Welcome to the penultimate Electoral Math column.
OK, I admit, I just like correctly using the word "penultimate." Plus, it's fun to say! Try it!
If you detect a certain giddiness here at Electoral Math Central, it is due to the fact that the election is actually drawing nigh, after a seemingly eternal campaign season. It's been a long, long road to where we find ourselves, and we're all feeling the strain. But fear not! Election Day is just around the corner, and just about everything seems to be breaking Obama's way.
"What's that?" you say, "the national polls are close -- I know this because the media told me so!" Well, all I can say is that's what you get for hanging around such disreputable characters in the first place.
Seriously, though, I remind everyone once again that we don't elect our president that way. If we did, we'd be at the end of Al Gore's second term right now.
OK, now that we've all calmed down, let's take a look at the week. Just about the only bad news was Missouri moving to "tied" this week, when it had been (barely) in Obama's column. Just about everything else was either neutral, or good news for Democrats. Florida did move to being tied for a single day, but then it moved right back to showing a slim lead for Obama, so no harm, no foul there. Ohio, Nevada, and New Hampshire all firmed up for Obama this week. New Hampshire and Nevada aren't all that big, but Ohio is a juicy 20 electoral votes, so this is good news indeed.
In the meantime, McCain continues to watch his support fall off a cliff. Mississippi, Arizona, Montana, and Georgia all weakened considerably this week for McCain. And Indiana went back to leaning towards Obama from leaning towards McCain. The trendlines for McCain, in other words, are not good. Not good indeed when you consider we only have six days left before the election, and Obama is about to talk to the nation for an entire half-hour in prime time tonight. Not a very happy position for McCain to be in, to put it mildly.
Having said all that, let's go to the charts and take a look at where we truly stand. First up, the Electoral College totals. [Click on any of these charts to see a larger image. Compare with last week's column to see the graphs' movement in the past week.]
[Obama's percentage starts from the bottom (blue) and McCain's starts from the top (red), and winning means getting your line over (or under, for McCain) the 50% mark. Tied states are in white.]
The graph quivered a bit from last week, but then settled down once again. Net result: Obama didn't move, and McCain lost ground (to tied states). Obama started off the week with a serious dip, since he lost Florida to "tied," and since Florida has an impressive 27 electoral votes (EV). But then the next day, Obama gained it back, as well as Indiana's 11 EV. This is the first time Obama has been up in Indiana since mid-August, so it is good news indeed. One poll showed him at fairly strong support, but a second poll showed the race much closer, while still leaning slightly to Obama.
McCain's bad news wasn't confined to Indiana, though, as he also lost Montana to a tie on the same day, which dropped his numbers by 14 EV overall for the week. Obama eventually lost Missouri, which is now tied. This meant Obama finished up the week with the same number of electoral votes that he started with -- 364 EV (after setting a new record high of 375 EV, then falling back). McCain, however, didn't regain his loss, so he finished the week with 157 EV, down 14 EV from last week.
Obama now has the same 67.7% of the total electoral votes that he started the week off with, while McCain has set a new low, slipping below 30% for the first time, and ending the week with a dismal 29.2%.
Breaking the numbers down and drilling into the data just confirms the continuing movement towards Obama. First, let's look at John McCain.
[Definition of terms: Strong means 10% or better in the polls, Weak means 5% or better, and Barely is under five percent.]
John McCain continues to lose support, as what were his Strong states a few weeks ago turn Weak... and then Barely... and then drift off into Obama's column. Starting with Strong, John McCain was holding his numbers until suddenly he lost Arizona -- his home state -- down to Barely. It moved back up to Weak the next day, but still hasn't recovered back to being Strong for McCain again yet. Then just today, Mississippi weakened as well, leaving the Strong category for Weak. For the week, McCain is down 16 EV for a total of 118 EV in Strong. One week out from the election, that graph line is moving in entirely the wrong direction for McCain.
The Weak McCain states look, at first glance, like they haven't moved. But upon closer scrutiny, what happened was Georgia moved out of this column to Barely, and Arizona and Mississippi moved into it from Strong. Meaning that although McCain finishes up the week with a net gain of one electoral vote here (for a total of 24 EV), this isn't good news, as states migrate in Obama's direction. Georgia has 15 EV, so this was a big loss for McCain.
Likewise, McCain's Barely numbers also don't seem so bad if you just look at the totals. But what really happened isn't good news for the McCain camp at all. First, Montana went to being a tie, while Indiana migrated over to Obama's column. This left McCain with zero Barely states for a day. The next day, Georgia moved into Barely from Weak, giving McCain at least something in this column. But, again, the state is moving in the wrong direction. Arizona moved into Barely, but just for a day until it moved up to Weak, which is about the only good news this week for McCain -- his home state didn't change from Strong to Barely, it merely changed from Strong to Weak. And that's the good news.
The bad news is evident from a quick look at that chart. McCain keeps sinking lower and lower, with no end to the bleeding in sight. One week out, I remind you. The metric I watch most closely is Strong Plus Weak, and McCain lost fifteen electoral votes from last week (Georgia). He finishes the week with his Strong Plus Weak line at only 142 EV.
