
West Virginia

With that said, the ten new polls out in ten states have once again shaken things up in FHQ's weighted average, something that, as the race progressed through July and August, we just didn't see that much of. There just wasn't that much volatility. New polls would emerge but just did not break enough from the established pattern of polling in most states to make that much of a difference. That has changed now in the wake of the VP selections and conventions.

Changes (Sept. 10)
AlaskaMcCain leanStrong McCain
New MexicoObama leanToss Up Obama
North DakotaToss Up McCainMcCain lean
West VirginiaStrong McCainMcCain lean

That leaves us with a rather long list of changes -- at least comparatively. Alaska, we can understand. The Palin selection has taken the Last Frontier out of the mix. And North Dakota, along with Montana figures in to a similar calculation. Those states, then, are terribly surprising. New Mexico and West Virginia? Those results are worthy of a closer look.

Polling in New Mexico has been similar to what we have witnessed in Ohio: erratic. Now, Ohio has stretched out over an 18 point range from +10 for McCain to +8 for Obama, which on its face, appears to give a slight edge to McCain (...if you were to average those two results in isolation). Indeed, that's what we see on the map below. But New Mexico is not that different. Across all the polling conducted in the Land of Enchantment since Super Tuesday, the results have ranged from +16 for Obama to +6 for McCain. [Just in the last week we've seen a +14 for Obama -- pre-GOP convention -- and a +2 for McCain.] If you apply the same, simplistic methodology from the Ohio example to New Mexico, you find that you end up with a state that is competitive, but favors Obama all the same. True to what we've have seen over the course of the summer, New Mexico appears to be a state that is on the line between a toss up and a state leaning more heavily toward Obama. In each case, though -- in Ohio and New Mexico -- we still have a pretty good picture of what's going on given the existing polling data throughout the race. [As an aside, that's the beauty of not just looking at the most recent poll(s). You have this established idea of how the state is going to break in November. It isn't as volatile, yet it does change if trends are persistent. Our measure, then, is skeptical of change until that shift fundamentally alters the equilibrium in a state.]

West Virginia also offers an eye catching poll. First of all, there's a new poll in West Virginia! There are only a few states (Delaware, Hawaii and Vermont) that have had fewer surveys conducted than the Mountain state. So when we get one, you take notice, if only to see that John McCain is up by a ton...or not. The flip side is that you get a result that is surprising not only for its closeness, but that it is breaking with the trend seen in other similarly Republican states. [And I say that based on the other two presidential elections this decade. In West Virginia, you have a state that has switched from reliably Democratic to reliably Republican on the presidential level. And that shift has been rather rapid.] Granted, what we have here is a piece to a very incomplete puzzle; a 1000 piece job with 600 pieces missing. Still, in the limited polling are privy to, West Virginia is on a trajectory that moves it toward competitiveness. +18 for McCain in February turns into +8 in June and +5 in September. Does that mean the Mountain state is Obama's in November? No, but the fact that West Virginia is moving in a direction counter to other 2004 Republican states is worth noting. And if you're Obama and you're already sinking money into Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia, why not throw a little towards neighbor to all three, West Virginia. From an advertising standpoint, you get the northern part of the state by buying time in the Pittsburgh market. But that's only one aspect of it. Given the thrashing Obama took in the late May primary, there's likely less of an Obama field operation in the state which would potentially put him behind in the ground game. Then again, the McCain campaign likely thought it wouldn't have to defend West Virginia and may have to kickstart its own ground game there. We'll have to see. The closeness in this poll will probably trigger additional polling to determine whether this was an outlier or the continuation of a trend toward competitiveness.
[Click Map to Enlarge]

There is some shuffling then, but no electoral votes change sides. I'm not going to belabor the point here because I'd like to spend a bit of time discussing the movement on the Electoral College Spectrum. [And there's been a lot of it this week.] Suffice it to say, Obama still has a lead in the electoral college, but, as I've noted, the number of paths to victory are shrinking. The Kerry states with Colorado, Iowa and New Mexico are all the Illinois senator really needs to break 270, but bringing in Florida or Ohio is not totally out of the question. Nor is losing those two and the two western neighbors above to McCain.

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 Pennsylvania (all Obama's toss up states, but Michigan and New Mexico), 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.

***The line between Colorado and New Hampshire is the 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.

The striking thing about the spectrum is that the list of "safer" McCain states now stretches into the middle column. That 163 electoral votes looks pretty solid for McCain in this current environment. And we can talk about West Virginia all we want, but when you look at it, the Mountain state is way down the rankings for Obama at this point, barely within the bounds of the "lean" distinction. At this point, given the current momentum of the race, the election looks like it is being waged in about eight states; that group from Michigan through Virginia. That is the perception at least. Are those other pink states out of the question for Obama? No, but given the circumstances, those are states that are traditionally Republican. And traditional Republican states seem to be aligning behind McCain-Palin. We have additional polling out from Quinnipiac this morning in Ohio and Florida that could change things (tune in tonight to see how that affects things), but getting additional information out of Indiana and Nevada will help us to get a better idea of what is happening in the 2004 Bush states. If they continue the trend, then that solidifies the impression that those states are moving away from Obama and the the battle is over the eight states I referenced above.

The Watch List*
Georgiafrom McCain leanto Strong McCain
Minnesotafrom Obama leanto Strong Obama
Mississippifrom Strong McCainto McCain lean
Montanafrom McCain leanto Toss Up McCain
Nevadafrom Tieto Toss Up McCain/Obama
New Mexicofrom Toss Up Obamato Obama lean
North Carolinafrom Toss Up McCain
to McCain lean
North Dakotafrom McCain lean
to Toss Up McCain
Ohiofrom Toss Up McCain
to 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.

This round of polling adds few more states to the Watch List. So, after bottoming out over the weekend -- likely due in part to the lack of polling during the conventions -- the shake ups on the electoral map have augmented the list. New Mexico is now a toss up but continues to hover around the line between the toss up and lean categories. Like Montana, North Dakota is gone, but not necessarily forgotten in terms of being competitive. More polling is warranted in both cases for the foreseeable future. Virginia becomes the latest state to slip off the list, though. The CNN poll pushed it off the Watch List and into a firm, yet not unreachable, McCain toss up state. The list of states on the Watch that could change sides imminently has now dropped to two: Ohio and Nevada. And we have a new poll out in Ohio today. Now, where are those Nevada polls?

Recent Posts:
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The Electoral College Map (9/9/08)


Unknown said...

Minor note: Your change list has the colors switched (the text is correct, though) for New Mexico.

Anonymous said...

Good catch. Thanks Scott.

The wireless here on campus is screwy this morning, so I've been slow to update, much less connect. I'll have that fixed shortly.