10.05.08 The College

If you’re informed enough to read this blog, you know that the four- to ten-point leads that Barack Obama has opened up in national polling won’t get him elected.  Rather, it’s the state-by-state races that will get him to the magic number of 270 votes in the Electoral College.

Following are four great sites that amalgamate all the state polls to create a picture of who is winning overall.  Each takes a slightly different approach, such as how to define “toss-up” states and whether to “force” allocate them to one side or the other.  Each also provides different kinds of statistical or written analysis to complement their maps.

Electoral-vote.com – The default view on this site allocates all states to one side or the other, unless the polling shows an exact tie.  They also show at a glance the projected outcomes in the Senate and House.  Here are their totals as of this writing (Sunday, 5pm):
Popular Vote – Obama 50.25, McCain 42
Electoral Vote – Obama 329, McCain 194, Ties 25
Senate – Dems 58, GOP 42
House – Dems 241, GOP 193

FiveThirtyEight – This site provides the most interesting statistical analyses, showing the likely scenarios with probability scores.  Here are some of their data:
Popular Vote – Obama 51.3, McCain 47.2
Electoral Vote – Obama 333.2, McCain 204.8
Likelihood of an Obama win – 84.4%
Likelihood of an Obama landslide (>375 EVs) – 27.65%
Senate – Dems 55.9, GOP 42.1

Pollster.com – Unlike the two sites above, Pollster.com counts as a toss-up any state whose polling is within the margin of error.  Though the top-line electoral-vote number for Obama is much lower with this counting scheme, it is getting very close to the magic number of 270.  The numbers:
Electoral Vote – Obama 260, McCain 163, Toss-Up 115
Senate – Dems 56, GOP 41, Toss-Up 3
House – Dems 237, GOP 182, Toss-Up 16

Real Clear Politics – In its default view, RCP also counts as toss-ups anything within the margin of error, but another view forces allocation.
Electoral Vote (with toss-ups) – Obama 264, McCain 163, Toss-Up 111
Electoral Vote (forced allocation) – Obama 353, 185

What’s Really Going On?

We have seen enough inaccurate polls in recent years to give us pause about polls’ ability to predict absolute outcomes.  But when all polls are moving in the same direction, there is little doubt that they have a window into the real story.  And the real story here is all Obama.  After a scary time in early to mid, September, almost every poll in every significant state has shown movement in Obama’s favor.

The fundamentals have been aligned for the Democrats all along, of course, but here are the key events that have helped give Obama a significant advantage in the past couple of weeks:

The economic crisis:  Democrats almost always have the edge in public perception when it comes to helping the little guy in need.  This persistent dynamic has only been reinforced by McCain’s admission of his inexpertise in economics, the general tarnishing of the Republican “brand,” and McCain’s decision to stake his campaign on solving the crisis and his failure to do so.

The end of the GOP convention bounce: Even if nothing else had happened, McCain’s early September rise was bound to slow or reverse somewhat.

The reality of Sarah Palin: The decision by the campaign to keep her in a bubble, followed by her disastrous interview with Katie Couric killed Sarah Palin as a net positive for McCain (other than for the right-wing freaks).  Though her debate performance (vapid as it was) stopped the hemorrhaging of support for her (and McCain), it could not possibly change a dominant public view that she is unfit to be vice president (nevertheless president).

The Obama-McCain Debate:  Like Ronald Reagan in 1980, Barack Obama didn’t need to accomplish a great deal in this debate, beyond looking presidential and reassuring the public that he is not scary.  The threshold Obama overcame here is profound and is probably not reversible.

McCain as nut job:  The Palin pick.  The (non) campaign suspension.  The threat to fire the SEC chair.  The contempt shown towards his opponent in the debate.  The stories about his gambling addiction.  It all adds up to make McCain appear to be the risky choice for president.

With Obama now crossing the 50% line in many national polls, with states like North Carolina and Indiana in play, with McCain folding up the tent in Michigan, things are looking awfully good for the good guys right now.

What about the Bradley effect?

There is has been a great deal written about the tendency of white voters to overreport their support for black candidates, meaning that a black candidate with an apparent small lead in polls is actually losing.  (This phenenomenon is named after Tom Bradley, who lost an election for mayor of LA that he appeared to be winning.)  As worried as progressives are about this, it is far from a fact of US politics, with counter analyses holding that it only applies to Democratic primary campaigns or that is a complete myth.

In any case, one could also postulate that Obama’s current lead is underestimated, because the polling models don’t properly account for huge increases in Democratic voter registration this year or for the number of liberals with cell phones who don’t get counted in standard polling.  We simply can’t know how accurate the polls are in absolute terms, but we can certainly see that they are all headed in the same direction.

What happens now?

We Democrats don’t start celebrating, for one thing.  There are weeks of ugly campaigning to go.  The McCain camp has announced that it will be taking off the gloves.  This means a full-out assault on the truth, the resurrection of Rev. Wright, and gazillions of dollars of negative ad buys.  Palin, for one, is already accusing Obama of “paling around with terrorists.”

And we cannot forget how easily the American people fall for just the kind of crap that Republicans dish out.

But I’m optimistic.  In five of the last six elections, the team that was winning in early October won in November.  (The exception was in 1980, when that crucial Carter-Reagan debate took place only a few days before the election.)  The Dems have a ton more money to spend than the GOP, at all levels.  McCain’s and Palin’s negatives are so high right now that their impending negative assault will probably hurt them more than it hurts Obama.

No doubt, I’d certainly rather be in our position than in the other guys’.

Then I remind myself that the Chicago Cubs were also optimistic last week.  And I put that champagne bottle back where it belongs.

©2008 Keith Berner

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Explore posts in the same categories: Politics, Presidential Campaign 2008

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