Election Prediction: Obama 325, McCain 213 (Updated)

After nearly four years of watching this campaign unfold, it’s about to wrap up.  There are another thirty-six hours of so of campaigning left and probably no more significant polls to be released.  So, it’s time to go on the record and predict the outcome.

Others’ Projections:  An Obama Rout

  • Dave Leip‘s Atlas: Obama 318, McCain 160, Tossup 60
  • Slate‘s Election Scorecard: Obama 311, McCain 141, Tossup 85
  • Rasmussen:  Obama 313 McCain 160, Tossups  65 (with leaners added to candidates)
  • George Will, “This Week” ABC television:   Obama 378, McCain 160

Obama’s Best Case Scenario:   417-121

McCain’s supporters are glum, having heard for weeks that their guy’s losing.  Obama supporters, by contrast, are energized.  Add to that what appears to be a better funded and organized get-out-the-vote (GOTV) effort, the wandwagon effect, and record turnout from blacks and under -35 voters, it could be a landslide.    The most wildly optimistic case, then, would look like this:

Electoral Map of Barack Obama Rout

Electoral College Map of Barack Obama Rout

That has Obama holding on not only to the strong Democratic states but taking every state that’s not strong Republican.  It’s a ridiculous scenario, of course, but one that’s more likely than . . .

McCain’s Best Case Scenario:  335-203

There are signs that the race has been tightening in the closing days.  Maybe, just maybe, Obama hasn’t closed the deal.  What if all the states that are leaning McCain stay that way and all the tossups and close Obama states go Red?  Well, it would look something like this:

Electoral College Map of McCain Surge

Electoral College Map of McCain Surge

While that map looks a lot more familiar than the first, it’s much less likely.  Not only do we have dozens of reputable polls showing that Obama has been ahead since the financial crisis came to a head, but we’ve seen the debates, we know the political climate, and otherwise know that this just doesn’t seem like 2000 or 2004.

Prediction:  McCain Comes Close But Not Close Enough:   325 Obama, McCain 213

On Election Eve 2004, I predicted that Bush would win 286 Electors to Kerry’s 252.  Not only was that right but I went 51-for-51 on how the States and the District of Columbia would go.  As noted in the post, I wasn’t at all confident in the outcome.   I’m not confident in this prediction, either.

I am, however, going to apply the same methodology: Look at all the reputable publicly available polls and aggregators, throw out the outliers, and give the close ones to the party that carried the state in the previous cycle.  Doing that in 2004, it meant throwing out historic outcomes like a Republican carrying Hawaii or Minnesota.  In 2008, that means dismissing the likelihood that Georgia, North Carolina — let alone McCain’s home state of Arizona — go Obama’s way.

Unfortunately for those of us hoping for a McCain miracle, that’s not going to be enough. We’re going to need to dramatically outperform the polls in 2 of 3 of the following:  Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.   I really, really wanted to give the first two to McCain but simply couldn’t justify it.    Obama’s leading both states by 4.2 points in the RealClearPolitics average and virtually every poll in both states has been blue for weeks.  And, as much as I hope Bill McInturff is right about McCain’s chances in Pennsylvania, McCain last led in a public poll there in April.

So, it’s looking like this is the most likely scenario:

Electoral College Prediction Obama 325, McCain 213

Electoral College Prediction Obama 325, McCain 213

I should note, though, that the national head-to-head race was much tighter four years ago.  Now, every single poll tracked by RealClearPolitics has Obama winning by at least three, with some showing double digit leads, and an average of 6.7.  So it may be less likely that my conservative strategy winds up being prescient this go-around.

It’s more likely, I’m afraid, that I’ll be wrong in a Blue direction than a Red one.

UPDATE (Dave Schuler)

I’m not prepared to make an exact electoral vote prediction but here are my predictions for the election outcomes:

  • Obama wins but not by as many electoral votes as many of his supporters seem to think he will.
  • Obama will achieve an objective that eluded both Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton: he’ll get a majority of the popular vote. I’ll predict 52%.
  • The Senate Democratic caucus will fall short of 60 votes. I’ll say 59.
  • 15 to 20 new House Democrats.
  • Congressional Democrats will nearly immediately interpret the election results as a mandate for their entire program rather than a mandate for change which includes them, too.
  • Reports of bipartisanship in the new Administration have been greatly exaggerated.
  • The hand of the Blue Dog Democrats will have been strengthened by the election. This is not necessarily a Good Thing: they’re generally deficit hawks.

Bumped to top from 13:03 2 November.

