Obama Breaking Away in Electoral Vote Race

CNN’s Alex Mooney consults his network’s “poll of polls” and finds that, although nearly 60 million Americans watched last Friday’s debate between John McCain and Barack Obama, the race remains unchanged.

The new polls are bad news for McCain, who with only five weeks until Election Day is quickly running out of opportunities to shake up the race for the White House.

In a new CNN poll of polls consisting of surveys conducted entirely after the first presidential debate, Obama holds a 5-point lead over McCain, 48-43 percent. That’s exactly where the race stood immediately before the two candidates kicked off the presidential debate season in Oxford, Mississippi, four days ago.

“The ruling on last Friday’s presidential debate is in, and it’s a split decision,” said CNN Senior Political Researcher Alan Silverleib. “The debate changed nothing. Obama’s supporters aren’t shifting to McCain, McCain’s supporters aren’t shifting to Obama, and undecided voters are still undecided.

This largely conforms to my expectations, as expressed in my post-debate instant analysis.  Neither candidate committed any gaffes and there were no particularly memorable sound bytes, so it’s not surprising that there was little movement.  At the same time, that’s good news for Obama:  Not only did he stand toe-to-toe with Mr. Experience debating (ostensibly, anyway) foreign policy and come out even but he had the lead to begin with so didn’t lose it.

The RealClearPolitics poll average, though, gives a somewhat different result.  The race is almost exactly where it was a month ago but Obama has risen and McCain has fallen in the last three weeks, a trend that continued after the debate.

More importantly, though, the much more important state-by-state polls are moving much more than the national polls.  While RCP showed the race essentially tied for quite some time, Obama is suddenly breaking it wide open.  Obama is up 249-163 (+86 votes) in RCP’s Electoral Count and, if leaning states are factored in, he’s got a whopping 348-190 (+158 votes) lead.   Electoral-Vote.com shows an even larger 286-190 Obama lead, with 62 votes (Ohio, Florida, and North Carolina) too close to call.

I haven’t the slightest idea why the national race remains so close while the Electoral College race seems to be breaking so strong for Obama.   Perhaps the financial crisis is felt more keenly in the swing states.  Maybe the constant barrage of advertising is making a dent.  Maybe Sarah Palin is less popular there.  Honestly, I just don’t know.   But it’s a worrisome trend for McCain.

We could, conceivably, have a race where Obama barely wins the national popular vote — indeed, falls short of a majority even without major third party candidates — yet wins by an Electoral College landslide.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2008, US Politics, , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. ronbailey says:

    My guess is that you are seeing the results of Obama’s strategy of focusing resources and money primarily on those swing states, and not sweating the national polls. He knows exactly where he needs to win, and he isn’t wasting effort where it doesn’t count.

    I think my hometown (Roanoke) is a perfect example – almost 300,000 people, and not a McCain organization in sight. Obama has an office right in the middle of downtown, and a small but growing lead in the state polls. McCain took Virginia for granted, and it’s apparently going to cost him a substantial number of electoral votes.

  2. Fence says:

    A lot of the new national polls show Obama with a larger lead now as well. What is interesting is whether the House GOP finished off McCain when it voted down the rescue plan. Voters may not have liked the plan, but its failure keeps the economy the one and only issue and on that ground McCain, rightly or wrongly, is toast.

    We could, conceivably, have a race where Obama barely wins the national popular vote … yet wins by an Electoral College landslide.

    That’s pretty common, especially if by close you mean something like 53-47 and not the standards of the last two elections.

    Thinking about that comment led me to look at the 1976 map. I’ve seen it many times before but it really is amazing to compare it to the current projections for this year. About half the states have flipped sides. Even though it was in my lifetime, it is pretty funny to see a map showing these states as red: Vermont, Conn, Maine, Illinois, Cal., Wash, Oregon. On other side, the entire South except Virginia was blue (and now Virginia is Obama’s best chance in the South).

  3. Rick Almeida says:

    The analysis at 538 is far more dire for Sen. McCain, and I think Silver’s methodology is a lot more robust than RCP’s.

  4. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Polls are based upon samplings. Answering a question of who you intend to vote for is not the same as voting for that individual. Obama won in the primaries by running in the caucus states. He lost the popular vote to Hillary. It is difficult to believe Obama can win unless the truth can remain hidden from the general public. I wonder if the editors and station chiefs of TV stations are ready for the results when Obama imposes in Change on us. His Obama youth video is a reminder of who and what this person is. By the way. Did Dewey win in 48? He surely lead in all the polls.

  5. James Joyner says:

    Obama won in the primaries by running in the caucus states. He lost the popular vote to Hillary.

    No, he won that, too. But it was much closer.

    The analysis at 538 is far more dire for Sen. McCain, and I think Silver’s methodology is a lot more robust than RCP’s.

