Presidential Race Maps Writing on the Wall

Morning Report: The Fundamentals Remain Strong For Obama

Posted Nov 03, 2008 at 1:43 AM by Maurice Berger

A close examination of polling out this morning suggests that while a few states have drawn very close--Florida, North Carolina, Montana, and Missouri in particular--the race is appearing to stabilize for Obama. Ohio and Virginia, though having drawn much closer over the past three days--and remain "Too Close To Call" on Today's Map--appear to lean to the Democrat as of this morning. Several states now appear to be leaning to McCain--West Virginia and Indiana. The great news for Obama: all nine states were won by George W. Bush in 2004. The Democrat holds a solid, unusually commanding lead in nearly all of the states won by Kerry, except Pennsylvania (and according to the Reuters/C-SPAN/Zogby poll this morning, Minnesota, where the race has drawn down to 49% to 46% for Obama). The slight bit of good news for McCain, enough voters remain undecided or are persuadable in enough states to produce a few surprises. (This result would imply that these voters, now mostly white and center-right, would trend towards their demographic--as undecided voters often do--and thus would favor McCain by a considerable margin.) But with Obama at or above the 50% mark in many of these battleground states, McCain would also have to pick off a fairly large bloc of voters who now say they are committed to the Democrat. Obama's overall structural advantage in the Kerry-blue states of 2004 also leaves him in much better shape than McCain: the Democrat's lead in "Safe" electoral votes--in which a candidate has a demographic advantage in a state, leads beyond the margin of error, and has a top-line of 50% or more-- now stands at more than 100, 238 to 127. (Obama's number here could drop to 228 if more polls corroborate a narrowing race in Minnesota.) As of this morning, the map solidly favors Obama. PollTrack expects an enormous amount of fresh polling throughout the day, so stay tuned for updates.

Daily Tracking Poll: Obama Up Again

Posted Nov 01, 2008 at 9:29 AM by Maurice Berger

Today's PollTrack daily tracking poll average shows Obama up +6.3%, 50.2% to 43.9%. This is a slight uptick from yesterday, though one poll--GWU/Battleground which has shown the race at around +4% DEM all week--does not issue trackers over the weekend. Several things to note: IBD/TIPP today reports the undecided block at +8.7%. Zogby, one of this cycle's more erratic pollsters, writes this morning that the McCain "made solid gains in Friday's single day of polling," pulling into a lead on that single day, 48% to 47%. And AP/Yahoo yesterday reported a staggering 14% of voters who say they are undecided or still persuadable and thus could change their mind by Election Day. Is this volatility real? Hard to say. The good news for Obama: he leads in all national surveys, has a near lock on almost every state won by John Kerry in 2004, has McCain struggling in a number of true-red states (NC, VA, IN, ND, MT), and has a considerable structural advantage in many battleground states --from early voting that favors him to a top-line above the 50% mark on average in many of these contests. The possible good news for McCain: most of the undecided and much of persuadable bloc is made up of voters who demographically trend Republican. Most undecided voters, if they actually vote, usually break towards their demographic. (Many polls actually indicate a very high degree of enthusiasm among uncertain voters, a sign that they may show up in the end.) A large bloc of undecided voters--if it is true that this bloc hovers around the 8-10% mark nationally--moving lockstep in one direction or another could still significantly impact the race. 

Daily Tacking Poll Average: Obama Now Up +5.7%

Posted Oct 31, 2008 at 7:06 AM by Maurice Berger

For the second day, Obama's daily tracking poll national average lead has inched upward. As of today, has holds a +5.7% advantage, 48.2% to 43.8%. Interestingly, the IBD/TIPP tracking survey (the most accurate national pollster in 2004) this afternoon reports that a whopping 13% of independent voters still say they are undecided, a scant four days before the election. This, combined with the large number of "persuadable" voters that register in many of these surveys, suggests a bit of volatility in the race.

