But not much of a chance
By Chris Ingram
Forget all about the “national polls” that show John McCain trailing Barack Obama in the presidential race. They are about as meaningful as your local weather forecaster’s “extended forecast” telling you the chance of rain next Thursday.
National polls are meaningless because there is no such thing as a national election in the United States. While our president is elected to national office, his election is based on fifty individual state elections (plus Washington, D.C). It’s called the Electoral College.
So why do media organizations conduct “national polls?” Because these national polls allow them to perch their journalists in front of a TV camera to spew all the information they think they know — mostly from people who have never worked on a single political campaign no less.
Individual state polls are more telling. The media doesn’t spend much time analyzing these polls because 1) many members of the media are lazy; 2) it takes more than five column inches of newspaper space (and more than thirty seconds of TV time) to dissect and explain fifty state polls; and, 3) the media elite think all of us who didn’t go to Harvard or Yale are stupid and wouldn’t understand.
Okay, “so what.” The media stinks. What do the state polls say?
Before looking into that, let’s look at the historical trends in the Electoral College. We’ll do this by looking at the last four presidential election results.
In the last four elections, sixteen states voted for the Republican candidate all four times with a total of 135 Electoral votes while eighteen states (plus D.C.) voted for the Democratic candidate all four times for a total of 252 Electoral votes. Two hundred and seventy Electoral College votes are needed to win.
The remaining sixteen states representing 155 Electoral votes deviated by party at least once. Of these states, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Montana, Ohio, and West Virginia voted Republican three out of four prior elections, while Iowa, New Hampshire, and New Mexico favored the Democrat three out of four of the last presidential races. The remainder, consisting of Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Nevada, Missouri, and Tennessee split evenly with all four voting for Bush in 2000 and 2004, and for Clinton in 1992 and 1996.
All of these states would appear to be the “swing states” in this election based on their historical trends, but defining a swing state is more difficult than just considering historical models. This is where the state-by-state polls come in as a useful and relevant consideration in predicting the election. For example, while Tennessee evenly split its support by party in the last four elections, McCain is ahead by fifteen points in the Volunteer state, and therefore Tennessee is not a swing state in the 2008 election.
If you assume (a dangerous thing to do in predicting elections) that McCain and Obama will both carry all the states that have voted four out of four of the last elections for their respective party’s nominees, and give the evenly split states and the three out of four vote states to each candidate where they lead in the polls by more than six points, Obama leads in the Electoral College count 260 to 202. But while behind, McCain could end up winning this election 274 to 264 if he won all of the following states I have identified as true “swing” states. Those states are: Colorado, Florida, Nevada, Missouri, and Ohio. McCain winning all of these won’t be easy.
A look at the “swing states:”
Colorado. The Centennial State voted GOP in the last three elections – having only voted Democratic once (Clinton in 1992) in the last four elections. As a historical predictor, that would lead you to believe Colorado is ripe to support McCain, but the Real Clear Politics (RCP) average of recent polls show Obama up five points. The state’s nine Electoral College votes are still in play for McCain as Obama’s lead is well within the margin of error, but the state has trended Democratic in recent state and local elections, and the state has a large influx of new voters which makes predicting the results more difficult.
Florida. The state of the hanging chad, Florida voted for the Republican nominee three out of the last four campaigns – the exception being Clinton in 1996. Florida is truly a melting pot with a mix of New England liberals, Midwestern conservatives, seniors, military veterans, and a good mix of racial and ethnic groups. Democrats made respectable gains in state and local elections two years ago and the Obama campaign has a tremendous presence here. Meanwhile, the McCain campaign just started hiring “temp” workers to canvass neighborhoods in some I-4 corridor counties because the campaign is so inept it has no base of grassroots volunteers. This is troubling because strong grassroots organization is how you win, and the I-4 corridor is where Florida is won and lost. But McCain should do well among military veterans and Jewish voters, and he polls best (though not necessarily better than Obama) with seniors – which Florida is full of as demonstrated by the volume of blue hair dye sold in the state at Wal-Greens. According to the RCP average, McCain currently trails Obama by just one point in the state best known in presidential politics for giving the world Katherine Harris and the 2000 election fiasco. Lets hope Florida’s 27 Electoral votes aren’t hanging anywhere on November 4th.
Nevada. Like a roll of the dice at a craps table, Nevada is politically volatile. The Silver State voted for Clinton twice and Bush twice. But like Colorado, Nevada has had an influx of new voters and has a large Hispanic population. Obama is currently polling three points ahead of McCain according to the RCP average. The state’s five Electoral votes are Obama’s to lose and will in large part be decided by turnout in Clark County — home to Las Vegas and it’s service workers who tend to be union Democrats.
Missouri. In as much as Florida is America’s best sample of a melting pot of voters, Missouri is America’s presidential election predictor. Missouri has voted for every presidential winner but one (1956 election) since 1900. The Show Me State should show us how this election will turn out. Obama’s current lead in the polls averages three points ahead of McCain according to RCP. Watch this state on Election Night if you want to go to bed early but have a reasonable expectation of what to wake up to the next day.
Ohio. While perhaps not as diverse as Florida or as good of a historical predictor as Missouri in presidential races, Ohio is a bell weather state. The Buckeye State voted for Clinton and Bush twice and currently favors Obama in the polls by six points according to the RCP average. But McCain has spent considerable time and resources here and the state’s 20 Electoral votes remain within reach. But McCain will need a miracle as Bush carried the state in 2004 by just under 120,000 votes out of 5.6 million cast.
While certainly the polls have been wrong in the past, and could be again this year, when combined with historical trends, current events, and anecdotal evidence, they paint a picture that leads an objective observer to believe that this is Obama’s to lose.
But don’t count John McCain out just yet. He’s a fighter and relishes the underdog role, and his campaign has FINALLY woken up and started focusing on some of Obama’s real weaknesses (lack of experience, untested judgment, and big government liberal) as opposed to just focusing on his friends of dubious nature. While people tend to question whether the allegation about Obama’s terrorist friend is true or not, it’s hard to argue with the fact that the junior Senator from Illinois has done very little in his life, is untested, and can’t wait to raise your taxes. John McCain on the other-hand is more fiscally conservative and has the life experiences we need in a president.
The question is, is the change in McCain’s message too little, too late? Probably so.
But while last week the fat lady was warming up and ready to hum “Taps” for John McCain, at least for now, she’s been sent back to her dressing room for a few more days.
Look to the aforementioned states on election night to see if she’ll be humming “Hail to the Chief” to McCain or not.
Just don’t bet on it.
Chris Ingram is the president and founder of 411 Communications a corporate and political communications firm, and publisher of http://www.IrreverentView.com. Ingram is a frequent pundit on Fox News and CNN, and has written opinion columns for the Washington Times, UPI, Front Page Florida, and National Review online. E-mail him at: Chris@411Communications.net.