September 06, 2008

Who Would Win If the Election Were Tomorrow?

After the American Century

With less than two months to go, the presidential election still looks very close. According to a compilation of many polls made by Real Clean Politics, Obama has a very small lead. Their projection is that if the voting were tomorrow, Obama would get 273 electoral votes, just three more than needed to win. McCain would get 265. This is something of a worst case scenario for Obama, because it assumes that he loses Ohio, Indiana, Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida, while winning Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Colorado, and New Mexico. For McCain, such a map suggests that he should make a special effort to win New Hampshire and New Mexico, because as it now stands, getting either one would make him President. For Obama, it is equally clear that he should try harder in Virginia, Indiana and Ohio.

However, these polls should not be taken too seriously. The majority of the state polls that are the basis for this map are still from before either of the conventions. They do not reflect the Democratic show of unity or Palin's addition to the Republican ticket. More revelations about her background are possible, and newer polls will reflect the continuing exposure she receives. Given the lag time between polling activity and events, a better picture should emerge in about two weeks.

Nevertheless, the strength of the Republican ticket should be worrying the Democrats. They seem much further ahead of Republicans in the battle for House and Senate seats. Certainly, they cannot now assume they will win the White House in November.

Of course, there are also national polls focusing not on the electoral count, but on the percentage of support for either candidate. Neither has been able to rise above 50% in these polls. Three released yesterday all put Obama ahead, by 2% (Rasmussen), 4% (Gallup), and 6% (Hotline). Looking at these is a bit like reading tea leaves, but it struck me that the poll giving Obama the biggest lead also had the largest number of undecided voters, no less than 14%. The more voters were forced to make a choice, it seems, the better McCain did in these surveys. In other words, it looks as though about one voter in seven is uncertain, but if forced to choose, they go to McCain more easily than to Obama. The next 58 days both candidates will be fighting to win these swing voters, especially in the swing states.

Update: Since writing this, new polls made by Rasmussen put McCain and Obama in a dead heat, while at least one other poll suggests that McCain is leading after the Republican National Convention. Sarah Palin has emerged as the most popular of all four candidates, at least for the moment. This is a remarkable tribute to the gullibility of the electorate, and it illustrates the size and sheer stupidity of the right wing of the Republican Party.