First electoral college ratings: It's a toss-up

Now that primary contests have come to an end, the time has come for the first electoral map ratings. Of course, if there is a popular vote blowout on either direction, careful electoral college calculations will be much less important, but until then the campaign has to be thought of as a collection of 51 contests that ought to be considered on a state by state basis.

The states have been divided in seven categories and rated as "safe," "likely," "lean" or "toss-up" states. A state that is rated as likely should not be considered competitive at this time but there is a conceivable scenario under which it could become so in the next few months. For instance, Obama should not envision picking-up Texas and McCain should not expect to be close in California, but it would not be surprising if polls end up tighter than expected. On the other hand, the 15 "lean" and "toss-up" states are where most of the action will be in over the next few months.

These ratings are based on a mixture of polling data, considerations of which states both parties are likely to invest in, Obama and McCain's respective strengths and weaknesses and the voting and registration patterns of each state since 2004. In other words, they are meant to be a snapshot of the present moment and we can expect a lot of changes in the coming months. These ratings will eventually be updated weekly, but there is no need for that frequent re-evaluations for now, so we will stick to an update every two weeks at most.

Without further delay, here are the first 2008 electoral college ratings:

  • Safe McCain: Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Nebraska (at large + 3rd congressional district), Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, Tennessee, West Virginia, Wyoming (97 EVs)
  • Likely McCain: Alaska, Georgia, Indiana, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska (1st and 2nd congressional districts), North Dakota, Texas (77 EVs)
  • Lean McCain: Florida, Missouri, North Carolina (53 EVs)
  • Toss-up: Colorado, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Wisconsin (104 EV)
  • Lean Obama: Iowa, Oregon, Minnesota (24 EVs)
  • Likely Obama: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, Maine, New Jersey, Washington (107 EVs)
  • Safe Obama: DC, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont (76 EVs)
This gives us the following totals:

  • Safe + Likely Obama: 183 electoral votes
  • Safe + Likely + Lean Obama: 207
  • Toss-up: 104
  • Safe + Likely + Lean McCain: 227
  • Safe + Likely McCain: 174
Of the toss-up states, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Ohio look to be the holy trio of the 2008 election (Michigan has for the time being replaced the Sunshine state) but Barack Obama has carved himself an alternative route to the presidency that does not require him to carry Ohio. With Iowa leaning to his side, he needs a combination of the Western states, Nevada, New Mexico and Colorado (I recently discussed this more in detail here).

The 9 toss-up states are made up of 4 states won twice by George Bush (CO, NV, OH and VA), 3 states that both John Kerry and Al Gore carried (MI, WI and PA) and two states that split their decision in 2000 and 2004 (NH and NM). If I had a gun pointed to my head and had to allocate these 104 electoral votes, I would say it is most likely at this point that Obama carries Colorado, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Mexico and Pennsylvania for 273 electoral votes while McCain would carry Nevada, Ohio and Virginia for 265 electoral votes. As I said, this all presupposes that the national numbers remain as tight as they are today, for a blowout election would likely lead one party to snatch all these 104 electoral votes and score some upsets on the list of "likely" states.

Also, a few explanatory notes on some of my other ratings, starting with Massachusetts. It seems very unlikely that this state, which many dub as the most Democratic in the country, would give itself to John McCain, particularly given how low Bush's approval rating is here. But there have been too many polls showing Obama polling weaker than he ought to for me to move the state in the safe column for now. SUSA has consistently shown Obama barely edging out McCain while Rasmussen has repeatedly shown him considerably weaker than Hillary Clinton.

Florida, meanwhile, is one of the rare states in which it seems hard to dispute that Hillary Clinton would have been in better shape than her opponent. Numerous polls have shown Obama struggling against McCain, and some of the constituencies that the Illinois Senator has the most trouble in and that McCain believes he can win over (older voters, Hispanics) are key to Florida politics.

As for the Southern states, the Obama campaign looks to be serious about planning a registration drive in states in which past nominees have fared extremely poorly like Georgia and Mississippi. The problem for Obama is that any surge in black turnout could be negated by increased racial polarization in the electorate and white voters turning even more away from Democrats than they have in the past, but the campaign's determination to test these states is enough to warrant their move to the "likely" column. The Obama campaign has even more promising grounds in North Carolina and in Virginia, where high black turnout coupled with outreach to independent-minded voters could result in upsets.

There are two more regions of interest. First, the Mountain West, where a number of states which were never mentioned in 2000 and 2004 (MT, NE, ND) could be in play in 2008 though the GOP's dominance in this region make them tough states to crack. Second, Appalachia, where West Virginia and Kentucky would have both been rated much more competitively had Hillary Clinton been the Democratic nominee as this region is definitely the only one in the country in which Obama looks unlikely to make numbers move.