Because that was depressing, let's lighten things up a bit by taking a quick peek at Obama's chart.
Barack Obama's chart looks a bit better, shall we say. His Strong numbers stayed rock-like in their firmness during the past week. He lost not a single state, and just for fun at the end of the week regained New Hampshire. This left him at his all-time high water mark of 264 EV. That is just six votes short of a winning number, in states that are polling ten percent or better for Obama. It could be a very short Election Night indeed.
Obama started the week with 26 EV in his Weak column, and improved right away by gaining Ohio and Indiana (both substantial states, EV-wise). Three days later, he lost Indiana down to Barely, though, setting him back a bit. But he finished the week in good shape here, even though New Hampshire moved up to Strong, by adding Nevada to Weak from Barely -- good news indeed, if it holds. Obama closed the week out with 47 EV in his Weak column, a net gain of 21 EV from last week.
Obama's Barely numbers jumped around considerably this week, starting with Florida moving to tied for a day, then moving back to Barely Obama (because Florida has 27 EV, this caused quite a dip in the graph). The same day it moved back, Ohio moved from Barely to Weak, which is more good news. Indiana, after one outlier poll that showed it as Weak Obama, ended the week in Barely Obama. It's worth noting that this state started the week as Barely McCain, meaning it is still a net pickup. About the only bad news for Obama this week was the movement of Missouri from Barely Obama to being tied, which brought his overall numbers down a bit after setting an all-time high of 375 EV -- over 100 EV more than he needs to win. And at the very end of the week, Nevada moved up to Weak from Barely, meaning Obama finished up with 53 EV for the week in his Barely column, down 25 EV from last week.
In the crucial Strong Plus Weak area, Obama also hit an all-time high early in the week of 317 EV. Yes, you read that right, and now (Biden-like) I will repeat it -- three hundred and seventeen electoral votes. It then fell to 306 EV, but a last-minute uptick finished the week off for Obama at 311 EV for Strong Plus Weak -- a pickup of 25 EV over last week.
It's a good thing the election is next week, or I would have to recalibrate the axis on this graph as Obama's numbers continue to climb. When I started, I thought 400 would be enough...
To contain my exuberance, I always rely on the analysis of Sam Minter and his website abulsme.com. His chart averages the last five state polls, while I just take the most recent data from electoral-vote.com, so his data is usually more stable than mine.
His chart combines my three charts above into one. Obama starts from the top, McCain starts from the bottom, and wherever the double baby-blue/pink line currently is determines who is ahead, measured from the centerline.
Uh oh -- Sam's commentary today is titled "Very Very Bad Polling Day for McCain." Maybe he's not going to contain my exuberance... let's see what he has to say...
McCain Best Case -- Obama 311, McCain 227
Obama Best Case -- Obama 406, McCain 132
If everybody gets their leans -- 375 Obama, 163 McCain
This is frankly just stunning. Lets look at this.
If John McCain wins every single swing state... that is, every state he is ahead in, plus every state Obama is ahead in by less than 5%... then he still loses by 84 electoral votes.
If everybody just gets every state they are currently ahead in, then Obama gets 375 electoral votes, which is one common definition of a landslide.
If Obama actually wins all of the states McCain is ahead by less than 5% in as well, he will top 400 electoral votes.
. . .
I'll stick with my methods and categories though, and say that at the moment McCain has no path to victory. If he manages to move a bunch of states before election day, that may change. But so far, there does not seem to be any trend in his direction. In fact, the trend toward Obama is continuing. States that seemed to be absolutely impossible for Obama are now in play. It really does seem that we now are just debating just how massive Obama's win will be. McCain winning is not a possibility that is seriously in play at the moment.
There is only one word for where we are now: Wow.
Looks like this exuberance stuff is contagious!
There was a good deal of movement in my picks this week, almost all of it towards Obama. States that Democrats usually don't even dare to dream about winning are continuing to soften for McCain, enough to the point where an entirely new electoral map with entirely new "conventional wisdom" may be staring us in the face come this time next week.
So, without further ado, here are my penultimate picks. As always, the categories used are: Likely Obama (broken down to Safe Obama and Probable Obama); Likely McCain (Safe/Probable); and Tossup (broken down to Lean Obama, Lean McCain, and Too Close To Call). And at the very end is a section with all the full data for people who, as I read in somebody's blog today (I will add a credit if I come across it again, as it's a funny line and deserves it) -- "FiveThirtyEight isn't a website, it's the number of times you've visited it this month."
Likely States -- Obama
Safe Obama (23 states, 273 EV) -- CA, CO, CT, DC, DE, HI, IA, IL, MA, MD, ME, MI, MN, NH, NJ, NM, NY, OR, PA, RI, VT, WA, WI.
New Hampshire had one outlier poll a while back, and has since recovered... no matter what the media says about it. Colorado has steadily improved its Obama support, and can now be considered Safe as well. The addition of New Hampshire and Colorado in the Safe Obama category (and the loss of no states here) pushes him over the top just among his safest states. This is the first time this has happened, and should calm a few frayed Democratic nerves heading into the home stretch.
