Poll Position, Level Two
We have become increasingly familiar in recent years with the red-blue divide that defines our electoral map. Republicans tend to dominate the Great Plains and the Deep South, while Democrats own the Northeast and West Coast. The Midwest stands as the swing region, along with the Mountain West in this cycle. While some suggested that the rise of Senators McCain and Obama, both departures from previous nominees in terms of both rhetoric and record, might somehow alter the Bush-driven electoral maps of 2000 and 2004, it appears that we are falling back into a familiar pattern as Election Day looms ever closer.
Given the fact that the McCain-Obama contest remains a dead heat and is likely to remain this way from here on out, this election will turn once more on the outcomes in a handful of swing states. Casting national polls aside for the balance of this post, let's consider the race in the context of state surveys. According to Pollster.com, based upon an aggregation of polls, Obama is poised to win 238 electoral votes to McCain's 224, leaving both short of the 270 necessary to win. This leaves eight toss-up states, NV, NM, CO, MT, MI, OH, NH, and VA, wielding 76 electoral votes, whose decisions will likely elevate one of the two contenders. Notice also that there are a handful of states in each candidate's column that are merely leaning in their direction and are still considered in play, including MO, WI, PA, and FL.
Real Clear Politics offers a slightly different projection, moving Montana into McCain's column, and adding Minnesota and Pennsylvania to the list of toss-ups, thus giving McCain a 227 to 206 lead over Obama. The reality is that these maps change with the polls they are based upon, and these same polls surface from a myriad of sources and with varying degrees of sophistication. Moreover, they are conducted with less frequency, thus failing to account for fundamental changes to the face of the contest, such as McCain's choice of Governor Sarah Palin for vice president. These factors alone should make us skeptical. Moreover, close contests at the state level often turn on the so-called ground game, simply, who is better at turning out their core supporters on Election Day.
This said, a breakdown of these swing states is warranted. I will rely upon both Pollster and Real Clear Politics for identification purposes, but Pollster alone for polling data for the sake of simplicity. In order, McCain leads Obama in Nevada based upon a conglomeration of polls, 47%-44.7%. Obama is up 47.3-43.3% in New Mexico, and McCain is up by a whisker in Colorado, 47-46.8%. McCain also leads in Montana, 49-46%, though recent polls show a wider margin. Moving to the Midwest, McCain leads in the Show Me State, 49.8-44.3%. Obama is ahead by a similar margin in Minnesota, 48.3-43.6%, and also in neighboring Wisconsin, 48.1-40.4%. Obama leads in traditionally Democratic Michigan by a 47-44.3% margin, while McCain clings to a similarly narrow margin in Ohio, 47-44.5%. Obama leads in the Keystone State (47.7-44.1%), although polls are tightening here, too. McCain also holds slight leads in the final three battleground states, New Hampshire (47-45.3%), Virginia (47.8%-46.7%), and Florida (48.6-44%).
We are now swimming in a sea of data with only minimal significance. It represents nothing more than a rudimentary temperature of the electorate, or at least that portion of it likely to decide who will serve as our 44th president. For the sake of curiosity, I gave each of the states listed above to the candidate who holds a lead in the aggregation of polls to date. Using a web site called 270towin, Senator McCain would best Obama 278 electoral votes to 260. To show how fickle this lead is, however, flip Colorado where McCain holds a scant 0.2% lead to Obama and the race is tied, 269-269, and would be decided by the House of Representatives. I encourage you to have fun with this map, manipulating it through a variety of scenarios. Come November 4, it will be all that matters.
This will certainly not be the final post where I address polling data in the context of the Electoral College, but seems fitting on this date, September 17, when our nation honors the completion of the Constitution that created it, for better or for worse. I'll be back on Friday to discuss the candidates' web presence in an election where the Internet has transformed many aspects of campaigning. Happy Constitution Day!