Polls and the electoral college in US elections

When it comes to the US election, national polls can be very misleading. This is because of how the contest is Balkanized into states and electoral college votes. It doesn’t matter if you barely manage to win a state, or if you win by a huge majority. As explained on this post on The Economist’s Democracy in America blog, the winner will be whoever gets more than 270 electoral college votes:

Barack Obama already has 260 votes either “strong” or “leaning”. John McCain has just 112 strong and 64 leaning. He must not lose a single “lean” state to keep himself 86 votes behind.

Now those swing states… Mr McCain has tiny leads in Nevada and North Dakota, and slightly bigger ones in North Carolina and Florida. Mr Obama has clear leads in Colorado, Virginia, Ohio, New Hampshire, Alaska (you can probably write that one off now, though) and Montana.

This may be a partial explanation for the surprise selection of Sarah Palin as John McCain’s running mate. While national polls show McCain and Obama neck-in-neck, the electoral college projections look much worse for the Republicans. That may have encouraged them to employ a riskier strategy, in hopes of changing the dynamics of the race.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

9 thoughts on “Polls and the electoral college in US elections”

  1. Oh, how I love The Economist. From the linked post:

    “Short the proverbial dead woman or live boy in Mr Obama’s bed, the basics of the race remain the same.”

  2. I did not notice that the first time I read the post. The Economist can certainly be more colourful in choice of language and images than some mainstream media sources in North America.

  3. The Ground Game
    The campaigns have already begun fighting over ballots and rules for voter registration.
    By Richard L. Hasen
    Posted Monday, Sept. 8, 2008, at 4:16 PM ET

    This presidential election—like the ones in 2000 and 2004—will be won on the ground in a few swing states. So forget the movements in the Gallup daily tracking poll or the Intrade political market. You don’t even need to focus on the electoral-college maps at Pollster.com or Electoral-Vote.com. The 2008 election may well be determined by some of the legal and election administration skirmishes going on now in several key states. Here’s a quick rundown.

  4. Obama’s unprecedented campaign strategy

    “I SUSPECT that the probability of Obama winning the electoral college while losing the popular vote probably increased as a result of the post-convention dynamics,” says Nate Silver, after breaking down the latest polls from the all-important swing states. John McCain’s convention speech and VP choice may have fired up his already-loyal constituencies, but in the swing states the race hasn’t budged much. Rasumussen, for example, saw “very little net change” when comparing their latest results in CO, FL, OH, PA and VA to their pre-convention polling. So Mr Obama still holds the edge on the electoral map. But the races in the typical battleground states are close, and some are now questioning the Democrat’s electoral strategy.

  5. Is Intrade out on a limb?

    Emile Servan-Schreiber
    September 12th, 2008

    As I write this, Intrade gives the advantage to McCain over Obama and has the Republican party even with the Democratic party to win the election, whereas all the other prediction markets, meaning IEM, Betfair, and the NewsFutures play-money kind still favor a Democrat in the White House. That disconnect prompted Chris to wonder aloud whether Intrade is faster than the other markets to incorporate the latest polls, perhaps because of its “bigger liquidity”.

    That’s an interesting reaction on several levels.

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