Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Obama and Palin/McCain by the Numbers

The last two weeks of Palinomania have been depressing. Or irritating. Or frustrating. Or maddening. I don't know the word, but it seems like there is a sort of listlessness on the left side of the political spectrum. The polls have swung hard for, I mean, McCain after the convention, the mainstream media seems to have fallen for all of the red meat put in front of it (or white meat as the case may be), and Obama's campaign has running to the middle irritating it's base. It's no wonder Jeremy felt desolate this afternoon about PalinMcCain overtaking Obama in the Intrade markets.

While the polls are all over the place (see here for a great graph from political scientist Charles Franklin showing the poll spread), I think that much of this concern is displaced nervousness about the way Palin's introduction into the race has made her the story rather than the campaign itself. Why do I think this? Because (unfortunately) in the U.S. we don't elect our president by national vote. As dr mentioned, the important vote is capturing enough electoral votes and in this, I think (as dr does), that Obama is doing pretty damn well.

[After trying for twenty minutes to get the table to format properly, I'm giving up on it. So, if you are so inclined, please continue reading after the big blank space]

DelegatesObama MarginPolls after GOP Convention
New Mexico57.20
New Hampshire40.71

This table is long, but this is why I'm encouraged. There are 538 electoral votes (two for each state senators, one for each Congressperson, and 3 for D.C.) and Obama needs 270 to win. Assuming that Obama wins all five states leaning his direction (a reasonable assumption looking at the map), Obama would have 243 electoral votes. This means he needs 27 of the remaining electoral votes to win, which, looking at the list above looks entirely doable for Obama to pull off. Although this list is virtually unchanged from the map Kerry was facing four years ago (the exception being that Wisconsin was much more of a toss-up, even up to election-eve polls), I don't think that any of us would disagree that Obama's campaign is much more talented than Kerry's.

A look at the "toss-up" states at the bottom of this list suggests that Obama has several different outcomes that could win this election. Let's assume that a combination of racists, hardcore conservatives, and Israel supporters wary of Obama makes Florida unobtainable. It makes sense to run a few ads, make sure McCain spends money there, and keep a minimal ground operation in a few strongholds in case there is a break. Although I don't want to count on it, I also think that Michigan will go for Obama. Michigan certainly has its fair share of racists and it is the state that made the term "Reagan Democrats" a political truism; but in the last several elections it has had a tradition of swinging Democratic late in races. While not counting on it, let's just play out the scenario where Michigan goes to Obama.

That leaves six more states. Winning either Ohio or Virginia wins the election for Obama outright. Winning only Colorado means that the electoral college will tie[1]. However, winning Colorado plus any other state also wins without requiring a win in Ohio. This means that, conditional on winning Michigan, Obama has three plausible ways to pull off a victory: win Ohio, win Virginia, or win Colorado with any other state. Thus, with the combination of Obama's fundraising advantage, superior ground campaigns built from the grueling primary campaign with Clinton, and the obvious skill of Obama's campaign to develop a winning strategy, I am feeling cautiously optimistic that our country might be headed in a new direction come January.

All of the data is based on figures from
[1] This would be the worst of all possible situations. The tie would then go to Congress with one vote going to each state delegation. Despite Democratic gains in Congress, this would certainly go to the Republicans and have the added "benefit" of creating a second Constitutional crisis in eight years.


wobblie said...

You pretty much summed up what I'm thinking (and just left in a comment over at the Bellman).

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