Presidential Race Maps Writing on the Wall

What's Going On With Pennsylvania?

Posted Nov 01, 2008 at 3:36 AM by Maurice Berger

With several new polls showing the race in Pennsylvania drawing closer, the question of the day is why. Rasmussen this morning reports on the narrowing trajectory over the past month: the latest "survey of voters in the state shows Obama with 51% of the vote while McCain picks up 47%. That four-point advantage for Obama is down from a seven-point margin earlier in the week and a 13-point advantage for Obama earlier in the month." First it is important to note that the Democrat does lead, has held this advantage for more than a month, and passes the 50% threshold. The competitiveness of the race, however, may relate to the state's demographics, which tend to be evenly divided among Democrat- and Republican-leaning voters (the old joke about PA: it's New York in the big cities at either end of the state; Alabama in the middle). Kerry won the state very narrowly four years ago. The state has one of the oldest populations in the nation (+65 voters tend to favor McCain), a large and politically active bloc of gun owners, and a large contingent of conservative, working class white voters. Even among Democratic primary voters in April--who trended considerably more progressive than the statewide electorate at large--Hillary Clinton defeated Obama by nearly a +10% margin. Indeed, during the fall campaign, PA has been the one Kerry/Gore blue State that has given Obama the most trouble. PollTrack was the first polling website to note Obama's problem in the state, writing on 11 September: "With three new polls all showing the race in Pennsylvania drawing down to a statistical tie --Obama now leads by an average of just over 2%--PollTrack moves the state on Today's Map from 'Leaning Democrat' to 'Too Close to Call.' It is quite possible that the RNC and Palin are helping McCain in the more conservative middle section of the state--an area rich in small towns, Evangelical and Christian conservative voters, and gun owners." (NOTE: the previous passage is a quotation from PollTrack's post in early September: PA remains "Safe Democrat" as of 1 November and until further evaluation on Today's and Tomorrow's Map) If Pennsylvania, and its unique demographics, represents an isolated example of a narrowing race, Obama may hold enough of a structural advantage in the electoral college to win handily on Tuesday. But if PA is a harbinger of a broader national pattern--say, for example, indicating a tendency of white working class and Reagan Democrats to vote for McCain, whether they are admitting this to pollsters or not--certain statewide contests could draw closer as well, particularly Ohio and Missouri.

Bounce: The Long View

Posted Sep 02, 2008 at 1:30 AM by Maurice Berger

A new poll issued today by CBS News suggests that Obama received a modest "bounce" out of his convention. According to the poll, he now leads 48% to 40%, up five points from their last survey a few weeks ago. These numbers, of course, conflict with CNN/Opinion Research and other polls that show no "bounce" at all. Rasmussen's numbers this morning are starting to tick upward for Obama, suggesting a modest but discernible "bounce."

Two factors are at play: for one, the true impact of events on the ground may not be known for weeks. Public opinion is often slow to form. In 1984, Democrat Walter Mondale's announcement of Geraldine Ferraro as his running mate--the first women to appear on the national ticket of either party--produced a flurry of media excitement and a modest jump in the polls. Within weeks, any gain had evaporated.

Just as important: presidential races are not decided by popular vote, but rather by 51 state-wide races (D.C. has three electoral votes). Thus, PollTrack will keep a close eye on public opinion surveys as they emerge out of battleground states in the coming weeks.

One demographic to watch closely: so-called Reagan Democrats--white, conservative, mostly working-class who broke with their party to support Ronald Reagan in the 1980s--in key states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Michigan. Many of these voters so far have been disinclined to vote for Obama but disgruntled with Republicans. Did the DNC succeed in increasing their trust in Obama? Will McCain's VP pick appeal to these voters? Will McCain and Palin's speeches, and the Republican National Convention in general, convince these voters that they are true "mavericks" who proffer real change and a departure from the policies of the Bush administration?

Indeed, the race appears very fluid right now, with CBS News reporting that "a significant number of voters who have yet to finally make up their minds."