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Electoral Math -- Obama Landslide?

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I have to admit, that's a pretty provocative title. And enumerating the poultry before they emerge from the ova is always risky... as the saying goes. But it's hard to look at this week's polls without the word "landslide" appearing in your forebrain.

Now, there is no hard-and-fast rule as to what constitutes an electoral "landslide." Some put the number of electoral votes (for the winner) as low as 300, others as high as 375 or even 400. I'm going to arbitrarily (for the purposes of this and future columns) peg an official "landslide" at 340. Mostly because at 340, the number for the loser slips below 200 -- a psychological barrier. Using 350 might be better, since that guarantees a spread of at least 150 between winner and loser, but I'm going to go with 340.

And right now, 340 or more looks like a serious possibility for Barack Obama on Election Day. There's just no getting around it when you look at the numbers.

Of course, plenty of caveats apply. If you take a look at where we were just one week ago or even two weeks ago, you can see that public opinion can change quickly. Meaning it can also change back, just as quickly. So nothing is written in stone here. And these numbers likely don't reflect McCain's new "kitchen sink" negative strategy, Obama's Keating Five response, or last night's debate. But by now the numbers do show reactions to the vice presidential debate last week. And, of course, Tina Fey's weekly portrayal of Sarah Palin on Saturday Night Live. Ahem.

And the overwhelming picture that emerges is that everything that moved last week moved in Obama's direction. Everything. One state (Colorado) did momentarily move toward McCain, but then it moved right back again. Florida moved very strongly to Obama, then slipped back today to just moving strongly to Obama, so even that was a win.

Obama had ten states move in his direction this week. Two of these moved strongly for Obama (New Hampshire, Minnesota) compared to last week, six moved less strongly (Florida, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Washington, and Iowa), and two of them flipped from the McCain column to Obama (Nevada, Missouri). And McCain lost ground in his base states, with softening showing in Montana, Texas, and Mississippi.

Put another way, John McCain had absolutely no good news from the polls this week, and Barack Obama had nothing but good news.

How's that for a cheerful way to begin this week's poll watch column?

Let's go to the charts for more good news, starting with the overall Electoral College status. [Click on any of these charts to see a larger image.]

EVPercent07sm

[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.]

John McCain started off the week with a dismal 190 electoral votes (EV) total, which translates into an embarrassingly-low 35.3% of the total. His numbers then sank a bit, recovered a bit, and then sank even further. He currently has only 174 EV, or 32.3% -- below one-third, it should be noted.

Barack Obama did not start off the week (due to a lot of large states being tied) as well as McCain's numbers would have you think, though. Obama started with a winning 286 EV, or 53.2%. But then Obama moved Ohio and Florida into his column, where they have stayed. This is a monstrous jump of 47 electoral votes in one day. Obama slipped a bit when Colorado briefly went to McCain, but recovered it yesterday as well as picking up Missouri, meaning he ended the week with a whopping 349 EV in his column, or 64.8% of the total.

Numerically, this is an interesting event -- Barack Obama now has more than twice the electoral votes McCain does. As Joe Biden would say, let me repeat that. Obama is doing better than two-to-one against John McCain right now.

You see why I had to start talking about a landslide?

And breaking the numbers down is even more fun! Starting with McCain...

McCainEV07sm

[Definition of terms: Strong means 10% or better in the polls, Weak means 5% or better, and Barely is under five percent.]

Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words. You can actually see the cliff that McCain fell off of this week. Actually, this collapse began last week, but it was hard to see in last week's chart. First, McCain lost 40 electoral votes in his Barely column, losing Ohio and North Carolina the day after he lost Florida. This slide would continue, from his previous high of 89 last Tuesday down to a dismal 11 today (Indiana is the only state he's still got in this category).

In Strong, McCain lost 43 electoral votes, which was mostly due to Texas softening up. McCain's Strong now stands almost as low as it did before his convention bounce, at a paltry 100 EV.

The only good news for McCain was, really, a lack of further bad news. While McCain's states migrated from Strong to Weak, and from Barely over to Obama; at least his Weak states didn't further migrate to Barely. The metric I pay most attention to -- Strong plus Weak -- didn't move an inch last week for McCain. He ended the week with exactly the same -- 163 EV -- as he had when he started. So I guess that's something.

Moving on from McCain's dismal chart, we next see a chart brimming with electoral joy for Barack Obama.

ObamaEV07sm

This is, quite simply, astounding. Up until yesterday, Barack Obama had improved his numbers in all three categories this week. Quite a feat. Today, however, two states moved (Pennsylvania to Strong, and Florida back to Barely), meaning he's only up for the week in Strong and Barely, and slipped a bit in Weak. But still, an amazing week for Barack.

His Strong numbers are up a whopping 53 EV from last week, showing solidifying support in the Pacific Northwest (Washington), the Upper Midwest (Minnesota, Iowa) and the Northeast (New Hampshire, Pennsylvania). Total Strong this week -- again, coming in at more than twice McCain's number -- is an astronomical 228 EV. This is the highest point this category has seen yet, it's worth noting.