Persuadables STILL A Factor: 1 in 7 Voters Could Still Switch Their Vote

Posted Oct 31, 2008 at 4:46 AM by Maurice Berger

A stunning factor could still bring surprises in Election 2008: an extraordinary one in seven voters--or 14%--say they could still change their minds by election day. As PollTrack has been reporting, the number of persuadable voters, exceedingly large at this point, has been consistent for weeks. A new Associated Press/Yahoo Poll reports: "With the sand in the 2008 campaign hourglass about depleted . . . a stubborn wedge of people . . . somehow, are still making up their minds about who should be president. One in seven, or 14 percent, can't decide, or back a candidate but might switch . . . Who are they? They look a lot like the voters who've already locked onto a candidate, though they're more likely to be white and less likely to be liberal. And they disproportionately backed Hillary Rodham Clinton's failed run for the Democratic nomination." The make up of this bloc could be a warning sign for Obama. A similar pattern emerged in New Hampshire in the days leading up to the Democratic primary in January: while Obama lead by  +8.7% in PollTrack's  unpublished average--Hillary Clinton captured the state by +2.6%, a swing of 11 points. Significantly, as many as 25% of NH  Democrats--according to polls released in the 48 hour period before voting--said they could still  change their minds. While Obama maintains strong leads in states holding a total of 259 electoral votes, a dramatic shift in persuadable voters towards the Republican could make some of these races closer and swing red-leaning states, like FL, MO, IN, NC, and NV to  McCain.  (Rasmussen's daily tracker this morning, significantly, also reports around 10% of voters are uncertain, persuadable, undecided, or supporting a third party candidate. Among certain voters, Obama holds a +4% lead, 47% to 43%.) Still, the Democrat's structural advantages in statewide races--especially in most of the battlegrounds--make a McCain victory unlikely (but not impossible) at this point.

"Leaners" Lean Towards Obama

Posted Oct 30, 2008 at 2:45 AM by Maurice Berger

While polls contradict each other, some showing Obama significantly ahead, others indicating a close national or statewide race, it's usually the way "leaners" and persuadable voters are counted that makes the difference. In other words, when only voters who are certain of their choice are included in a sample, the race is somewhat closer. When voters who are persuadable or leaning one way or another are factored in, Obama often holds a solid advantage. There is a bit of good news in this for each candidate. For McCain, these numbers suggest a fluidity in the race: neither candidate has sealed the deal with voters. The fluidity of voters leaning towards Obama's may also suggest their reticence or anxiety about the candidate. The good news for Obama is really quite good: with leaning and persuadable voters included, he jumps well over the 50% mark in many surveys and states, suggesting that a solid majority of voters are ready--or nearly ready--to vote for him. The next few days are crucial for both camps. If Obama can successfully close, finally securing leaning, persuadable, and undecided voters he has the potential of a solid, and perhaps commanding electoral majority. But if these voters break for McCain, we may see a much closer race, though the structural stability of the Democrat's numbers--he leads by more than 10% on average in 255 EVs--will make any path to victory for McCain extremely limited and difficult.

The Persuadables: Still A Factor

Posted Oct 27, 2008 at 2:25 AM by Maurice Berger

A St. Cloud State University poll released yesterday in Minnesota shows the presidential race tight, with Obama ahead--42% to 37%. (The poll, significantly, also includes cell phone users.) Yesterday's national tracking poll by IBD/TIPP also shows Obama ahead by a modest margin, 47% to 43%. While both polls may spell good news for Obama, both nationally and in an important battleground, they contain one potential red flag for the Democrat and sliver of opportunity for McCain: the large bloc of voters who still say they could change their minds or are undecided. Indeed, in polls that include leaners--voters who favor one candidate or another but say they're not sure--Obama tends to come out ahead nationally and in a number of the battleground states. Take these voters out of the mix by limiting the results to voters who are virtually certain of their choice: Obama leads in most of these surveys as well, but with enough fluidity among the remaining bloc of voters to really mix things up. Take this morning's Rasmussen's daily tracker. Among "certain" respondents, Obama leads, 46% to 41%. This result still leaves a large block that is either leaning, undecided or not entirely certain of their choice. With an enthusiasm level that greatly favors Obama, it's not surprising that he continues to hold an advantage among certain voters who are most committed to their choice. But an appreciable shift among the voters who remain could skew the outcome of election 2008. If those who are now leaning or wavering break for Obama by a large margin, he has the potential of a blow out. If these voters breat even, Obama will win by a modest margin. If they break dramatically for McCain, a much closer race. While Obama's lead in many of the swing states may make it very difficult for the Republican to reach the magic number of 270 (255 Electoral votes are rated "Safe Democrat," for now, on PollTrack's map), a truly historic, last-minute shift of these undecided and persuadable voters could change the dynamics of the race in its final week.

Three Weeks To Go: Is It Over?