UPDATE (Dodd Harris)

One rightward blogger is willing to predict a McCain win: Ed Morrissey is ‘guardedly optimistic’ in predicting that “John McCain will win a squeaker over Barack Obama, 273-265, by holding Florida, Nevada, and adding Pennsylvania as a trade for Virginia.” He also predicts a 57-43 split in the Senate and a slight improvement for the Dems in the House to 237-198. His Congress numbers seem reasonable enough, +/-1, but, since I’m more inclined to Mr. Leip’s numbers above (Obama 318, McCain 160, Tossup 60), I’d have to call ‘guarded optimism’ something of an understatement.

UPDATE (James Joyner – 1918 3 Nov.)

RealClearPolitics has updated their totals with conflicting results.  First, Obama has slightly widened his national head-to-head lead.   Second, Florida has tightened to a true tossup (Obama +1.8) and Ohio has tightened somewhat (to  +3.2).  Given that all the polls save one Fox survey for Florida have Obama  ahead in both states, I’m sticking with yesterday morning’s predictions.  But it’s getting slightly more interesting.

UPDATE (Alex Knapp)

Having become recently more familiar with Obama’s GOTV efforts, I currently find myself less conservative about Obama’s chances. The advantage of Obama’s ground game over McCain’s is simply staggering. Plus given the fact that we expect to see record turnout, my guess is that the enthusiasm of Obama supporters is going to cause them to be willing to take longer lines than McCain’s. Given those two factors, I’m predicting a 350 – 188 victory, with Obama taking all the states on James’ map, plus Missouri, Virginia, and Nebraska’s Second Congressional District (the latter being the biggest longshot). Popular vote wise, I expect it to be 52 – 46 Obama.

FILED UNDER: 2008 Election, Public Opinion Polls, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Eneils Bailey says:

    Unfortunately, I see your third scenario as probably playing out.

    The election, at this point is going to BHO unless McCain congers up the perfect political storm:
    An overwhelming majority of “undecideds” go for McCain.
    The Bradley affect has an significant impact in swing states.
    “Mickey Mouse” and the “Denver Broncos” don’t get to vote early and often.

  2. PD Shaw says:

    What stands out in the Joyner prediction is how little the basic map has changed. It’s built primarily around the familiar triumverate of Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania, plus Colorado and Nevada, which are the Western states predicted to move left at least four years ago.

    Basically, McCain is set to lose four states that Bush carried in either 2000 or 2004: Florida (+.01 2000), Ohio (+2.1 2004), Nevada (+2.6 2004) and Colorado (+4.7 2004). In other words, close states that Gore and Kerry would have won if they were 5-6 percent more popular nationwide.

    Virginia and North Carolina would be more interesting and significant though.

  3. Triumph says:

    Election Prediction: Obama 325, McCain 213

    Great, J-Dawg, you are letting yourself be brainwashed by the liberal media.

    I find it interesting that you base your analysis on “polls.”

    For me the only poll that matters is the one on election day.

    That means that McCain will rout the Islamo-,nazi, gay, commie, socialist, community organizer, soccer-loving, cyclist, arugula-lover, constitutional scholar, trial lawyer, career politician, Washington insider, Barney Frank lover, closet Canadian, leftist professor, mafia-connected, Barry Bonds fan, windsurfing, Daily Show watching, black nationalist, jewish, UN respecting, drug addict, big government, Soviet agent, terrorist lover, treasonist, moon walk denier, Jessie Jackson pawn, used car salesman, immigrant, non-US citizen, philanderer, B. Hussein.

    McCain: 538, Hussein: 0

  4. Eneils Bailey says:

    Triumph, you said a lot, but I hope you are right.

  5. jeff b says:

    How can it come to 417-221? Just a typo, I think.

  6. Web Smith says:

    Obama is tied to a Democratic Congress with a 10% approval rating. We need to ask ourselves how much we know about this man who is about to be elected to the office of President of the United States.

    In 1996 Obama was a registered member of the New Party in Chicago, which was established by the Democratic Socialists of America.

    Kahlid Al-Monsour, a Black Muslim and Black Nationalist, raised money for Obama’s Harvard education.

    Obama was inspired by Saul Alinsky and his book Rules for Radicals.

    Bill Ayers and his wife Bernardine Dohrn hosted an Obama campaign kickoff party in their home.

    Louis Farrakahn, leader of the Nation of Islam, is a friend.

    Tony Rezko, convicted of illegal fund raising, raised money for Obama’s campaign.

    Rashid Kahlidil, who worked on behalf of the PLO, held a fund raiser for Obama.