With such a large movement towards Strong, Obama's Weak numbers have fallen a bit. As I mentioned, up until yesterday they were actually up, but Pennsylvania and Florida moved today, and they have 48 electoral votes between them. So while Obama moved Virginia into his Weak column, it was not enough to prevent a decline in this category, from 75 EV down to 49 EV. But still, stop and think about it for a second -- Obama is polling better than five points up in Virginia. If he manages to hold onto his lead here and possibly add Florida again before the election, then it's not even going to be close.

And, once again, you would expect Obama's Barely number to have fallen with all that movement. But it didn't. It actually doubled -- from 36 EV to 72 EV. Obama picked up Florida and Ohio this week (which both had been tied), as well as flipping Missouri and Nevada from McCain. Personally, I think Missouri (and possibly Ohio) could drift back to McCain, but I remain hopeful for Nevada and Florida.

And I saved the best for last. It's obvious, just by looking at that chart. Obama's Strong plus Weak number is now enough to win the race on its own. Obama's Strong plus Weak is now 277 electoral votes, after hitting an all-time high yesterday of 304. That means that even if Obama loses all his Barely states, and wins none of the current battleground states -- he will still be our next president. If these numbers hold, of course.

One more piece of good news, Obama's total 349 EV is the highest point he has hit during the entire campaign. If this keeps up, I'm going to have to adjust the scale on the chart, since it only goes up to 400....

 

As a check on my exuberance, here once again is Sam Minter's take on the race from abulsme.com. His chart averages the last five state polls, while I just take the data from electoral-vote.com, so his data is generally 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 pink/baby blue line currently is determines who is ahead, measured from the centerline.

AbulsmeEV

Minter's most recent comments have the same math as this comment from earlier in the week, which is much more amusing:

New Summary:

McCain Best Case - Obama 277, McCain 261

Obama Best Case - Obama 375, McCain 163

If everybody gets their leans - 353 Obama, 185 McCain

 

That's right. You saw it correctly.

As of right now, John McCain's best case scenario is TO LOSE. He could win EVERY SINGLE SWING STATE... and he would STILL LOSE.

Let me just let that sink in.

As of right now, John McCain's best case scenario is TO LOSE. He could win EVERY SINGLE SWING STATE... and he would STILL LOSE.

OK. Now perhaps a little reality. I fully expect some of the "Weak Obama" states may end up becoming swing states again before this is done. (Like Minnesota did today for instance.) So this situation will PROBABLY not last. Probably. Assuming that McCain is able to reverse some of his recent fortunes and is really near his bottom and can't go much lower.

On the other hand, if the McCain campaign continues to collapse, we may be on the way to a landslide.

Just over one month to go. Time is running out. If McCain managed to reverse this and win it would be an amazing comeback. We'll see if he can manage it.

It seems this exuberance stuff is catching... so allow me to tone things down a bit.

 

My Picks

Because while most of this column is wildly optimistic, this week I'm going to play things fairly conservatively in my personal picks -- which, as always, don't rely completely on just poll numbers, but also on what my Magic 8 Ball thinks. Or possibly my cat. This is where intangibles come into play, in other words, and I am not totally convinced this week is not just a statistical anomaly which could be reversed in the blink of an eye.

Actually, if truth be told, I didn't ask the cat what she thinks this week... seeing as how she saw fit to upchuck a hairball about thirty seconds before last night's debate started (which I had to clean up)... so I'm not one to trust her judgment this week. Or her timing. Ahem.

Anyway, while some major battleground states have moved pretty far towards Obama, this could be a few misleading polls, or a temporary move that could easily be reversed. So maybe next week (if things stay largely the same) I will be a bit more bold, but for now I'm keeping my feet firmly on the ground here.

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 full data in all its glorious wonkitude.

 

Likely States -- Obama

In the Safe category, Obama picks up three states (Michigan, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania) from last week's Probable Obama. The Minnesota polls have shown strong support, and Obama made major gains in the last week. But the state has been in Obama's column in one way or another since I started tracking data, so I think this is a pretty safe pick. In Michigan, the polls aren't quite as good, but they still have a decent margin -- and (more importantly) McCain just pulled out of the state. So, again, a pretty safe pick. And Pennsylvania finally returns to Safe, after today's poll numbers. This week's total Safe Obama (20 states, 256 EV) -- CA, CT, DC, DE, HI, IA, IL, MA, MD, MI, MN, NJ, NM, NY, OR, PA, RI, VT, WA, WI.

Looking at Probable Obama, three states moved up from last week (MI, MN, PA) to Safe, and Obama gained one (New Hampshire) all the way up from Too Close To Call. There was one outlier poll in New Hampshire showing McCain edging out Obama, but that was two weeks ago and it has since moved strongly towards Obama. An argument could be made that the other state in this category (Maine) should move up to Safe Obama as well, but I'd like to see a few more strong polls there before I do so. This week's Probable Obama (2 states, 8 EV) -- ME, NH.

