Monday, June 13, 2016

The Electoral College Map (6/13/16)

Latest Update

And so it begins.

While primary season 2016 is set to close tomorrow, the transition to the general election is already well underway. That was true in early May when Donald Trump became the presumptive Republican nominee and even more so last week when Hillary Clinton went over the top, clinching the distinction on the Democratic side. Knowing the identities of the two nominees tends to bring with it some level of certainty.

Still, that certainty, five months out from election day in November, is counterbalanced by a pre-convention environment in which both parties continue in the process of consolidating partisans behind their newly minted standard bearers. In other words, it is early.

Early though it may be, there is enough polling data out there both nationally and at the state level to get a sense of where a Clinton-Trump race is even in its infancy. The answer is -- and again there are plenty of caveats -- that the 2016 race for the White House at this point in mid-June looks similar to 2008. Add together the 2012 Obama states plus North Carolina and replace Indiana (2008) with Arizona and that is basically where things stand.

The problem is that there just is not a whole lot of polling data at the moment (at the state level).1 There is enough to get a picture of the state of the race, but not a sufficient enough amount to inspire a high level of confidence, statistical or otherwise. However, the silver lining is that the bulk of the polling that has been conducted in 2016 has been clustered in the states that have in recent cycles been more competitive. Where data is missing is in the least historically competitive states; particularly those that have been reliably red over time.

This is less true in traditionally Democratic states. A number of those blue states like California and New York had later primaries (or primaries during the back half of the primary calendar) that saw not only survey questions about the increasingly clear nomination races, but increasing queries about hypothetical general election match ups. By comparison, there have been more 2016 polls conducted in Maryland (three) than in Alabama (zero) or Texas (zero), for instance.

Colorado and Nevada stand as two notable exceptions to this rule. Both have voted with the winner of the last four presidential elections, yet neither has been polled during 2016. Each holds a caucus rather than a primary, and Colorado Republicans did not even hold a presidential preference vote that would have drawn pollsters into the state to survey the state of the Republican nomination race much less the general election. Meanwhile, Nevada is just plain tough to poll regardless of the phase of the presidential election.

Again, it is early. As election day draws near, the release of new polling data will intensify. That will either reinforce the general outlook here or fundamentally shift it. The one factor that was unique to the general election phase of the 2012 presidential election was that it -- the election itself -- was a constant. The same 332-206 electoral vote tally that was there in July was there on election day in November.2 And it never changed. In the FHQ projections, the Obama and Romney coalitions of states never lost nor gained states.

That is atypical. Bush led Gore early in the general election phase in 2000 but saw that lead shrink over time. Obama was behind McCain in 2008 as primary season came to a close, but won a fairly sweeping victory in November. Unlike those two cycles, 2004 was not an open seat election. But even though there was an incumbent involved, as in 2012, there was some volatility in a close race. In other words, occasionally a state would change sides and alter the outlook of the race in the process. 2012, by comparison was never really that (2004) close. It offered a much more consistent picture.

One of the biggest questions as this 2016 cycle heads into the general election is whether it fits the mold of a typical open seat election (more volatile in the polls) or if an increasingly polarized environment serves as a set of moorings to which most states are anchored (regardless of whether an election involves an incumbent). If it is the former, then the expectation is that the above map will change and perhaps drastically so. However, if it is the latter, then there may be very little change except at the margins. There are now only two states that are close to crossing the partisan line over into the opposite candidate's camp (see Watch List below).

NOTE: A description of the methodology behind the graduated weighted average of 2016 state-level polling that FHQ uses for these projections can be found here.

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 or she won all the states ranked prior to that state. If, for example, Trump won all the states up to and including Virginia (all Clinton's toss up states plus Virginia), he would have 279 electoral votes. Trump's numbers are only totaled through the states he would need in order to get to 270. In those cases, Clinton's number is on the left and Trumps's is on the right in bold italics.