    Frank Marshall Davis was Obama’s mentor in high school and a member of the Communist Party USA.

    Obama helped Raila Odinga, Kenya’s Prime Minister thug, raise money in the United States for his Presidential campaign in Kenya.

    Marilyn Katz, head of security for the SDS from where Bill Ayers also originated, serves on Obama’s national finance committee.

    The Obama campaign gave ACORN $838,000 in 2008.

    Kenny Gamble, who is buying large parcels of land in Philadelphia for a Muslim only community, cut the ribbon on Obama’s campaign headquarters in Philadelphia, which Kenny also owns.

    Mazen Asbahi and Minha Husaini, Obama Muslim outreach coordinators, have ties to CAIR, Muslim Alliance in North America, North American Islamic Trust, HAMAS, and others.

    Franklin Raines, ex-CEO of Fannie Mae who walked away with a $90 million parachute, is an Obama advisor.

    The Obama campaign has received $700,000 from Fannie Mae.


  7. Floyd says:

    If Obama wins, I’ll feel a little creepy going to the local Wal-Mart.
    I won’t be able to shake the feeling that the majority of my neighbors are brain-dead flesh eating zombie’s, fresh out of a cheap horror movie! [shiver]

  8. just me says:

    I think you are probably pretty close. There might be a few shifts, but I strongly suspect in the end Obama wins pretty handily in the electoral college. I still think the national vote will be fairly close-I just don’t see the huge gaps indicated by the polling.

  9. Triumph says:

    For betting folks, the bookmakers in the UK has 2/1 odds that Hussein will get in excess of 370 electoral college votes.

    Interesting the line with the best payoff is a close race: 20/1 on HUssein getting between 270-289.

    A McCain win (271 >) is running at 6/1.

    J-Dawg, your line is running 9/1.

    Put your money where your mouth is, JJ, and you can pick up the next dinner tab at Signatures!

  10. Ugh says:

    325 Obama, McCain 213

    I agree with that except I’ll flip Virginia to Obama, for a nice round 338-200.

    If I were mean I’d flip Arizona too but methinks Grampa Simpson will eek that one out.

  11. Triumph says:

    For betting folks, the bookmakers in the UK has 2/1 odds that Hussein will get in excess of 370 electoral college votes.

    Interesting the line with the best payoff is a close race: 20/1 on HUssein getting between 270-289.

    A McCain win (271 >) is running at 6/1.

    J-Dawg, your line is running 9/1.

    Put your money where your mouth is, JJ, and you can pick up the next dinner tab at Signatures!


  12. DC Loser says:

    I don’t think VA will go for McCain given the polling data to date.

  13. anjin-san says:

    Looks like a pretty accurate assessment.

    McCain has to hit a 300 yard drive, have it carom off a lone tree which sends it skipping 200 yards up the cart path where it will hit an out of bounds marker knocking it back into play. Then a squirrel has to come along and push it up to the high side of the green. From there it COULD POSSIBLY roll down into the cup.

    Its not impossible, but it is an awfully slender reed…

  14. G.A.Phillips says:

    I won’t be able to shake the feeling that the majority of my neighbors are brain-dead flesh eating zombie’s, fresh out of a cheap horror movie! [shiver]

    I have felt that way for a long time, but one thing, they eat poop not flesh and wash it down with mass quantities of coolaid.

  15. G.A.Phillips says:

    And once again the greatest band in the universe, listen-think-then think again before you vote, if you have already made “the mistake” maybe it will help you next time..


  16. anjin-san says:

    Does anyone over 13 actually listen to Iron Maiden?

  17. anjin-san says:

    Hmmm. Zogby has an uptick for Obama today and McCain down a tad. Can’t imagine why Bitsy has not dropped in to share that with us…

  18. Rob says:

    I’ve been tracking this pretty closely..and the momentum is with McCain, because Obama hasn’t sealed the deal IMO..and that’s exactly what the latest polls show as undecideds break for McCain. McCain will take FL and OH by a coupla points and PA by a whisker.

    I call it John McCain – 286

    Barack Obama – 252

    If Obama manages to squeak by in Virginia, (which I doubt) it will be 273-265 McCain.

    The Dems will pick up six seats in the Senate and about twenty in the House.

    Look for the networks to call various states for Obama early, even while the polls are still open in an attempt to drive down GOP turnout. We’ll find out the real numbers late.

  19. anjin-san says:

    Well “Rob” I notice you don’t actually cite any polls.