Labels: , ,


  • Just want to give you my congratulations for being one of the first bloggers to write such a comprehensive, well-analyzed electoral college ratings. Keep up the good work : )

    By Blogger Jason, At 04 June, 2008 14:49  

  • I second Jason. Keep up the good work Taniel.

    By Anonymous Guy, At 04 June, 2008 15:22  

  • A very good electoral map. I want to talk about which states the candiates will do best in.

    Obama will get 90%+ in D.C. no suprise here. D.C. is becoming more white but these are wealthy white liberals: D.C wouldn't vote for McCain if no Democrats were running.

    I believe that Obama's best STATE will be in Hawaii: He is extremely popular in his birth state and Hawaii'ns are very exited over the possibility that a person born there can become president. I say he gets 63% of the vote MINIMUM, and he can conceiveable get around 70% of the vote. He will also get at least 60% of the vote in his current home state of Illnois, maybe a maxium of 66% or so. He may also get a maximum of 60% in my home state of Maryland (lacks in Baltimore City and Prince George's County, white collar liberal whites in popolous Montgomery county) and maybe up to 60% in Vermont thanks to White collar white liberals in that state. New York will not reach 60% but it will be double digits, like Rhode Island.

    On Likely states, he will probably win them all by low doubles/high singles. CA, MA, ME, and NJ by 10-12% points, Connecicut by 6-9 points. Washington state is most likely to leave Obama, but he will probably win that one same as Connecut, 6-9 points because Obama is strong in northwest.

    On leaners, Obama can possibly win MN by double digits if Pawlenty is not on McCain's ticket, maybe only by about 5 points if he is on. Oregan win about 5-7 points, Iowa win 5-6 points. Thing about Iowa is that McCain did no campaignign in that state as he made no real effort in the cauceses, therefore Obama is favored.

    For the McCain orientated states:

    I think his best state will probably be the same as Bush in 2004, Utah. It won't be as good as what Romney would have done (Romney probably would have won UT by 90% in the GE, unprecidencted in modern presidential campaigns) but McCain will probably get about 65% or so of the vote. He will also get at lest 60% in Kentucky and West Virgina. Many DEMOCRATS despite Obama in these states, and they will help McCain win big (some bad news for Rep. John Yarmuth in KY-03, as that is the only district in KY that leans democratic but just barely, Obama will likely lose this district as well). McCain will get at least 55% and max of 60% in AR, ID, KS, at large + 3rd cd NE, OK. and TN. I think Obama will actully get into low single digits (8-9 points) in SD and WY because of Obama strength in the mountain states, and SC and LA because of the black vote but not to the point of competition here. McCain of course will win his home state of Arizona, but not as much as Obama will win IL, maybe around 57% or so. Alabama is also one of the most racially polarized states in the nation: McCain will get 80-90% of the white vote and since whites are the majority, will get at least 58% of the vote, maybe 60%.

    On likely states, McCain will win IN by 10-12%. Alaska, ND, and MT will be single digit wins at best, around 8-9 points. If Obama has some extra money lying around, he could try to test McCain in these states, starting with ND, and then either Alaska or Montana but probably not both. Another thing is that Bob Barr will get his highest % votes in these regions so that is a monkey wrench thrown in. Obama can also contest NE 1st and 2nd if he has some extra money lying around, McCain will win those by single digits, most he can get is 8 points I postulate. Thanks to the sizeable black vote, Obama will get within single digits in MS, GE, and maybe TX of around 6-9 points. Problem will be getting those last few points and these states are racially polarized. Of course TX also has a good hispanic population, so maybe McCain can pull of 10-12 points there. However, while Obama can't win Georgia and Missisipi, he will be a great help to down ballot dems which are more conservative (and white) and therefore won't have as much problems with white voters in these states while getting the benefit of increased black turnout. Musgrove will likely defeat Wicker in the MS senate race if McCain only wins Ms by 6 points.

    On the lean McCain races, Obama will likely get at least 46% of the vote: the quesion is where does he get the other ones. Obama is weak among the elderly and Cuban and other Lations in Florida, so McCain will probably get a 8 point victory in Florida. Maybe more if the Democratic party isn't unified more by november. In MO Obama has the rural problem. He can win big in the big cities in MO like St. Louis but it will only get him just a few inches from the finish line. McCain will likely destroy him in the rural areas, leading to a narrow victory for McCain (2-4 points). Same thing in North Carolina, but Obama is a bit farther from a majority than in MO. He will get within 6% of victory but McCain's strength among veterans and independents will likely keep Obama from winning, althrough if Obama gets an overwhelming percentage of Clinton supporters by the fall, he will have good chance of making a mild upset.