To keep the figure to 50 cells, Washington, DC and its three electoral votes are included in the beginning total on the Democratic side of the spectrum. The District has historically been the most Democratic state in the Electoral College.

3 Virginia
 is the state where Clinton crosses the 270 electoral vote threshold to win the presidential election. That line is referred to as the victory line.

Though there is a link above to a description of the methodology behind the FHQ graduated weighted average, and in addition, a tutorial on how to read the Electoral College Spectrum immediately above (see footnote #1 in the Spectrum table), there is one other operational caveat that warrants explanation. The basic premise of the Spectrum is as a simple, graphical depiction of the rank ordering of states from most Democratic on one end to most Republican on the other.

In years past, FHQ has substituted an average of past election results for states in which there was no polling. [As was mentioned above, these tend to be the least competitive states.] That was not an issue in 2008. There was a great deal of polling that cycle, and it hit virtually every state. 2012 was different and 2016 is shaping up in a similar fashion. Both had or have a lack of across the board polling coverage.

Rather than using past results to fill in those blanks, FHQ will take a uniform swing approach. That is, the ordering of states will remain mostly constant and the electorate will shift in a mostly uniform pattern across most states from one election cycle to the next. If one makes that assumption, that does augur against using past results. Such a method may misplace states on the Spectrum; in the rank ordering.

FHQ instead has established an average swing from 2012 to 2016 using the available state-level polling data. The polling-based averages in states where polling data is publicly available are subtracted from the 2012 results to compute a state-specific swing. An average of those swings is then added to/subtracted from the 2012 results to arrive at a tentative, temporary projection.

Utah has thus far seen an over 40 point swing away from the Republican candidate 2012 to 2016. It is a significant outlier that nearly doubles the average swing. FHQ has made the decision to drop the Utah swing from the swing average equation. That leaves an average swing toward the Democrats and away from the Republicans of about 1.75 points.

None of this -- the change in methodology for dealing with states with no polling or the inclusiveness of the swing average -- may end up being all that consequential in the end. Again, the states most often affected are states that routinely fall in one party's column or the other's. However, Colorado and Nevada are still worth watching. Both may or may not be overly tilted in Clinton's direction at the moment. The best remedy will be polling which will presumably come at some point in those states.

NOTE: Distinctions are made between states based on how much they favor one candidate or another. States with a margin greater than 10 percent between Clinton and Trump are "Strong" states. Those with a margin of 5 to 10 percent "Lean" toward one of the two (presumptive) nominees. Finally, states with a spread in the graduated weighted averages of both the candidates' shares of polling support less than 5 percent are "Toss Up" states. The darker a state is shaded in any of the figures here, the more strongly it is aligned with one of the candidates. Not all states along or near the boundaries between categories are close to pushing over into a neighboring group. Those most likely to switch -- those within a percentage point of the various lines of demarcation -- are included on the Watch List below.

The Watch List1
from Lean Trump
to Toss Up Trump
from Toss Up Clinton
to Toss Up Trump
from Toss Up Trump
to Toss Up Clinton
New Hampshire
from Lean Clinton
to Toss Up Clinton
New Jersey
from Strong Clinton
to Lean Clinton
from Toss Up Clinton
to Lean Clinton
from Lean Trump
to Strong Trump
from Toss Up Clinton
to Lean Clinton
1 Graduated weighted average margin within a fraction of a point of changing categories.

1 The data is more robust at the national level.

2 Though the initial FHQ projection was released in mid-July, we have subsequently backdated the projections to the end of primary season in June. The same (lack of a) trend held then as well. The picture through the lens of the electoral college was the same.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is one of the most interesting predictions I've seen so far in this cycle. I am not an academic, but I live in AZ among many LDS (Mormon) people, and they are livid that after Mitt Romney was criticized so heavily in 2012 by the Republican primary electorate over his religion, his values, his character, etc. the same people have chosen Trump. It's anecdotal, of course, but it would not surprise me to see additional polling showing Utah as more of a toss up for this cycle. Thanks! BC