Based on state-by-state polls, Barack Obama continues to occupy a dominant position on the Electoral College map — far more dominant, in fact, than is reflected in national popular vote polls, where his lead has recently fluctuated between zero and 9 percentage points with a Real Clear Politics average of 4.1 percentage points as of Thursday night.
In the Electoral College, by contrast, Real Clear Politics scores the current standings two ways: 255 electoral votes for Obama; 163 for John McCain with 120 in states too close to call or, if RCP forces each state into redness or blueness however small the polling lead, it comes out 309-229 in favor of Obama.
I’ve been watching another electoral college map site maintained by Andrew S. Tanenbaum, a professor of computer science who writes under the handle of Votemaster and who updates his map every day based on the latest polling. Unlike Real Clear Politics, which averages several polls, Votemaster awards each state to whichever candidate is ahead in the most recent poll. I can picture arguments for both methods and will try to monitor both maps to get the benefit of each.
As of Thursday night, Votemaster says Obama leads in states with a total of 320 electoral votes compared with 204 for McCain and two states worth 14 EV that are exactly tied in the most recent poll.
But one thing I like about Votemaster’s map is that he has more categories to indicate the size of Obama or McCain’s lead in each state.
Votemaster says Obama is ahead solidly (10 points or more) in 16 states (plus the District of Columbia) worth 211 EV; ahead “weakly” (5-9 points) in five states worth 35 EV and “barely” ahead (less than 5 points) in five states worth 74 EV.
McCain has solid control of 11 states (77 EV), weak control of eight states (116) and is barely ahead three states (11).
Two states, North Dakota and Missouri, worth 14 EV, were exactly tied in the most recent polls considered by Votemaster.
The gross scorecard is bad enough for McCain. But a look at the details reflects the depth of his current predicament. Obama’s strong states are worth almost triple the electoral votes of McCain’s strong states. To pull even, McCain would have to hold all of the states in which he is currently ahead (including those in which he currently leads by less than 5 percentage points), capture the two states that are currently tied and steal at least 53 of the 74 electoral from the states where Obama currently leads by less than 5 percentage points. Those five states are Ohio, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Indiana.
When you look at the states involved and their recent electoral history, of course, this seems doable. Of the two dead-even states and the five states in which Obama is barely ahead, six of the seven (all but Pennsylvania) went GOP in 2000 and 2004.
Of course, that’s just a fancy way of saying that if McCain wins all the states that Bush won in either 2000 or 2004, he would squeak through (duh, like Bush Bush did). But it’s also a tricky way of saying that Obama currently is ahead or tied in six states that Bush carried last time and McCain is not currently ahead or tied in any states that Al Gore carried in 2000 or John Kerry carried in 2004.
The best prospect for McCain comes from this last observation. Although for Electoral College purposes, there are 51 separate elections (yes, I know, more than 51 if you count the possibility of split electoral votes in Nebraska and Maine), in reality it is sort of one big campaign. Chances are, if McCain starts gaining ground in a few states it may be because he is gaining in most states. If that happens, he’s right back in the thick of the race to amass 271 electoral votes (which would be a tie and throw the election into the House of Representatives. Oy.)