Second electoral ratings: Five changes all favor Obama

Two weeks have passed since my first electoral ratings found a tight electoral college race, with 15 states making up the initial batch of battleground states. Since then, the general election has been heating up and the candidates have engaged in tense back-and-forth on issues ranging from energy policy to terrorism. There have also been a number of polls released in the interval, not all of which have confirmed the conventional wisdom.

I will attempt to update ratings every two weeks (and every week once we get closer to the election) to maintain a continuous history. As I wrote last time, these are based on a mixture of polling data, considerations of which states parties are likely to invest in, the candidate's strengths and weaknesses and voting and registration patterns of each state since 2004. Thus, a low double-digits in a poll is not synonymous with likely category, and it will not descend to the "lean" group as soon as a poll shows a single-digit margin. (For electoral ratings that are based on stricter formulas, check the always-excellent Electoral-Vote and FiveThirtyEight.)

For instance, a recent AR poll might have shown a 9% lead for McCain, but the state remains in the "safe" category for now. Not only is one survey not enough to shift a state, but not all 9% leads are equal: Obama's very high unfavorability numbers in that AR poll suggest that he might have reached a ceiling he can only rise in case of a huge boost in black turnout. Until we see whether Obama is committed to such an effort in this particular state, there is no point in upgrading Arkansas to a more competitive category.

Without further delay, here are the second 2008 electoral college ratings (states whose ratings have been changed are in bold). Remember that states that are in the "lean" category are still considered to be very competitive and certain to be hotly contested, but it is possible to say that one candidate has a slight edge at this time.

  • Safe McCain: Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Nebraska (at large + 3rd congressional district), Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, Tennessee, West Virginia, Wyoming (87 EVs)
  • Likely McCain: Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Indiana, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska (1st and 2nd congressional districts), North Dakota, Texas (87 EVs)
  • Lean McCain: Florida, North Carolina (42 EVs)
  • Toss-up: Colorado, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Ohio, Virginia (84 EV)
  • Lean Obama: Iowa, Oregon, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin (55 EVs)
  • Likely Obama: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, New Jersey, Washington (97 EVs)
  • Safe Obama: DC, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont (86 EVs)
This gives us the following map (courtesy of the Washington Post's interactive feature, though I was not able to color lean states a lighter shade) and totals:

  • Safe + Likely Obama: 183 electoral votes
  • Safe + Likely + Lean Obama: 238
  • Toss-up: 84
  • Safe + Likely + Lean McCain: 216
  • Safe + Likely McCain: 174
I will naturally not attempt to provide an explanation for every single one of these ratings and will concentrate instead on the four that have shifted over the past two weeks.

Arizona, Safe McCain to Likely McCain: Perhaps this is a case of an over-eager media looking for a story, but it is hard not to notice the abundance of articles questioning whether John McCain is a sure bet in his home-state, including recent pieces in The Christian Science Monitor and in CQ. The Senator's surprisingly low percentage in the state primary (he beat Mitt Romney by 12%) raised red flags as to his rocky relationship with Arizona's conservative base. The latest poll has an 11% margin and Obama could spell real trouble for McCain if he solidifies the Hispanic vote. The Republican remains heavily favored, if only because Obama is unlikely to push too hard. If he does lose here, however, would that push him towards the retirement in 2010?

Missouri, Lean McCain to Toss-up: The polls showing a tight race between the two candidates were available two weeks ago and were only confirmed by two surveys released since that showed Obama barely edging out McCain. What changed was my confidence that the Obama campaign will not give up on contesting Missouri. In 2004, the Kerry campaign pulled out of the state in October -- though it was certainly never their top priority -- and ended up losing by 7%. This year, the Obama campaign will certainly have enough money to not have to pull out and given their determination to not have to rely on Ohio and Florida they will make sure to push hard in other states that are ripe for pick-up. The fact that Missouri's gubernatorial race right now is an open seat in which the Democratic candidate is polling 20% ahead also tells us a lot about the dismal environment the GOP is facing.

Wisconsin, Toss-up to Lean Obama
: Barack Obama is polling well in the "Dukakis five," states with traditional Democratic roots that had been more competitive in the past few cycles. By posting strong leads in Washington, Minnesota in particular, he is demonstrating that the shift in voters' partisan breakdown towards an increased identification with the Democratic Party is making it very difficult for the GOP to contest in states that have a slight blue lean in a neutral environment. Obama is posting narrow leads in Wisconsin, though the latest Badger poll showed him up by double-digits. Neither candidate is likely to create much space here in the coming months -- remember that Wisconsin really seemed lost to the Kerry campaign in the summer and fall of 2004 -- but Obama starts off with a slight edge.