Posted Oct 14, 2008 at 3:58 AM by Maurice Berger

Perusing the latest round of national and statewide polls--and looking back at the numbers over the past two weeks--it's fair to sat that the momentum is clearly with Obama. For one, the Democrat has grazed the 50% mark continuously for more than two weeks in most daily tracking polls. Just as important is the consistency of McCain's numbers, hovering around the 45% mark. Since June, the race has remained relatively stable, save for a few weeks in early September when McCain lead by a few points. Another positive for Obama: he's up as much as +10% in a number of key battleground states--including robust leads in PA, MI, WI--advantages that may well be insurmountable at this point. The Democrat is also ahead in all of the states won by John Kerry in 2004. So the overarching dynamic of the race has favored Obama, allowing him to ride a more or less consistent wave of support that has placed him 3-5% ahead of his opponent for most of the past four months. He's also winning the expectations game, as voters by a significant margin expect him to win. Still, the election is not over. Indeed, over the past half century, competitive presidential cycles have often seen dramatic movement in the last few weeks. In 1980, Carter lead by 5-8% until the final weeks, when Reagan rapidly came up from behind to overtake him. In 1968, Democrat Hubert Humphrey made up an large deficit in the last month of the campaign against Richard Nixon.  In 1976, Gerald Ford closed a significant gap, nearly defeating Jimmy Carter after months of lagging way behind. In 2000, Al Gore made up a 7% deficit in the final weeks of the campaign. And in 2004, a series of solid debate performances helped Kerry to close within a few points of George W. Bush. The good news for Obama: the longer the underlying dynamics of the race remain the same, the more likely voter sentiment will begin to solidify. Yet, a large bloc of voters remain undecided or say they could still change their mind (more than 10% according to most national surveys). Will tomorrow's debate--like the first two--help Obama to seal the deal with voters? Can McCain alter the dynamics of the race, by changing the subject from the ailing economy to other matters? Will news events intervene? And what about an October surprise? Might it be just around the corner?

The Undecided Factor: Will The Debates Make A Difference?

Posted Sep 26, 2008 at 4:09 AM by Maurice Berger

The presidential debates could matter a lot in this election. No matter who is leading in any individual poll, all surveys report a fairly significant bloc of undecided voters, anywhere from 5% to 18%. PollTrack guesses that voters are pretty confused right now. While each candidate can count on a solid bloc of very committed voters, neither candidate consistently breaks the 50% in PT's national daily and periodic polling averages. The wavering segment in the middle--unaffiliated, independent, and undecided voters--has been fairly fluid the past two months, affording both candidates the lead at one point. One widely quoted article reported this week "the norm is for very little swing in candidate support" in the period immediately following presidential debates. PollTrack cautions against reading too much into voters' initial responses to the candidate's debate performance. Yet, debates have mattered a great deal. But their effect takes time to enter into voter's conscious and unconscious decision making. Most important, debates can affirm or allay doubts already present in the minds of voters: Michael Dukakis's dispassionate answer to a 1988 hypothetical debate question about whether his liberal views on crime and justice would be shaken if his wife were raped went right to voters' concerns about his clinical and unemotional approach to politics and governing. Conversely, Ronald Reagan's adept and reassuring debate performance in 1980 convinced voters that he was not, as many feared, an extremist out of touch with the middle of the country. PollTrack imagines that the debates in this cycle could well have a similar and powerful effect on the electorate.

The State Of The Race: 45 Days To Go

Posted Sep 19, 2008 at 1:33 AM by Maurice Berger

Yesterday, a rush of statewide surveys resulted in a changed Today's Map. What are the implications of Indiana going from red to gray, Minnesota from blue to gray? One important observation: it looks like the national divisions of 2000 and 2004 are still around. With the exception of usually true-red Indiana (PollTrack still believes the state will eventually trend back to the Republicans), the same swing states are drawning down to a tie. (And, yes, despite the fact that no Democrat has won the state's electoral votes since LBJ in 1964, Virginia is now a swing state: it has actually grown bluer in recent years. Consider the 2006 senate race, where Democrat James Webb defeated Republican George Allen by a mere 8,000 votes.) PollTrack suspects that these divisions may be sharpened by the relative strengths and weaknesses of the two candidates. McCain has been able to solidify the Republican base, take the lion's share of the very dependable (re: voter turnout) 65+ demographic, and appeal to independents. Obama does well with urban voters, young people, African-Americans, and Hispanic voters. The problem for both: they each appeal to the same constituent demographics as Gore and Bush, Bush and Kerry, leaving a slim pool of swing voters (married suburban women, for example) to essentially break the tie. PollTrack suggests that other factors--preeminently Obama's race, women disaffected by the Obama campaign's handling of Hillary Clinton, McCain's age, and Palin's  religious conservatism--are making it difficult for either candidate to eat into the other's base or to pick off large segments of independent and unaffiliated voters.

One More Interesting Tidbit in the CBS News/New York Times Survey

Posted Sep 18, 2008 at 3:37 AM by Maurice Berger

One more important bit of information inside the numbers of the CBS News/New York Times survey released late last night: the volatility of the race: "Roughly twenty percent of both McCain and Obama supporters say they have not yet settled definitively on their chosen candidate." The next significant opportunity to bring some stability to the numbers (save a major league gaffe): the debates.

The Palin Effect IV: Wait And See

Posted Sep 10, 2008 at 1:45 AM by Maurice Berger

A new NBC/Wall Street Journal survey out yesterday indicates that both candidate's favorable ratings are up, higher than those for Bush and Kerry in 2004. This suggests that both candidates have fired up their respective bases (plus a good number of independents as well). Conclusion: the election remains a statistical tie, with neither candidate pulling significantly ahead of the other.