    The two Gallup tracking poll likely voter models — with one that has consistently shown a close race and the other showing a likely Democratic blowout — have converged, with both models now showing Sen. Barack Obama way ahead of Sen. John McCain, 52% to 43%, and 52% to 41%, respectively.

    I don’t think it is quite that big of a lead, but a conclusion that “polls show” McCain having closed it are a result of cherry picking.

  20. rodney dill says:

    I always knew McCain had a tough row to hoe, and I won’t count him out, but I think Obama will win. I’ll count it due to this level of mentality.

  21. G.A.Phillips says:

    Does anyone over 13 actually listen to Iron Maiden?

    When you sleight the Maiden you totally cross the line, you are much lacking when it come to taste or being cool ain’t ya.

    But knowing your obvious state of euphoria I will forgive your transgression, and I have found something a little more to your taste and speed, by the greatest singer in the multiverse, Just try not to throw your panties at the moniter gimprad.


  22. anjin-san says:


    Well, the first concert I went to was Dylan, Neil Young, Santana and the Grateful Dead. Back when I was drinking I did shots with guys like Spencer Davis & Huey Lewis. Saw Springsteen on the Born to Run tour. I have 2 Grammy winners on my client list today. If you want to talk music cred with me, I think you will come up a little short.

    Maiden is a kids band. No wonder you like them 🙂

  23. Jon Swift says:

    I’m projecting that McCain will win the election as Jews, Hispanics, women, the elderly and (surprisingly) African-Americans break his way.

  24. Anderson says:

    as Jews, Hispanics, women, the elderly and (surprisingly) African-Americans break his way.

    With Obama himself casting the decisive pro-McCain vote in Illinois, thus tipping that state to the GOP by one vote.

  25. sam says:

    I’m projecting that McCain will win the election as Jews, Hispanics, women, the elderly and (surprisingly) African-Americans break his way.

    I’ve neglected reading your blog for far too long, Mr. Swift. Shan’t happen in the future.

  26. G.A.Phillips says:

    Dylan, Neil Young, Santana and the Grateful Dead.Springsteen on the Born

    Kids band, lol,

    If classic rock to folk with a small bit of talent bands with few catchy tunes are what you like just so say so, but please dont try to pass them off a anything comparible to the brillance of Maiden. And damn bro, you know im just messing with you. Did you watch the last link?

    It’s mighty funny.

  27. G.A.Phillips says:

    Oh and I’ll site a poll, mine, if the few hundred people I have talked to in the last few weeks means anything 0bama is gonna fulfill Oprah’s prophecy. Have no doubt it was a better mix then most of the polls you guys site. Then again I live in Wis, were even most of the self proclaimed Christan’s are gonna vote for him regardless of things I explained, they seem to have been hypnotized by the bush’s fault/we need change message.

    I pray that I’m wrong but the poop ain’t looking good.

  28. Floyd says:

    You forget, Illinois votes were counted two years ago. I fact, judging by the birth dates of many of the voters, some were cast decades or even centuries ago!

  29. Yes..the Obama best-case scenario should read 417-121. Dave, I’m quite certain Carter won an absolute majority of the popular vote in 1976, though you’re correct that Clinton didn’t in both ’92 and ’96.

    Your projections sound pretty good, but given the recent polling I think it’s likelier that Obama will take Virginia and lose Florida rather than the other way around. The final numbers should more or less mirror your prediction, though.

  30. Dave Schuler says:


    You’re right. But extremely narrowly—by eight hundredths of a percent.

  31. Wayne says:

    I just don’t know. I have been getting unusual feedback from different areas. Polls take in past habits and trends and try to predict the future. If a scenario ends up unusual then the polls could be off which have been the case many times before. I am one of those persons who will find the one dissenting opinion in the room and get them to talk to me about it. I come across many, some in their 60’s who are voting for the first time in their life. I also know die hard Democrats who never voted Republican in their life that tell me they are voting for McCain but not to tell anyone they are. Granted most of them are from red states and I recognize the fallacy of putting too much worth in personal experience. It just makes me wonder if this could be one of those unusual scenarios.

  32. Dave Schuler says:

    It seems to me the downside risk in Cap’n Ed predicting a narrow McCain victory is pretty low. And he’s a prophet if McCain actually wins.

  33. Billy says:

    James, I think you’re right except for 3 states – OH, FL and VA.

    Just for the record.

  34. alec says:

    I’m predicting Obama wins 343 to 195:


    Also, you should be considered illiterate if you think Virginia will end up for McCain.

  35. Floyd says:

    Then I guess you should be considered a psychic if you can read and write??