Pennsylvania, Toss-up to Lean Obama: There is a reason Obama unveiled John Edwards's and Al Gore's endorsements in Michigan rather than in Pennsylvania: The Keystone State is no longer the main target for Republicans anxious to pick-up a blue state. Kerry's margin here in 2004 was smaller than Bush's in Ohio, but the state has shifted in the past four years. The Democratic tsunami ended up submerging PA Republicans more than it did their OH counterparts and the heated Clinton-Obama showdown gave both Democratic contenders weeks of exposure. Hundred of thousands of new voters registered as Democrats or switched their party registration, providing Obama with an increased base, and it's hard to ignore Quinnipiac's insistence that Obama

However, that Obama starts off with a slight edge does not mean that this state does not remain very competitive. If the Illinois Senator ends up weak among blue-collar voters, it will have a major impact on Pennsylvania and McCain will seize on every opportunity to gain in the state's rural regions. And the suburban areas remain a mystery, as Obama performed unexpectedly weakly in Philly's suburbs on April 22nd. The situation here is similar as the one in Florida: Both states will be hotly contested by both parties but it's hard to not think that they would go in opposing camps if the election were held today (I am aware of today's polls that show Obama slightly ahead in FL though I have not changed my rating. More discussion of FL will come in due course).

Massachusetts, Likely Obama to Safe Obama: This is the exception to my rule that ratings will not shift based on a single poll. This state was one of the biggest disappointments for the Obama campaign on February 5th, and he has been polling stunningly weak general election numbers ever since, barely edging out McCain in a series of SUSA polls. Yet, and while it appears likely that Hillary Clinton's margin of victory would have been far greater than Obama's, the latest poll released by Suffolk does show Obama distancing McCain by 23%. The thought of Massachusetts's general election being competitive is too ludicrous for me to entertain it without a constant stream of evidence, so this state is moving back where it should be -- though we will keep a close eye on it.

History of Campaign Diaries' electoral ratings:

  • June 18th: +22 Obama (238 for Obama [183 base, 55 lean] and 216 for McCain [174, 42])
  • June 4th: +20 McCain (207 for Obama [183, 24] and 227 for McCain [174, 53])

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  • We probably have to see if polls can comfirm this in a week or two but I would say that Florida is now a tossup instead of lean McCain and that California is now safe democract from likely Democrat. It is true that a majority of Americans nationwide support drilling off the coasts but it is presumbly much more negative in the states whose's coasts would actually start drilling. If polls come out showing Florida voters strongly against it, then it would be an indication that McCain's chance to easily take Florida would have slipped away, and he would have to fight for it. The only good news is of the possiblilty that Obama doesn't spend time in the state based on statments that he dosen't want to rely on Florida and Ohio to win the elction.
    In California, which is already strongly democratic, it is possible that McCain sealed his fate in a state that probably opposes offshore drilling even more than Florida. McCain's best chance of a an upset victory is on the enviroment (and indeed, it is the enviroment that McCain is using the most to distance himself from Bush) but he probably destroyed what credibility he had in the state. If polls comfirm this, then California will be a safe dem state.

    I also agree that Obama just being in single digits doesn't mean that he can win a state. I'm suprised at how well Obama is doing in West Virginia and Arkansas, but he won't win those states because as disliked McCain is because of the Bush connection, Obama is disliked even more. Ditto for South Carolina, Missisipi, and Georgia, states in which Obama has been pulling within single digits but whom he won't win because of racialized voting. Whites are still the majority in these states and they lean heavily republican even against white democrats at the presidential level. How could a black democrat get their support? I do think however that Obama will be of great help to Democrats down ballot who will appreciate increased AA turnout, especially John Barrow of Georgia 12 district, with it's nearly 45% AA population, and Ronnie Musgrove in MS, in which blacks are about 38% of the population throughout the entire state (MS is the state with the highest proportion of blacks).

    On Arizona, I would say that it would be a tossup/lean republican if McCain wasn't the nominee but the fact that he is the favorite son will keep it fairly safe for him. Yes, McCain is less popular in his home state than Obama is in Illnois and the best news for the Democrats is that this lessens or eliminates the cottails that McCain has in down ballot races, including some key ones. Arizona is also one of the fastest growing states in the nation and is guarenteed to gain seats after the next census, so doing well here would help democrats cement their standing for future elections. However, I think Obama should spend money and campaign in Alaska, Montana, and North Dakota, which are also likely McCain but more likely to go for Obama than McCain's home state of Arizona. Although if McCain was to lose Arizona in 2008 he probably would retire in 2010. In fact, it's likely he would retire in 2010 if he doesn't retire in 2008 because of him winning the presidential election because he would be in his mid 70s and facing the prospect of a tough opponnet in Janet Napelinto, gov of Arizona.

    By Anonymous jaxx raxor, At 18 June, 2008 21:30  

  • As one who has been annoyed that MA was anything but safe democrat i say hooray. For a candidate to beat a long standing pattern (McCain winning MA or Obama winning AK), he has to spend money - a lot of money in MA, show up, and the overall wave has to carry him to some extent. McCain could win this year but there will be no GOP wave and he will not spend a penny in MA meaning it is SAFE D.

    By Blogger st paul sage, At 19 June, 2008 00:30  

  • I live in California. Unless McCain can reach 48% of te vote in California, he's no threat. We simply have a too large of a population for it to be swinged easily.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 19 June, 2008 00:55  

  • Great analysis and I like the history section at the end sicne this concisely shows the changes which have been positive for Obama in the past two weeks.
    I agree Obama is not depending on OH or FL to win but that does not mean he will not compete in those states. He just won`t bet the election on 100,000 Ohioans or 530 Floridans!

    By Anonymous Mike, At 19 June, 2008 08:03  

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