by JS O’Brien
You can see it in liberals’ eyes and in their white-knuckled grips on their hammers and sickles. They read the headlines. The polls are softening for Barack Obama. Could it happen this year, too? Will the Democrats once again snatch defeat from the jaws of victory?
In a word, “no.” And here’s why.
There may have been a very slight movement of the national polls towards McCain, but it’s hard to be sure. Some of the most widely reported polls in Obama’s favor were outliers to begin with and never should have been given much credence. The high-quality polls — those that have tended to do a good job of predicting final results in the past — have been fairly steady for weeks. Real Clear Politics is still reporting a +6.8 lead for Obama nationally; not that it matters much.
The only thing that matters, at this point, are the polls in battleground states, and those matter very much, indeed. If there are white males in Alabama who have voted Republican almost every time in their lives, but weren’t quite sure who to vote for this time, and have now decided to vote for John McCain, it doesn’t matter a bit. John McCain was always going to win big in Alabama and take its nine electoral votes. If there are undecided voters in Massachusetts who have moved towards McCain, that doesn’t matter either. Obama is going to win Massachusetts and its 12 electoral votes handily, and tightening the race by a few percentage points will make no difference to the outcome.
Given the national media’s coverage of Bill Ayers, Joe the Plumber, and other GOP attacks, it’s not surprising that Obama may have lost a few points in those states where he is not advertising and campaigning hard. Absent national coverage of his own in attacks on McCain, that’s bound to happen. But in those places where he’s spending a great deal of money and campaigning hard , namely in the battleground states, he’s doing very well. Today’s polls suggest that:
- He has a lead in Missouri (+6 from Rasmussen).
- He is tied in a new battleground state: North Dakota.
- He has either a four-point lead (Rasmussen) or two-point deficit (SurveyUSA) in Florida, with SurveyUSA noting that they are the only poll that has consistently had McCain in the lead.
- He is only six points behind in Georgia.
Polls from yesterday show Obama with a large lead in Pennsylvania, a six-point lead in Virginia, and a tie in Ohio. In addition, traditionally red states like North Carolina and Indiana, and West Virginia (which voted for Bush) are in play. The electoral realities are the same as they’ve been for weeks: If John McCain takes all the states that are currently solid or leaning towards him, he must take all of the toss-up states (which now are expanded to include North Dakota). That would give him 252 EVs, so he needs to find another 18 EVs by taking states away from Obama. He can do that by flipping Virginia and its 13 EVs back his way and then taking either Colorado or New Mexico, as well. It’s hard to imagine there’s any other path open to him.
This is a monumental task, and the odds against it are staggering. The Intrade Market odds now have an Obama win at nearly 84%. Fivethirtyeight has the odds at 90%+ for Obama. In other words, it will take a minor miracle for McCain to win.
Obama also has some other things going for him:
There is no Bradley Effect
Having done a fair amount of research on this topic, I’m now convinced that there was once a Bradley Effect (where white voters would mislead pollsters, telling them they were going to vote for a black man but then voting for the white candidate, instead), but that it has disappeared in recent years. Sure, many voters will not vote for Obama because of his skin color, but they appear to be comfortable telling pollsters that they are voting for McCain.
Cellphone-only voters are being undercounted
Young voters are heavily in favor of Obama. Young people often do not have land-line phones. Most polls do not survey mobile phone users because it’s too expensive to do so. Nate Silver, statistical guru, believes the cellphone effect may give Obama another 2+ points on election day.
The ground game
The Obama campaign has more offices open in battleground states, more paid staff, and has managed to “bank” votes by getting them in early in states where early voting and mail-in ballots are allowed. Everything about his campaign oozes competence. It seems very likely that there will be heavy turnout on election day, and that favors Democrats.
Obama is heavily outspending McCain in most of the battleground states, and the Republican National Committee is already starting to triage, pulling monetary support out of several key congressional races. This speaks to both the McCain and national party’s financial weakness.
In short, the race may be tightening ever so slightly nationally, but the electoral map, ground game, and available resources still strongly favor Obama.