07 September 2008

The Path to 270

So to my disappointment but no particular surprise, McCain is enjoying his own convention bounce and it appears that this race is reverting to its pre-convention status, which is to say a virtual tie. Now a lot can happen in the next two months, and a swing either way will render any analysis obsolete. But if there are no major changes, how are things looking likely to shake out?

My take: Obama has the inside track to victory, though not the way you might expect. Here's how.

First of all, Florida and Ohio are, as always, "tipping point states" for Obama. If he wins those, he probably does not need much more help beyond the core democratic states. But they are (at best) toss-ups right now. Does that mean the outcome is obliged to boil down to those two states? Well, the Obama team sees a bigger map, and so do I. How can Obama realistically win without OH and FL?

I have the 2004 map at the top for reference, and we'll use that as a baseline. The first requirement for Obama is to hold all the Kerry states. Is he doing this? So far, I would argue yes. Michigan is the big prize that McCain will make a play for, but Obama has held a consistent lead here and I don't see it flipping, especially in this economy. PA also is an enticing target for McCain which is likely to be a huge waste of his limited resources. New Hampshire voters are notoriously unpredictable and have liked McCain in the past; this state could prove an Achilles' heel for Obama in a close race.

The next goal for Obama is to hold the states he's looking likely to flip based on the current status. These are Iowa and New Mexico. 538.com currently gives Obama a 90% likelihood of taking IA, and 87% in NM, so these are not "safe" per se, but they look very good for our man. This takes Obama up to 264 EVs

So the final task for Obama if to find his winning margin. The most likely place for that, interestingly, seems to be either Colorado or Virginia. Both have been historically red states which are trending blue. Both have recently revitalized state democratic parties. Colorado has a democratic governor, looks highly likely to have two democratic senators next year, and has democratic majorities in the US house delegation and in both state houses. Even absent a bounce from the DNC having been held in Denver, this seems to be highly fertile ground for Obama. Virginia might be a tougher nut, but is certainly also within reach. It has a democratic governor and will also have two democratic senators in 2009, so democrats can clearly win statewide races here. But the wins so far have been very narrow, and as part of the old Confederacy, it's not clear how much Obama's race will impact votes: there is a large African-American vote, but Obama has been very weak in the rural, white-dominated areas. It's highly winnable, but I think that if Obama takes VA, then he's probably already won OH and the point is moot, whereas I can easily see Obama winning CO while losing OH.

There are certainly other opportunities for Obama, some of them quite surprising -- MT, ND, NC, IN, and NV. Again, like VA, I view these as states which Obama will probably only win if the election is swinging widely for Obama, and as such these probably are not going to be tipping point states. However, expect Obama to spread the field and campaign heavily in these states, forcing McCain to play defense. If the race is close, it is possible that one of these states could provide Obama with an unexpected path to 270, though that would be truly bizarre.

It's just that kind of year.

Oh, and if you're not already reading it, you really should add 538.com to your list of daily reads. The most sophisticated and useful statistical analysis of polling data I have come across anywhere.


  1. Non-snarky comment/question (I swear):

    VA, OH, CO, et al are only in play if the polls showing the candidates more or less tied in those states are reasonably accurate.

    But, during the Democratic primaries, the polls consistently overstated Obama’s support. His actual votes fell short by 5 to 10 points in most states.

    So, unless you assume that there are more closet racists among the Democrats than among the general electorate, the polls are probably still overstating his support.

    As an Obama supporter, doesn’t this worry you?

  2. Catron,

    a) Thanks for the non-snark.

    b) Yes, it does worry me. But polls are the best tool we have, so I'll go with them absent a better predictor. Also, there are so many variables that I am not sure the polls are much more than a very general guideline. For example, the turnout/enthusiasm factors are confounding, as is the "cell phone" factor. There's also the RV/LV split, the party ID controversy, and the young voters who are registering in droves -- but will they actually vote? History implies "no."

    c) As a democrat and a Cub fan, I am quite accustomed to living with that sinking feeling of impending doom in the pit of my stomach. This year I may have the rare experience of being bitterly disappointed by both! The hallmark of a true Cub fan is the ability to keep faith despite all rational evidence to the contrary.

    What the hell, it's fun to try to predict.

  3. I am not very good at non-snarky questions, so:

    What will be the effect on global warming of all the Democrats' heads exploding after the election? Many of them aren't as used to being bitterly disappointed as you are.


  4. Since the political pendulum swings back and forth--Dem to Repub to Dem, etc--and with the unpopularity of GWB, this should really be the Dem year. Doesn't it bother you that BO isn't sailing to victory? Did the Dems really field their best candidate?


  5. I am worried about MI - but I live in the Upper Peninsula, and I really do not know the political climate in the Lower half. But the introduction of the new "hockey mom" has gained a lot of ground here, especially in my corner, the self-proclaimed "birthplace of Hockey in the U.S." The local "hockey moms" seem to be worshipping her on that basis alone. I am nervous that MI (and WI and MN) will see a surge of McCain support.

  6. It hurts so much more to lose when you had so much "hope". heh, heh.

    Snark aside, it would not be good for one party to control all of Congress and the White House. I am republican, and I agree that our party really blew their chance for reform when we had full control. Instead they spent like drunken liberals.

  7. This is Deja Vu all over again, you know the elections not until November? Obamas gonna join those other great Democrat Shoe-Ins, Dukakis,Gore, and Kerry. McCains gonna get over 300 E-votes.


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