For various reasons, some of them detailed in my recent article Counting Your Chickens Before They Hatch, I think that the pollsters and the pundits and the increasingly sold-out media have missed some of the key trends in this presidential campaign. They've concluded that it's a lock for Obama and are acting like he's already won.
It's all about the electoral vote breakdown. NBC has Obama leading 286 to McCain's 157 with 95 toss-up votes. CNN has Obama leading 291 to 157 for McCain with 90 electors up for grabs. The normally very solid RealClearPolitics has the electoral race at 278 for Obama to 132 for McCain with a big 128 electors undetermined. That shows a substantial shift away from Obama and towards undecided from their numbers yesterday.
My take on this is simple. I think that somewhere between 3% and 6% of voters who may claim to support Obama when they are polled will change their mind and vote for McCain in the privacy of the voting booth. I think this is a small factor in the northeast, slightly larger in the mid-Atlantic and west, and most significant in the south and among working class voters in the midwest. I think enough voters in these areas fear change and are attracted to McCain's populist, anti-socialist message that last minute doubt will sway their vote.
The map below shows how I think the electoral vote will break down.
I have McCain at 250 electors, Obama at 228 and 60 undecided. For McCain to get to 270 electors and win he needs to take either Pennsylvania or Ohio or the western combo of New Mexico, Colorado and Nevada which would produce a tie. For that to turn into a win he'd also need to pick up one of the electoral districts in Maine or Nebraska, which is a possibility. For Obama to win he would need to pick up either Ohio and Pennsylvania plus one of the western states. If I were to project a final result I'd say McCain gets Pennsylvania, Nevada and the upstate Maine elector, for a total of 277.
What's more, if the story which broke yesterday about Obama promising to destroy the coal industry makes it into the major media outlets in the next 24 hours he could very well lose both Ohio and Pennsylvania as miners desperate to keep their jobs rush to the polls, so the McCain margin might be even larger.
In some ways this may be a best case scenario for McCain, but the momentum is on his side now and if you accept the theory that the media has jumped to a premature and misguided conclusion and that McCain's unorthodox campaign has hidden strengths, then it might not be far off. Watch the coverage on election night and you can see if I'm a brilliant seer or overly optimistic.