    RCP is just averaging the polls, which tell us where the public is at a particular moment in time. Silver’s trying to project future behavior based on a variety of factors, which is far riskier.

  6. ronbailey says:

    Obama won in the primaries by running in the caucus states.

    The fact that the caucus states DID contribute significantly to Obama’s win just goes to show that once again, he did his homework much more thoroughly than did his competition. He laid out a workable path to his goal, and executed it to a tee; you can hardly use that fact as a strike against him.

  7. Steve Verdon says:

    A lot of the new national polls show Obama with a larger lead now as well. What is interesting is whether the House GOP finished off McCain when it voted down the rescue plan. Voters may not have liked the plan, but its failure keeps the economy the one and only issue and on that ground McCain, rightly or wrongly, is toast.

    Interesting and my first response is to agree with this. When it comes to the economy McCain simply stinks.

    RCP is just averaging the polls, which tell us where the public is at a particular moment in time. Silver’s trying to project future behavior based on a variety of factors, which is far riskier.

    As someone fairly well versed in statistics I agree here. An average of a number of polls will likely provide better results than any single poll. Forecasting on the other hand means you often have to make educated guesses about the explanatory variables before you can even make a guess about the dependent variable (i.e. the one you are interested in). Let alone issues like model error.

  8. Alex Knapp says:

    I’ve been relying on pollster.com rather than RCP, as Pollster’s method of aggregating polls takes into account sample size, party ID, margin of error, etc. As a consequence, it’s a little more conservative than RCP, but I found them to be very accurate during primary season. Last time I checked Obama was pulling away in the national polling there.

  9. Our Paul says:

    James:

    I haven’t the slightest idea why the national race remains so close while the Electoral College race seems to be breaking so strong for Obama.

    Will this work for you? The national and daily tracking polls have to pick representative states. Thus the Big Blues (California, New York) are competing against Small Reds (Alabama, Oklahoma, etc). In the Big Swing (Ohio, Florida, Indiana), the GOP vs Democratic vote tend to cancel each other out…

    We could, conceivably, have a race where Obama barely wins the national popular vote — indeed, falls short of a majority even without major third party candidates — yet wins by an Electoral College landslide.

    My nightmare is the opposite, Obama wins the national popular vote, McCain squeezes an Electoral College victory. I do not think that will happen, but if does, the country will explode.

    Try this one: When Obama kept agreeing with McCain during the debates, it drove my craven liberal soul up a tree, we need a fighter I muttered. Next morning I applied this yard stick to the debates:

    Obama is smarter than I am.

    At a time that the right and left are at each others throats, one candidate (McCain) is combative. The other (Obama) agrees on some points, disagrees on others. Obama came across as the conciliator, McCain as the bull dog fighter who is not going to change his opinion. Who do you think won those think the country cannot function in the great partisan divide?

    Others, above, have commented that the polls are shifting in Obama’s favor. A late debate effect? A Sarah Palin reality check? Who knows…

  10. Rick DeMent says:

    It is difficult to believe Obama can win unless the truth can remain hidden from the general public. I wonder if the editors and station chiefs of TV stations are ready for the results when Obama imposes in Change on us.

    Yes, the truth must remain hidden. Hard to imagine it can given good work being done by Hannity and Limbaugh and the like. I guess those millions and millions of listeners just are keeping a bit too quiet.

    they should have a rally or a march to get the truth out. Or better yet get Sarah Palin out there to set the record straight. I mean if it wasn’t for the MSM completely ignoring her she could be giving news conference after news conference and telling people the truth about Obama.

  11. Eric says:

    Polls are based upon samplings. Answering a question of who you intend to vote for is not the same as voting for that individual.

    But when the polls show your guy winning, then they’re accurate as all hell and you’re more than happy to cite them as evidence, right? (Don’t even try to deny it, Zelsdorf.)

    It is difficult to believe Obama can win unless the truth can remain hidden from the general public.

    Yeah, really difficult. If he wins, why, the only answer must be that the American people were duped, not that *all the polls* show more Americans favor him than the alternative. Nope, couldn’t be that. It has to be the Area 51 aliens are in cahoots with Sasquatch and bankrolled by the Rothschild family.

    Zelsdorf, it’s amazing the conspiracy theories you won’t entertain to sustain your political delusions.

    By the way. Did Dewey win in 48? He surely lead in all the polls.

    Please. You’re pinning your hopes on something that happened 60 years ago when polling was in its infancy and demonstrably poorly polled (the polls were conducted by phone, when something like less than 40 percent of the population had phones, i.e., only the rich had phones)?

    Man alive, I know that ostriches supposedly burying their heads in the sand is a myth, but Zelsdorf burying his isn’t.

  12. just me says:

    The national race is so close because the truth is that they usually are. It is rare that more than 3 percentage points separate the winner from the loser.

    Obama does appear to be pulling away where it counts-the electoral vote which means he is performing well in states where he had to perform well.

