It has become increasingly clear to me that both the political climate and electoral landscape virtually guarantee a Barack Obama victory. As most of you have probably realized, he has been favored by both of these factors since he clinched the nomination. Beyond a few minor details and the wider availability of polling data today, this article could have been written four months ago. First, I will take a look at the current polling data available at RealClearPolitics, and then I will mention some of the political reasons these polls are unlikely to change enough for McCain prior to election day.
By my count there are 240 electoral votes which almost anyone will agree Obama will win (WA, OR, CA, NM, IA, IL, DC, MD, DE, NJ, CT, RI, MA, NY, VT, ME, MI, PA). On top of this I will add:
Wisconsin (10 EV): Obama only leads by 5.0% currently in the RCP average, but nearly two dozen consecutive polls since May have him winning. Kerry and Gore both carried the state and Obama won it handily during the primaries.
Minnesota (10 EV): Obama only leads by 4.6% currently, but the well respected Rasmussen polling agency had him up by 8%, and he has won in over two dozen consecutive polls since March.
This brings Obama's EV total to 260. The question is, what will give him the 9 EV to put him over the top?
He can win Virginia with its 13 EV. While Bush won Virginia by about 8% in 2000 and 2004, Obama is currently leading polls in the state by an average of 3.0%. The past 3 Rasmussen polls are Obama by 3, 5 and McCain by 2. Polling since June has been almost a dead heat, but the recent surge in Obama's polls has put him ahead. I would put his chance of winning this state around 50%.
He can win North Carolina with its 15 EV. Bush won North Carolina by about 12% in the last two elections, but Obama leads the polls by an average of .7%. All the polls prior to the past two weeks had McCain ahead so unless Obama maintains his surge through election day, McCain will win this state.
He can win Ohio with its 20 EV. Bush won the state by 3.5% and 2.1% in 2000 and 2004, respectively. Obama currently leads the polls by 2.0%. Obama's message did not do much for him against Hillary Clinton and it doesn't seem to be doing much against McCain in the state. I am inclined to go against the RCP market data and give Obama only a 25% chance of winning the state.
He can win Colorado with its 9 EV. Bush won the state by 8.4% and 4.7% in 2000 and 2004 respectively, so it is clearly trending Democratic. Obama currently leads by 5.0% in the polls, and 10/11 polls in the state this month show Obama winning. Given his large margin in the polls I think he will win this state. Let's put his odds at at least 75%.
He can win Nevada with its 5 EV. Bush won the state by 3.5% and 2.6%. There has only been 4 polls in the state this month producing an average Obama in of .5%. Looking back prior to this month, it has been a dead heat. I would give Obama a 25% chance of winning this state.
He can win New Hampshire with its 4 EV. Kerry won the state by 1.3% while Bush won it in 2000 by the same margin. Obama leads by 1.3% in the average of current polls. Given the fact that Kerry won the state, and it trended democratic, I see little reason for it to revert this year. Obama will very likely carry this state.
He can win Florida with its 27 EV. Bush won the state by .1% and 5%. Obama currently leads by 3.0%. Polls have trended sharply Obama the past couple of weeks in FL. Let's give him a 25% chance.
Of these states, any one would win him the election except NV and NH, both of which he would have to win. Colorado wins him the election because an electoral tie is thrown to the house where 28 of the 50 states have democratic delegations and each delegation gets one vote. This could change if democrats lose certain seats, but this is unlikely.
This gives Obama 5 realistic possibilities for winning the election (carrying CO, VA, OH, FL, or NH+NV). It gives McCain only two possibilities by winning CO, VA, OH, FL and either NH or NV. Even worse for McCain, both of these scenarios require him to win at least 5 states, all of which Obama has a 25-75% chance of winning. Most likely Obama wins the 260 EV I already gave him, plus 13 EV from CO and NH, where he has a substantial lead. If the Obama surge continues through election day, he will likely carry more than this. Clearly, this stretches already inferior McCain resources even thinner because he must win 5/6 states where Obama currently leads.
Obama's advantage on the electoral map is compounded by political advantages which McCain can do little to counter. A weak economy is a strong disadvantage for any incumbent party. Democratic party affiliation has soared. President Bush has an approval rating hovering around 30%.
If there was one thing to be learned from the Obama-McCain debate, it was the importance of these factors in governing this election. McCain, by any fair account, won the debate. He dominated Obama on several issues and came across as far more experienced. My own unscientific sampling of media coverage the next day gave McCain the edge. About 50 million people tuned into the debate. However, Obama's lead in the polls only continued to grow following the debate.
This confirms what some of the pundits had suggested prior to the debate: a tie is an Obama win. People in this political climate want to vote for Obama, but some have reservations. Obama reached a minimal threshold of competence and trustworthiness to reassure these voters and win their vote. Expectations were lower for Obama than McCain.
If McCain winning a debate on the issues results in an increased Obama lead in the polls, then I find it highly unlikely McCain will be able to turn the polls around prior to election day. As long as Obama maintains a firm campaign and doesn't commit a large blunder, then the fundamentals of 2008 will ensure his victory.