    On the tossup states, Obama in my view has the bare advantage in Colorado, Wisconsin, and Pennslyvania while McCain has the bare advantage in New Hampshire, Virginia, and Nevada: with Michigan, Ohio, and New Mexico likely being pure 50/50 tossups. I say that Obama will win Colarado and Wisconsin with 51% thx to his western appeal of the vote, PA by 53% because enough Clinton supporters shouold come to him. McCain wins NH by 51% because of his appeal to NH independents, and Nevada because it leans slightly republican and some hispanics will go McCain's way and Virginia by 53% becaise McCain will swamp Obama in the rural areas of Virginia and keep the margins down enough in the northern part enough to get a victory. NM, MI, OH will be decided by 2 points or less either way because both candidates are so evenly matched in these states.

    So this stands as a very extremly close election, with Obama probably poised with an extremely narrow lead, but we have to see what happens later.

    By Anonymous jaxx raxor, At 04 June, 2008 15:23  

  • Taniel,

    Excellent job! In regards to your map, I would have possibly switched South Carolina and Georgia. If Clinton is on the ticket, Arkansas may move towards "lean mccain", but right now I do agree with your assessments.

    With the "lean" states, I totally agree that Florida, Missouri and North Carolina are leaning to McCain, and I also agree with Iowa, Oregon and Minnesota leaning towards Obama.

    With your tossups, I think Obama has a slight edge with Colorado, New Mexico, and PA. Ohio, Nevada, Wisconsin, and Michigan are pure tossups, and Virginia and NH are edging ever so slightly to McCain's side. If I include the states "barely leaning" to the candidates, I have McCain at 244, Obama at 242, with Nevada, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio up for grabs. If Michigan and Wisconsin should go to Obama (Kerry states in 2004) and Ohio and Nevad go to McCain (Bush states in 2004), the electoral college would be 269-269. That's scary, and I hope that doesn't happen!

    By Anonymous Jim W, At 04 June, 2008 15:38  

  • In a year that was sure to be a Democratic landslide this assessment is pretty depressing. Why were so many people pushing Obama again? Change?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 04 June, 2008 15:53  

  • anonymous - that's not a particularly helpful comment. Do you have some independent factual observations on the splits to complement jaxx raxor?

    By Anonymous zoot, At 04 June, 2008 17:27  

  • In response to anon 15:53:

    I think one thing we have to keep in mind is how relatively "moderate" McCain is compared to the rest of Republicans. I think it's a tell-tale sign that the electoral landscape is slanted towards the democratic side when the Republican presidential candidate has to deliberately distance himself from his own party in his stump speech.

    By Blogger Jason, At 04 June, 2008 18:59  

  • Anonymous 15:53,
    Obama has many weaknesses, but do you think Hillary would have done that much better? She formed a powerful coalition, but only after Obama became a viable candidate. And remember, Republicans absolutely despise her, more so (so far) than Obama.
    As for Obama being "ultra-left wing" and a socialist, people called Hillary those things on blogs all throughout 2007.

    As for Hillary's map I would have her running with about the same total votes as Obama. She would get MI, PA, OH, WV, and AR, but FL(she can only run on the "voter disenfranchisement" claim so long), KY, TN, and NM would be tossups at best and VA, NC (despite what a freaky Surveyusa poll said), CO, NV and LA would be out of reach. Also, OR and WA would be vulnerable.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 04 June, 2008 19:04  

  • As a native Illinoisan who spends much time in neighbor states Missouri and Wisconsin, I predict Obama will carry both those states, and probably Iowa as well. It would be smart for Obama to choose a governor from a midwestern state as his runningn mate, to solidify his grasp on this turf. Bayh would be a good choice, imo.

    By Blogger Daniel Greenfield, At 04 June, 2008 20:29  

  • For the record, had I been rating Clinton's map, I would have rated have downgraded the following states: Nebraska, North Dakota, Alaska, Georgia and Mississippi to "safe McCain;" Colorado to "lean McCain;" Iowa to "toss-up;" and Washington to "lean Democrat." I would have upgraded the following states: Kentucky to "lean McCain," (though the last poll shows Clinton leading), West Virginia and Florida to "Toss-up," Arkansas to "lean Democratic" and Massachusetts to "safe Democratic." I also would have been more comfortable in rating Ohio a toss-up rather than "lean McCain." You guys can decide whether that is a better or a worse map to start with.

    By Blogger Taniel, At 04 June, 2008 20:50  

  • I think Michigan is only a toss-up because Obama hasn't really campaigned there. Also, McCain has the advantage in Florida for the same reason. Come November Michigan will be blue and Florida will the too close to call.

    By Anonymous C.S.Strowbridge, At 04 June, 2008 21:06  

  • I think one thing people should consider is that McCain has been campaigning here for three months, and Obama has yet to turn his full focus and attention on the General Election. When he brings all of his extremely formidable resources to voter registration, outreach, fundraising, ads, etc... he's begin to swamp McCain out. His momentum could grow to include states like LA, MS, ND, MO, MT, and put away a lot of lean states like MI, VA, NH, MN, WI. This could be a massive democratic landslide by the time the conventions roll around in late summer.

    By Anonymous Patrick C, At 04 June, 2008 21:21  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home