Wed 15 Oct, 2008
Tags: Barack Obama, John McCain, Politics, Presidential election
As we’re all aware, the momentum of the presidential campaign has shifted significantly towards Obama in recent weeks. As of today, for example, Obama leads McCain in the national polls by as much as fourteen percentage points (53% to 39%), compared with gaps of four or five points as recently as a week earlier.
The big questions now are whether Obama’s current lead in the polls will hold up over the next three weeks, and whether or not this lead is likely to translate into victory on Election Day.
This post won’t address the first question, which boils down to whether, and how, voter sentiment might change dramatically between now and November 4. Instead, I want to address the second question: how has Obama’s recent surge in the polls affected the map of the Electoral College?
The most dramatic shifts in the state-by-state polls have occurred in four battleground states: Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Colorado.
Obama now leads McCain in Michigan by as many as 16 percentage points, which certainly seems to justify McCain’s earlier decision to pull resources out of that state. In Wisconsin, meanwhile, the polls show Obama leading by as much as 17 points, while his edge over McCain is now 11 in Minnesota and somewhere between four and nine points in Colorado.
These four states have been key toss-up states this election season, and together they carry 46 electoral votes. With at least three of these states now seemingly leaning strongly towards Obama, and with less dramatic shifts in other battleground states, the entire electoral map has shifted noticeably towards the Democratic candidate.
I now show states with 238 electoral votes clearly in Obama’s camp at this point, while states with another 48 electoral votes are leaning his way. This compares with 145 votes in McCain’s camp and another 3 leaning in that direction.
This puts the current electoral college count at 286-158 for Obama, with another 94 electoral votes still in the toss-up column. This would be enough to put Obama over the top without any of the toss-up states, as 270 electoral votes are needed to win.
This is a dramatic shift from previous results, which showed Obama ahead but winning only if he took enough toss-up states on Election Day. Until about ten days ago, Obama had been consistently leading in states with between 200 and 230 electoral votes, which meant that he would have needed to win 40-70 electoral votes from among the toss-up states on Election Day.
What, then, are McCain’s chances of pulling off an upset? One route would obviously be a decisive and momentum-changing victory in tonight’s presidential debate, or some other surprising development during the final three weeks of campaigning that shifts voter sentiment across the nation.
Otherwise, on a state-by-state level, McCain would need to come close to “running the table” by winning all of the remaining battleground states. As the results above suggest, he would need to win all of the current toss-up states, and still find another 18 electoral votes among the states that now lean towards Obama. That means McCain would have to starting by pulling off victories in every one of these states: Florida (where, for instance, Obama leads in the polls by about 5 points), Indiana, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, and West Virginia. This is certainly not impossible, as these are truly close contests right now, but to win all of them would almost certainly require a noticeable shift in national public opinion towards McCain. He would then have to put together the remaining 18 electoral college votes, which would almost certainly mean winning either Pennsylvania (where Obama now leads by at least 13 points), or Virginia (Obama leads by 9) and either Colorado (5 points) or New Mexico (7 points).