July 24, 2008

If the Election Were Tomorrow...

After the American Century

It has been about eight weeks since Obama clinched his nomination and the American public could focus on just two candidates. Fears that his battle with Hillary Clinton would sap his appeal have so far not been justified. If the election were held tomorrow, Obama would win easily. Nationally, a combination of all recent polls tells us that Obama is leading by 4.8%. But candidates are not elected nationally, but state by state. If one looks at all the opinion polls for individual states and puts them together, however, the picture is even more positive. Obama would get far more than the 270 electoral votes necessary to enter the White House: 322 to be exact. Tomorrow, John McCain would get 216.

The key to this and every American election remains the swing states. Right now Obama is leading in most of these, including (from east to west) New Hampshire, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Iowa, Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada. McCain is leading in only North Carolina, Florida, and Missouri, and all of these are narrow leads - indeed, they fall within the margin of error for polls.

Another way to look at these polls is to divide the electoral votes into three categories: likely to go to Obama (255), likely to go to McCain (163), and close races (120). The close contests are, at the moment, New Hampshire, Virginia, North Carolina, Ohio, Indiana, Missouri, Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada. Obama only needs to win 15 votes in these undecided races. In contrast, McCain needs 107. If they split the 120, Obama wins with c. 315 electoral votes to 223.

Obama is probably doing even better than these figures suggest. Since these polls were conducted, he has been receiving overwhelming and positive media attention during his trip to the Middle East and Europe. That ought to translate into even better numbers for him, especially if the outdoor speech in Berlin this evening is a success.

Were the election held tomorrow, Obama would win in a walk. But being the front runner means the press has little mercy, and it means John McCain may resort to negative campaigning, to try to bring Obama down. He has hired new people (call them Rovians) who know how to do this. When the campaign really heats up in the fall, don't be surprised if McCain has found an attack dog as a Vice-Presidential candidate - a new Dick Cheney who is well suited to win more of those swing states.