The Palin Effect continues to improve McCain's standing. The same poll reports an alarming decline in white female support for the Democrat as well as a significant drop in female support overall. The survey observes: "In last month's NBC/WSJ poll, Obama was leading McCain by 14 points among female voters; now that lead is just four points. Moreover, Obama was up by 20 points in August among women ages 18-49; now McCain is ahead by three points. And last month, Obama held a one-point lead among white women; now McCain is up among them by 10 points."

But will this continue? It's hard to say. Palin is the least vetted of the four candidates on the respective Democratic and Republican tickets. On the other hand, she has tapped into and ignited a demographic crucial to winning in November and heretofore skittish about Obama: married white women (especially in small towns, rural areas, and some suburban districts). These voters tend to skew more conservative than single women and they tend to vote much more reliably. By activating voter enthusiasm among Evangelicals, Christian conservatives AND a significant swath of the female demographic, Palin, for now, helps give McCain a slight edge. But for how long?

Independents Trending Towards McCain

Posted Sep 09, 2008 at 5:49 AM by Maurice Berger

In an observation with possibly serious implications for the Obama campaign, Gallup now reports that independent voters have shifted dramatically towards McCain. He now holds a 15% advantage with these voters according to Gallup.

Palin has helped McCain consolidate the Republican base. The question, if Gallup is correct: Why are independents moving in the Republican's direction?

I another poll released today, Public Policy Polling (PPP) reports that McCain has a statistically significant lead in Florida: 50% to 45%. (PollTrack continue to call the state "Leaning Republican."). In a telling detail--which tends to confirm Gallup's results-- undecided or unaffiliated white voters are now almost all breaking for McCain. Over the past few months, McCain's share of these voters in Florida has gone from 53% to 55% to 61%

2008: Looks Like A Nail Biter . . .

Posted Sep 07, 2008 at 2:04 AM by Maurice Berger

With National periodic and daily tracking polls now reporting the race a tie (Rasumssen this morning: 48% to 48%) and both candidates appearing to inch up over the 45% level, are we in for a nail biter of a campaign?

The answer would appear to be yes. In 2006, the Democrats took back both houses of congress in a political environment that was even worse for the Republicans than it is today. Yet, the national race remained very close. Indeed, the Democrats took back the Senate by winning two highly contested elections-- Montana, and Virginia--by 3,000 and 8,000 votes respectively out of millions cast. In other words, the nation was and remains fairly evenly divided.

Conventional wisdom suggests that Obama should be way ahead right now--given voters generally negative view of the Republican brand. Yet, sharp divisions within the electorate suggest that both parties are evenly divided in support, with each maintaining a base of about 40%. This leaves independents, unaffiliated, and undecided voters to make up the difference. And these voters, too, appear to be wavering and divided. After the DNC, many independents shifted towards Obama. Now they are moving back to McCain. With the Democratic and Republican bases now firmly in place, it is this shift that will account for each candidate's lead (or lack thereof) in the coming weeks.

These conditions are not that different from the last three presidential and national cycles. Indeed, the grand national realignment that the Obama campaign touted several months ago--in which Democrats maintained they would be competitive in tradition Republican strongholds such as the Dakotas, North Carolina, Georgia, Indiana, Nebraska, and Kansas--does not appear to be materializing. McCain is now leading in all of these states (by significant margins in some, and with only North Dakota possibly in play), in good part because he has solidified the Republican base and fired up Evangelicals and Christian conservatives.

Right now we're back to an electoral map that appears similar to 2000 and 2004--with just a few extra swing states thrown in (Colorado, Virginia, and New Hampshire being the most volatile right now).

A nail biter, indeed.

How Close is Close?

Posted Aug 14, 2008 at 4:26 AM by Maurice Berger

While Pew and most other recent surveys call the race a statistical tie--based on the closeness of the numbers and the polls' margin of error--the consistency of these results suggest that Barack Obama does maintain a modest national lead, despite losing ground since June.  All but a few national polls (the exception: Zogby and several Rasmussen Daily Tracking results) give Obama, on average, a 2-4% advantage nationally. 

The problem for both candidates: neither crosses the 50% mark, suggesting a large undecided block as well as support for neither or for third party candidates. Of course, the importance of this threshold declines in relation to third party support (now at around 5% on average for Nader and Barr combined). If these numbers increase considerably--as they did in 1992 for Ross Perot, who wound up with 19% of the vote--then, of course, it is likely that neither Obama nor McCain will win a majority of the electorate in a relatively close race. (In 1992, Clinton's margin of victory was 5.5%, but he won with only 43% of the vote).

But, of course, American presidential elections are not won on the basis of the national popular vote. Thus the literal tie seen in the poll averages of a number of key swing states--Ohio, Virginia, and Nevada, for example--may indeed suggest a race that will go down to the wire.