The Electoral College: The Analysts Begin Mapmaking

Promoted. -Patrick

Now that Obama has almost certainly tied up the Democratic nomination, analysts and number-crunchers have already begun taking a look at what the map would look like if the election were held today.   Two prominent sources for political data and analysis - RealClearPolitics and the Evans-Novak Political Report - have maps indicating what the landscape looks like.  While the RCP model is mathematical and computer-generated (it takes the statewide head-to-head polls, plugs them into a map and paints by numbers), the Evans-Novak map analyzes trends and demographics in states to make predictions.

RCP's current electoral map, as of this afternoon, has Barack Obama with 228 electoral votes, John McCain with 190, and another 120 listed as "toss-up".   What should give McCain supporters something happy to read from this is the "solid" versus "leaning" breakdown.  Of Obama's 228 electors, RCP only lists 60 as "solid" with 168 as "leaning".  McCain, however, has 96 "solid" to 94 "leaning".

However, many of these state predictions are made with a major absence of data.  For instance, the most recent ballot match-up between McCain and Obama in South Carolina or Idaho (to give two examples) is from an early February 2008 poll conducted by SurveyUSA.   It's tough to make a map based purely on the polls at this stage of the game when the data is so hard to find for so many states.

Robert Novak and Tim Carney use research, precedent, and demographic data to give a different take at the Evans-Novak Political Report.

The election will hinge on two regions: Lake Erie and the Mountain West. An Obama win in New Mexico or Nevada would be enough to tip the scales, but a McCain win in Pennsylvania could put the race out of reach. In the end, as always, it comes down to Ohio, where Obama’s weakness among rural whites could send McCain to the White House. McCain 270, Obama 268.


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I think did a good job on the overwiew of the potential map.  However, it does seem as if they assume the voting trends of the past two prez elections will be unchanged.  They believe that virtually no state will swing more than 3-5 points.  That doesn't seem realistic.  The reason that 00 and 04 eneded up so similar was because the same candidate was on the ballot both times.  If Bush is gone, that will change the Rep, and Dem. coalitions, even if by only a little.

I had heard from Barone, who is the gold standard for these things, that he would recommend both candidates poll in 30-40 states to see if there is movement.  He seems to believe that there could be much more fluidity in this election as compared to the minute changes between 00 and 04.

There are, of course, also

There are, of course, also electoral maps at and These each use different algorithms to determine the leaning of each state. SurveyUSA had an electoral projection out a couple of months ago. I imagine they'll have a new one out soon.

So far things are not going Barone's way

There really have been only two states that seem to have moved substantially from past performance. Michigan was always a bit of a secondary Republican target after PA for Bush, but now it seems to be dead even or even a little pro-McCain.

Colorado seems to have moved the most in the Dem direction. Obama seems to have a small but consistent lead here, which is not consistent with a state that voted Dole over Clinton.  Perhaps there has been 12 years of bad demographics there, or the local GOP has pissed people off. 

VA was the big "flip" state for Obama, but it seems we nominated a guy well suited to hold the state since Mac seems to have a small but consistent lead there. The other toss-ups---OH, NH , NM, NV,  WI....are all 2000 and 2004 repeats.     

I had thought some secular states might be more supportive of Mac than Bush 43 like Maine, Oregon, Washington and Delaware.  So far only NH has moved in this direction, and McCain is like a third senator for this state.

I am given to understand that Nebraska splits its EV's

 Every little bit helps. Given that Obama uses Chicago methods, I would expect battalions of lawyers to descend on Lincoln to pry loose an EV should the election eve be close in that state.