Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Electoral College Map (10/18/08)

If Thursday's polls were in friendly territory for Obama, Friday's polls were much more friendly to John McCain than they have been in a while. Well, having polls released from Alaska, Mississippi, Texas and Wyoming never hurts. But it wasn't just ruby red states where the Arizona senator got some favorable polling. For the first time in that last little while there was a poll that showed McCain ahead in Florida. And given that the state had just turned blue here at FHQ, that can never be seen in a poor light. Between that Survey USA poll and the Research 2000 poll that had Obama up four points, the Sunshine state was tipped back into McCain toss up territory, but only just barely. If the McCain-friendly poll proves to be an outlier, then Florida will turn back. As we enter a new week, though, the situation in the Sunshine staet will definitely be something to keep an eye on.

New Polls (Oct. 17)
Research 2000/Daily Kos
Survey USA
Research 2000
Survey USA
Research 2000/Daily Kos
Research 2000/Daily Kos
North Dakota
Research 2000/Daily Kos
Research 2000/Daily Kos
Research 2000/Daily Kos
Research 2000/Daily Kos

And while Friday's polls were more positive for McCain than a set of polling has been for the Arizona senator, it wasn't all good. The spread in Colorado continues to be troubling for the McCain campaign. The Centennial state is the state where McCain would cross over 270 electoral votes if he was able to sweep the toss up states (blue and pink). That may seem a stretch, but without Colorado, such an effort would be all for naught.

The other big news of the day was yet another poll showing a tight race in North Dakota. The state has been sporadically polled this year, but has periodically looked close. Following the Palin selection and the Republican convention it looked as if the door had been closed on North Dakota, especially when the Obama campaign pulled out of the state. But, as has been the case in many states across the country, the economic crisis has seemingly triggered a reevaluation of the race and has brought Obama closer in the process. This has gone beyond outlier status as we now have two polls (Three if you count the union-aligned, Democratic poll that showed Obama up three points.) that show a much more competitive race in North Dakota than just a month ago.

Changes (Oct. 17)
Toss Up Obama
Obama lean
Toss Up Obama
Toss Up McCain
Toss Up McCain
McCain lean
Obama lean
Strong Obama
Obama lean
Strong Obama
*Change brought about by shifting of the lean/strong and toss up/lean lines, not new polling.

Florida, though, is not the only change to speak of today. Due to the time crunch in the presidential race, FHQ has once again decided to shift the category-defining thresholds in our graduated weighted averages. It is our feeling that with just more than two weeks remaining in this campaign that three points is the limit to the ground that can be made up (down from four points). For example, during simultaneously occurring debate season and economic situation, Obama essentially gained two points in many of the crucial states. If such high-profile events don't shift the averages anymore than two points, then the closing argument phase will be hard-pressed to match that without intervention from some external event or events. Such a shift isn't impossible, but it is decreasingly likely with each passing day.

The line between the toss up category and the lean category, then, is now at a margin of three points. Similarly, the line between the strong and lean states has been moved down from a nine point margin to seven points. The effect of both shifts is to push Colorado and and Indiana into the Obama lean and McCain lean categories, respectively, and to bring Minnesota and Wisconsin into the strong Obama area.
[Click Map to Enlarge]

What that does is make the map even darker, leaving just a handful of toss up states from Virginia all the way down to West Virginia (see the middle column of the Electoral College Spectrum below) as the remaining seven toss up states. Together they amount to 96 electoral votes. But the Colorado shift into the Obama lean category if rather monumental. With those nine electoral votes added to the two "safer" categories (strong and lean), Obama is now over 270 when the two are combined. Translation: the toss ups are inconsequential if Obama wins his strong and lean states. So despite the fact that Florida turns pink once again and the electoral vote margin shrinks to 311-227, Obama is in a better position with just two weeks left in this race.

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 plus Colorado), he would have 274 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.

The Electoral College Spectrum doesn't see that many changes to the rankings, but with the threshold shift, the strong Obama states now stretch over halfway down the second column from the left. On the right side, McCain's strong states held steady, not adding any states in the shift.