Probable Obama (2 states, 33 EV) -- OH, VA.
Lots of movement here this week. Colorado and New Hampshire moved up to Safe, and Ohio moves up from Lean Obama. This may be overconfidence in the case of Ohio, but it's looking less and less likely McCain could win here, unless there is some massive vote fraud which makes it happen (knock wood). Obama finishes the week with two states here, Ohio and Virginia, both of which could be the state that puts Obama over the top on Election Night.
Adding together all the Likely states for Obama gives a total of 25 states, and a whopping 306 electoral votes.
Likely States -- McCain
Safe McCain (14 states, 118 EV) -- AK, AL, AR, ID, KS, KY, LA, NE, OK, SC, TN, TX, UT, WY.
The bad news for John McCain this week starts in his Safe category. McCain loses two states this week, Arizona and Mississippi, down to Probable McCain. Both states had some weak polls for McCain late in the week, but I do caution that they may just be outlier polling. McCain finishes the week with only 14 states and a measly 118 electoral votes in his Safe column -- down 16 EV from last week.
Probable McCain (4 states, 24 EV) -- AZ, MS, SD, WV.
Lots of activity in Probable McCain this week, with the addition of two states (AZ, MS) moving down from Safe McCain, the loss of Georgia down to Lean McCain, and -- his only good news -- the addition of West Virginia up from Lean McCain. He finishes the week with four states and 24 EV in this category -- up two states and six electoral votes from last week.
Total Likely McCain for the week is only 18 states (the same as last week), but since they're different states, McCain loses 10 EV for a miserly total of only 142 EV.
Lean Obama (2 states, 32 EV) -- FL, NV.
Ohio moved up to Probable Obama from here this week, but Florida remains shaky for Obama, so it stays as merely a Lean Obama state for now. Nevada moves up from Too Close To Call, and I even halfway considered moving Nevada all the way up to Probable Obama as well, since the numbers there are pretty close to Ohio's. But Ohio has shown deeper support for Obama for a longer period of time, so I can realistically only move Nevada to Lean Obama for now. Obama ends the week with two states here, for a total of 32 EV.
Lean McCain (1 state, 15 EV) -- GA.
McCain lost all three states he had in his Lean category from last week. Montana and Indiana moved down to Too Close To Call, and West Virginia (again, McCain's only good news this week) moved up to Probable McCain. But Georgia moved down from Probable McCain to just Lean McCain, due to a serious weakening in the polls in the state.
Too Close To Call (5 states, 43 EV) -- IN, MO, MT, NC, ND.
Some movement here, in the most volatile category. Nevada moved up to Lean Obama, and Indiana and Montana moved down here from Lean McCain. So we finish off the week with five states too close to make a prediction, none of them big enough to swing the entire race to McCain. How Obama does here is likely just going to be a question of how much icing his cake is going to have.
[Program Note: Join us here next Tuesday -- Election Day -- for my final (ultimate?) Electoral Math column, which will have my final election picks (it'll come out before the polls close, I promise). There will be no "Too Close To Call," no undecideds, as I will call every state the way I think it'll go. And I invite everyone else to share their picks in the comments, while we're all waiting for the returns to come in. Don't miss it!]
[Electoral Vote Data:]
Previous electoral math columns:
Barack Obama Likely Easy Wins -- 25 States -- 306 Electoral Votes:
Safe States -- 23 States -- 273 Electoral Votes
California (55), Colorado (9), Connecticut (7), Delaware (3), Hawaii (4), Illinois (21), Iowa (7), Maine (4), Maryland (10), Massachusetts (12), Michigan (17), Minnesota (10), New Hampshire (4), New Jersey (15), New Mexico (5), New York (31), Oregon (7), Pennsylvania (21), Rhode Island (4), Vermont (3), Washington, D.C. (3), Washington (11), Wisconsin (10)
Probable States -- 2 States -- 33 Electoral Votes
Ohio (20), Virginia (13)
John McCain Likely Easy Wins -- 18 States -- 142 Electoral Votes:
Safe States -- 14 States -- 118 Electoral Votes
Alabama (9), Alaska (3), Arkansas (6), Idaho (4), Kansas (6), Kentucky (8), Louisiana (9), Nebraska (5), Oklahoma (7), South Carolina (8), Tennessee (11), Texas (34), Utah (5), Wyoming (3)
Probable States -- 4 States -- 24 Electoral Votes
Arizona (10), Mississippi (6), South Dakota (3), West Virginia (5)
Tossup States -- 8 States -- 90 Electoral Votes:
Tossup States Leaning Obama -- 2 States -- 32 Electoral Votes
Florida (27), Nevada (5)
Tossup States Leaning McCain -- 1 State -- 15 Electoral Votes
Too Close To Call -- 5 States -- 43 Electoral Votes
Indiana (11), Missouri (11), Montana (3), North Carolina (15), North Dakota (3)
Oldest data -- no polls in October yet:
9/18: Utah, Washington, D.C.
9/25: Hawaii, Maryland
Chris Weigant blogs at: ChrisWeigant.com