Electoral maps: Quinnipiac's "big state" polls find trouble for Obama in FL and OH, SUSA shows him strong in VA

It is hard to deny that general election polls are consistently showing Barack Obama to be weak in Ohio and Florida. The latest Rasmussen polls from those states, which both showed Clinton running significantly better than Obama, led me to consider the implications for Obama's electoral map, and the choice his campaign will likely make to privilege states that they believe will be more receptive to Obama's message.

Today, the latest wave of "big state" polls from Quinnipiac confirms that Clinton's electoral map would have centered on Ohio and Florida in a way that Obama's map will not:

  • In Ohio, Quinnipiac finds that Clinton beats McCain 48% to 41%; Obama trails 44% to 40%. McCain has improved his margin by 3% against both Democrats.
  • Clinton gets 85% of the vote of registered Democrats, Obama only gets 69%. He also trails by a wider margin among independents and does 17% worse among working-class whites.
  • In Florida, Clinton leads 48% to 41% also while Obama trails 45% to 41%.
  • Clinton wins 86% of the registered Democrats vote, while Obama only gets 71%. Obama also trails by a wider margin among independents. In a key measure, Clinton loses the working-class white vote by 2%, Obama by 20%.
  • 43% of Floridians say Obama's association with Wright makes them less likely to vote for him... the same number that says McCain's association with Bush makes them less likely to vote for the Republican nominee!
  • In Pennsylvania, Clinton leads McCain 50% to 37% while Obama is ahead 46% to 40%. McCain has improved his numbers by 1% and 3% respectively.
  • Clinton gets 86% of the registered Democratic vote, while Obama gets 73%. This is one state in which Clinton looks much weaker among African-Americans, as she gets only 78% of the black vote as opposed to 94% for Obama.
These polls might be used by the Clinton campaign to bolster their electability case to superdelegates. But there is no reason to believe that superdelegates will be affected: We have known for a long time that Obama and Clinton's electoral maps would take different forms, and that Ohio and Florida would be more important for the Clinton campaign. Furthermore, with the competitive part of the Democratic primary over, these polls are certainly more important for what they tell us about the coming general election.

In short, I would like to frame the conversation in terms of electoral maps rather than electability.

A problematic area for Democrats is that both candidates lose the independent vote in Ohio and in Florida. Independents massively turned to the Democratic Party in 2006 and it is that choice that allowed the party to make gains in the midterms. When asked to rate Bush's performance or in down-the-ballot polls, independents are still behaving as Democrats. But McCain is able to stop his party's bleeding and hold on to a lead in two of the major swing states against either Clinton or Obama.

For Obama, these numbers are one more reminder that he cannot take the vote of registered Democrats for granted. Some argue that these are just disaffected Clinton supporters who will easily return home once the nominee is chosen. There is no doubt that some of them will, and that Obama certainly has the capability of capturing the support of most Democrats who are reluctant to support him. But it would be a grave mistake to assume that registered Democrats will back the party's nominee no matter what. They have left the party in the past, and the appeal to (1) conservative Democrats and (2) Hispanics lies at the heart of McCain's electability.

The Obama campaign will have to spend a significant amount of time and resources solidifying the Democrats' blue-collar base and Hispanic supporters, especially if he wants to keep Ohio and Florida competitive. The good news is that a secure and unified base might be enough to win this election: More voters are identifying themselves as Democrats than they have in a long time, and if Obama is trailing by only 4% with weak showings among registered Democrats it does suggest that the answer lies with Democrats rather than at the center or in attracting Republicans.

And just in time to confirm that Obama's campaign is looking to emphasize other states and construct a different electoral map, SUSA released a poll from Virginia:

  • In this red state, Obama leads McCain 49% to 41%, including a 66% to 27% lead in Northern Virginia.
  • This is a poll testing VP choices, so Clinton is not included and you can check all the VP choices here. As always, the best Democrat by far is John Edwards as he bolsters Obama's numbers among registered Democrats, but that is also a name recognition factor.
Some Democrats worry that replacing OH and FL by states like VA and CO might be risky considering that these states have not been kind to Democrats in presidential elections in the past. But polls like SUSA's confirm that Obama does have an opening in those states (a poll yesterday showed Obama trailing by 8% in VA, but the numbers looked weird considering how weak the Democrat was in NoVa). You can be sure that this is a debate that will be waged for the coming weeks, as the Obama campaign tries to settle on a general election strategy. But whatever map they choose to go with they will have to move to secure the Democratic base -- perhaps not with John Edwards's inclusion on the ticket, but some strategy will have to be devised.

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  • I'm not reading too much into Obama's weaknesses until after the Democratic Convention. You will see that a lot of America simply are hesitant about Obama because they don't know him that well. We all know Hillary because she's been in the national spotlight for close to 20 years, most of us know McCain from his run in 2000 and his maverick image in the Senate. Obama was not elected until November 2004, and before that, most of America didn't know him until the Democratic Convention.

    I'm a Hillary supporter, but Obama is loaded with charisma.

    By Anonymous Jim W, At 22 May, 2008 14:22  

  • Obama has great potential but his newness to the public arena makes him too vulnerable to republican smears. One good hit on something he can't put to rest, like an indictment from Fitzgerald, and his chances are dirt. Obama is definitely a gamble vs. Clinton the sure thing. A combo ticket would be nice insurance (with either on top.) Clinton supporters would feel secure then knowing a backup was ready if Obama was forced out suddenly.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 22 May, 2008 14:47  

  • again, there are only 15 or so states to fight for (oh, fl, pa, mi, va, mn, wi, ia, nm, co, nv, nc, nh) so the obama camp will not be choosing a map that leaves out any of those states.

    and vp polls are utterly silly at this point. they recognize edwards' name and clinton's name. they don't know the others.

    it still looks like clark, webb, or richardson - since they have foreign policy and exec exp and they can help win swing states.

    By Blogger st paul sage, At 22 May, 2008 17:25  

  • I think Richardson would be the best VP, he has some name ID, he is hispanic which would a lot in that that area, he is wildly popular from a swing state, that combined (with Iowa and CO would give us vitory)he is experienced and would help unite the base and mend the fences with Hillary supporters.

    By Blogger Javier, At 22 May, 2008 17:30  

  • I agree that Obama is vulnerable to attacks because of his inexperience and his own capricious style (e.g. the flag lapel pin). I like him a lot and I want him to be around a long time. I am struck by the sheer stupdity of the Democratic leadership to push Obama into the limelight when he is not ready to bear the responsiblity that comes with it. Clinton and Obama need to be a united ticket in November. Obviously, I would prefer her to be the nominee... then Obama can run in 16.

    By Anonymous Tom, At 22 May, 2008 17:47  

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