The Watch List*
Coloradofrom Obama lean
to Toss Up Obama
Floridafrom Toss Up McCain
to Toss Up Obama
Indianafrom McCain lean
to Toss Up McCain
Minnesotafrom Strong Obama
to Obama lean
Missourifrom Toss Up McCain
to Toss Up Obama
Montanafrom McCain lean
to Strong McCain
Nevadafrom Toss Up Obama
to Toss Up McCain
New Mexicofrom Obama lean
to Strong Obama
North Carolinafrom Toss Up McCain
to McCain lean
Ohiofrom Toss Up Obama
to Toss Up McCain
Pennsylvaniafrom Obama lean
to Strong Obama
West Virginiafrom Toss Up McCain
to McCain lean
Wisconsinfrom Strong Obama
to Obama lean
*Weighted Average within a fraction of a point of changing categories.

The move of the lines means that the states clustered around them is different as well. Florida, Nevada and Ohio remain -- close to crossing the partisan line over to the opposing side -- but now states like Pennsylvania and New Mexico are close to moving into a safer position for Obama. Indeed, most of the states on the Watch List are now colored in some shade of blue. Montana along with North Carolina and West Virginia are in positions to move into one of the safer categories for McCain. All of those states have been moving toward Obama of late, however. With a new week coming, we'll have to see if the Obama surge has peaked, plateaued or have begun to dissipate, bring the two candidates closer together.

UPDATE: Missouri was mistakenly omitted from the Watch List. The new Rasmussen poll of the Show-Me state pulled Missouri's average under the one percentage point mark.

Recent Posts:
Reminder and a Note

The Electoral College Map (10/17/08)

The Electoral College Map (10/16/08)


Unknown said...

States I'd like to see polled:

New Hampshire

Jack said...

I'd like one in Maine too to see what's up with all these mid-single digit results. Maybe someone who's polling the fairly competitive congressional race in NE-2 can poll the presidential race while they'ree at it.

Arizona too. It's shown some rather small margins for a rather red home state.

And the states Scott mentioned.

Anonymous said...

There is no rhyme or reason to the lack of polling in New Hampshire. If Colorado is going to be polled this much, New Hampshire should be as well. But New Hampshire is now in basically the same position as North Dakota on the opposite end of the Spectrum. Both are underpolled.

But all of the states listed are due for a round of polls this coming week. We will see.

knickelbein5 said...

Mr. Putnam,
First off let me know you write a fantastic blog, your easy to read maps and graphs make your site one of the first to visit when I browse the internet.
Second, While people talk about blowouts for Obama, are most of these states going to tighten up down the stretch, I mean can Obama truly win Colorado, or Virginia and why are people so concerned about West Virginia and North Dakota when a state like Colorado is such an important state?

Unknown said...

"For example, during simultaneously occurring debate season and economic situation, Obama essentially gained two points in many of the crucial states."

How are you figuring that, Josh? I'm guessing by the Frontloading HQ average. But is that a good way to think about it? Because your algorithm emphasizes stability, it changes short but permanent shifts into a gradual move over a longer time period. So your two points might amount to 4 by the time the election comes around.

I'm not arguing with the movement of the lines between categories; I think that makes sense. But I'm not sure I buy the justification you give...

Robert said...

Time has an interesting take on an answer to Scott's question. The gaffe gallery is also quite good.,8816,1851400,00.html

Unknown said...

Thanks for the Time link, Robert. But they left out one of my favorites: Obama's "57 states" gaffe.

Robert said...

You are right. I missed that one.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the kind words. The blogs and MSM have been pushing the Obama is surging meme of late and the discussion of North Carolina and West Virginia, among others, fits in with that narrative. I suspect that we'll see the polls close some over the last couple of weeks and that the discussion will shift to the very closest states. That will likely center on the Bush states, most likely to cross the partisan line and turn blue: Colorado, Florida, Nevada, Ohio and Virginia.

But it will be tempting for all those covering the electoral college to continue talking about North Carolina, North Dakota and West Virginia if polls continue to show tight races there.

Regardless, it should be a fun last two weeks.

Anonymous said...

New poll from public policy polling a democrat polling firm shows McCain up by 8 in West Virginia.

I just don't buy that Obama has a chance in states like West Virginia, North Carolina, Missouri, Indiana.