    Also, let’s face it the economy only helps the democrats-the worse the economy is and stays up until election day the more the democrats are going to win, because public perception is that the democrats are better on the economy-even if the perception is incorrect.

    This is now and IMO always has been Obama’s race to lose. There is still a lot of time-the time when most people are paying attention for Obama to blow it, but I really think if McCain wins come November is it going to be something Obama did to sabotage his own race, not because McCain managed some spectacular last minute feat to bring home the victory.

    My concern is just how badly the GOP is going to get slammed in the house and senate races. The last thing I want is Obama in the white house and the democrats with large majorities in the house and senate.

  13. Anderson says:

    I usually avoid optimism about elections — after all, I’m a Democrat — but in e-mailing a friend today, I ventured to guess that Obama’s unstoppable, barring one of 3 things:

    (1) apocalyptically negative GOP ads;

    (2) a national-security crisis (al-Qaeda attacks, we bomb Iran, maybe even another Osama video);

    (3) a bullet.

    Steve Schmidt is doubtless working on (1); Osama is likely working on (2), and I wouldn’t assume Bush has no October Surprise re: Iran; and who knows who’s working on (3) right now.

  14. Denise says:

    It looks pretty gloomy for our country but I keep reminding myself of the polls in the New Hampshire primary. Obama was winning every poll and the RCP average was +8.3 but he lost.

    New Hampshire Democratic Primary

  15. Anderson says:

    but I keep reminding myself of the polls in the New Hampshire primary

    True. Maybe McCain will cry over breakfast the day before the election.

    It looks pretty gloomy for our country

    I am always curious what, exactly, people think is going to happen to the U.S. under Obama, particularly by contrast with what’s happened to the U.S. in the past 8 years of Republican rule in the White House.

  16. ronbailey says:

    It looks pretty gloomy for our country

    Gloomy? If Obama wins?

    Good god, after Iraq, September 11th, tortured prisoners, Katrina, Wall Street meltdowns, “pre-emptive” wars, 19% approval ratings, the prosecutor scandals, $5.00/gallon gas and every other disaster we’ve lived through in the past eight years, FFS, what could anyone do to make things any worse?

  17. Anderson says:

    what could anyone do to make things any worse

    Well, Obama could nationalize the nation’s largest insurer and propose spending $700B on handouts to Wall Street … oh wait …

  18. Denise says:

    I came to live in the US in 1967 and started working in politics the next year. I cannot think of a candidate that has scared me like Obama. He is the consummate politician and will do or say anything to win.
    President Bush has disappointed in many ways but when I look at Gore and Kerry now, I thank God we rejected them.

    Why can’t we get a decent candidate?

  19. Anderson says:

    He is the consummate politician and will do or say anything to win.

    I hear this about Obama, but for the life of me, I don’t understand what particular examples anyone has in mind, or how the same criticism does not apply a thousandfold to McCain, who has no consistent principles that I can discern.

  20. Denise says:

    Maybe this will explain.
    The Unspoken Campaign Message of Obama

    There is a theme to the political campaign of Barack Obama. It follows the teachings of Saul Alinksy, and it can be summed up easily: I will do anything to win. That was the theory of Alinsky, whose radicalism was simply radicalism for power, not for the powerless. Obama, like Alinsky, is not so much an ideologue as a power fanatic.

    Men who will do anything to win will end up doing nothing good at all. In college, it seems, Obama heard and spoke the word “power” as normal people would speak or hear the words “soul” or “honor” or “God.” Power, alone, counts to him. He will do anything to win power, and men who will do anything to win power will do anything at all.

  21. Anderson says:

    Denise, sorry, but that article you link is ridiculous. After the Alinsky quote, which is a thesis in need of support, here’s what we get, paragraph by paragraph:

    (1) Graf on Torricelli, which has nothing to do with Obama except they’re both Dems. Some Dems are bad, of course.

    (2) Obama’s from Chicago and so were the Daleys, but no actual allegation of anything vs. Obama.

    (3) Attack based on Obama’s alleged plan to replace Biden w/ Hillary, which appears to be the author’s imagination — but then Obama’s attacked for supposedly preparing to do what the author imagines.

    (4) McCain’s “suspension” stunt has proved to be just that, a stunt. Obama “paused”? Maybe he needed to ACTUALLY THINK about what was best in this crisis? For a day? With $700B on the line?

    (5) Rest of article: invective & a swipe vs. Biden’s plagiarism, but no facts vs. Obama.

    Denise, if you’re relying on “evidence” like that, then I think you need to consider that your anxiety about Obama is coming from somewhere else. I dunno where (hey, I don’t even know you!), but you might want to think about it.

  22. anjin-san says:

    I wonder how McCain feels now about his snark about Obama not knowing the difference between strategy and tactics considering the spanking the Obama campaign has given him in both areas…