This doesn't change Obama's Likely total much from last week, but it gets him within six electoral votes of winning in this category alone -- 22 states with 264 electoral votes. And 256 of those are in the Safe category! Meaning that moving just one more state into the Likely column (or at the most, two) could all but guarantee victory for Obama on Election Day.

 

Likely States -- McCain

McCain's base support appears to be crumbling beneath his feet. In the Safe category, McCain loses a whopping four states this week alone (GA, MS, MT, TX) down to Probable. This leaves him with a dangerously low level of base support. If he loses one more state, he's going to slip into double-digits in the electoral vote tally here. This week's total Safe McCain (16 states, 100 EV) -- AK, AL, AR, AZ, ID, KS, KY, LA, ND, NE, OK, SC, SD, TN, UT, WY.

Probable McCain gains four states from last week, but it's not good news for McCain. Because they all are moving downward, from the Safe column. The only good news here is that West Virginia didn't also weaken. This week's total Probable McCain (5 states, 63 EV) -- GA, MS, MT, TX, WV.

Because all the movement here was between the two sub-categories, overall McCain's Likely numbers didn't change from last week -- 21 states total, with 163 electoral votes.

But because Obama picked up four electoral votes here, McCain is now over 100 electoral votes behind in this crucial category.

 

Tossup states

Lean Obama (2 states, 40 EV) -- FL, VA.

Now we get to where the action really happened last week. Obama gains Florida in his Lean column, which is huge news because of their 27 electoral votes, but I also had to downgrade Colorado to Too Close To Call. Maybe it was just one bad poll, but for two days last week McCain was actually winning here. So, for now, it got downgraded. Virginia and Florida are currently showing extremely strong Obama support, but it has been so recent that I can't honestly move either of them up to Probable for Obama. Yet. One more week of solid good polling numbers here, though, and either one (or both) of them could move up -- which would, in effect, end the race right there, with plenty of votes to spare. Which is one reason why I'm being a bit cautious about doing so for now. Florida, for instance, weakened from just yesterday, so we need more data before moving it.

Lean McCain (1 state, 11 EV) -- IN.

McCain lost Missouri down to Too Close To Call, but managed to hang on to Indiana here. Other than that, there's not much to say.

Too Close To Call (5 states, 60 EV) -- CO, MO, NC, NV, OH.

We had a lot of activity both in and out of this category this week. Florida moved up to Lean Obama, and New Hampshire moved all the way up to Probable Obama. Missouri got downgraded from Lean McCain, and Colorado got downgraded from Lean Obama.

Colorado could firm up for Obama, from the history of this race so far, as could Nevada and/or Ohio. North Carolina remains absolutely tied, from what I can see, although there have been one or two polls there showing Obama with an edge. The real bad news for McCain is that Missouri is back in play, when they thought they had it pretty well sewn up.

 

All in all, it's been an exciting week for poll-watchers, and hopefully next week will also be as fun to watch, as the wave of undecideds break for Barack Obama.

See you next Wednesday!

 

[Electoral Vote Data:]

Previous electoral math columns:

[6/30/08], [7/21/08], [8/6/08], [8/20/08], [9/17/08], [9/24/08], and [10/1/08].

 

Barack Obama Likely Easy Wins -- 22 States -- 264 Electoral Votes:

Safe States -- 20 States -- 256 Electoral Votes
California (55), Connecticut (7), Delaware (3), Hawaii (4), Illinois (21), Iowa (7), Maryland (10), Massachusetts (12), Michigan (17), Minnesota (10), New Jersey (15), New Mexico (5), New York (31), Oregon (7), Pennsylvania (21), Rhode Island (4), Vermont (3), Washington DC (3), Washington (11), Wisconsin (10)

Probable States -- 2 States -- 8 Electoral Votes
Maine (4), New Hampshire (4)

 

John McCain Likely Easy Wins -- 21 States -- 163 Electoral Votes:

Safe States -- 16 States -- 100 Electoral Votes
Alabama (9), Alaska (3), Arizona (10), Arkansas (6), Idaho (4), Kansas (6), Kentucky (8), Louisiana (9), Nebraska (5), North Dakota (3), Oklahoma (7), South Carolina (8), South Dakota (3), Tennessee (11), Utah (5), Wyoming (3)

Probable States -- 5 States -- 63 Electoral Votes
Georgia (15), Mississippi (6), Montana (3), Texas (34), West Virginia (5)

 

Tossup States -- 8 States -- 111 Electoral Votes:

Tossup States Leaning Obama -- 2 States -- 40 Electoral Votes
Florida (27), Virginia (13)

Tossup States Leaning McCain -- 1 State -- 11 Electoral Votes
Indiana (11)

Too Close To Call -- 5 States -- 60 Electoral Votes
Colorado (9), Missouri (11), Nevada (5), North Carolina (15), Ohio (20)

 

Oldest Polls:

9/18: Washington DC, Utah

 

Chris Weigant blogs at: ChrisWeigant.com