Right now my guess for the 5 most competitive states are:
Nevada Obama by 7.5%
Colorado Obama by 5.5%
Florida Obama by 3.5%
Virginia Obama by 3%
Ohio Obama by 2%

Nevada has always polled about 3.5% on average higher than the final result towards the Republican.
Virginia in the last couple elections has polled on average about 2.5% higher than the final result towards the Democrat.
Bottom line Virginia's gonna be tighter than the polls show and Nevada is gonna be the opposite.

Anonymous said...

Actually Florida has turned out to be more favorable towards the republican in the past than the polls have shown (so Florida might be closer than the 3.5% I'm predicting).
But with this economic downturn/crisis the seniors are probably wanting change and Obama has somehow won the "change" argument.

Anonymous said...

Yes, that two points refers to the weighted averages here. And I think your point is a valid one.

To be very candid, it was FHQ that set two points as the uppermost bound in our series of monthly recaps of polling movement (Those are all linked in the left sidebar). So, that was a lot then, but not now? Well, in the context of the economic situation since the end of September, yes.

That two points may become four in states like Pennsylvania and Michigan. That is dependent upon the momentum continuing along its current trajectory, though. That may come to pass in those two states and perhaps New Mexico, but I think there will be some tightening in the toss up states and the McCain leans along with Colorado and New Hampshire (the closer Obama leans).

The justification for the drop is simple. I probably tried to augment it too much. The gaps, whether here or in the raw poll numbers just aren't likely to close enough in two weeks to change what we see today.

...for McCain. But should the polling move in a situation similar to what was described above occur for Obama, we could see some continued movement toward him in states in a handful of states.

Anonymous said...

Here's that Time link from Rob.

Anonymous said...

It looks like we are getting at least one of our states addressed in today's polling.

There's a new poll out in Maine. There are also two new polls in West Virginia (here and here) and Mason-Dixon/NBC have polls for Ohio and Wisconsin. Well, Sunday is already busier than Saturday, but that's not saying much.

Update coming soon.

Anonymous said...

Maybe Joe the plumber will keep Ohio red.
Possibly have an effect in Virginia and Florida.
Nevada and to a lesser extent Colorado I don't think Joe the plumber can an effect there.

Anonymous said...

On This Week, Newt Gingrich certainly thought McCain should go after Obama on this redistribution idea in the Illinois senator's comments to Joe the Plumber.

I still think the Kristol's idea of raising the specter of an Obama/Reid/Pelosi team could be an effective one. Could be. Then again, it could be that folks are more inclined to put the controlled, split-ticket gridlock aside in favor of one party rule that could get things done much quicker. Of course if Obama were to take the pragmatic route in the White House, that could be at odds with a more liberal agenda on the Hill.

Jack said...

The other day, David Brooks wrote a column in the New York Times about just that. He makes a reasonably effective case, even if I disagree with 95% of what he wrote, but it might be difficult to make that case to the people when they want change.

People do generally think split government is a good idea. Republicans in my state have long used that idea to help maintain control of the State Senate, which may well change this year. I think people agree with that in principle, but the fear of a government controlled by 'liberals' is trumped by the fear of a guy who doesn't know much about economics.

By the way, while on the subject of the Times, I noticed a correction of a previous op-ed (which I had not read) which had criticized Biden for using the term "Bosniacs." So we weren't the only ones to get it wrong.

Robert said...

I think Joe the Plumber is backfiring on McCain. He was not an undecided voter. He is a fraud who is adamantly against Social Security. I think it is another Palin who looks good at first, but will fade soon. The race is tightening, however. Obama peaked about a week ago. He is now down to 5.3% in the RCP average

I know regular contributors to this site do not believe in national polls, but all year the national polls trail real-time by about 3 days (when Joe the Plumber was at his peak) and predict what happens at the state level by about 3 days. McCain, like Clinton before him, is likely to get a majority of the late deciders. Obama needs to stay at 3.5% of the national polls and 48% plus to remain a solid victor.

Barring a terrorist outburst, a rising stock market (3 days ago and its effect on the national polls) helps McCain and a falling one helps Obama.

Anonymous said...

Tsk, tsk, tsk. The New York Times should have been doing their reading on the Bosniac thing. FHQ had someone fact check that one the night it was said. And I might add that was not an administrator-driven fact check.

I actually just finished up making a similar point in today's update. The national polls have peaked, but this will be the week to see if the state polls begin following suit.

Anonymous said...

Oh, here's that RCP link from Rob.