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September 2008
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Electoral College: VA Flips to Obama, Obama retakes the lead!

Two states of good news for Obama, but some words of caution on both.

Virgina (13 ev): With today’s polls (including three new polls in Virginia) Virginia moves from “Lean McCain” to “Lean Obama”. This change moves the overall “if everybody gets their leans” view of the race from an electoral college tie to an Obama win. However, as usual with this sort of change, there is a big caveat. In this case we have gone from an 0.4% McCain lead to a 0.6% Obama lead. There is not really a significant difference between those two numbers. What we have is a too close to call race in this state. *All* swing states are almost by definition states where the current polling numbers show a tight enough race that it would be folly to have any confidence in a prediction of which way the state will go. We had a close race in Virginia before, we have a close race now. Which side of the line the state is on this very moment does not actually significantly change the character of the race.

New Mexico (5 ev): New Mexico moves from “Lean Obama” to “Weak Obama”, moving it once again out of swing state status. The caution here is that my boundary between these two categories is a 5% lead by Obama. With each new poll since the end of August, New Mexico has moved back and forth from just over 5% in my five poll average, to just below 5%. It just keeps bouncing back and forth. It appears New Mexico is basically flat, just staying exactly where it needs to in order to hover on the line between my categories and flip back and forth occasionally. I wouldn’t put much stock in the state REALLY being in one category or the other unless it actually stays there for awhile. And once again, with the state being right on the line, there probably is not really a huge difference between where New Mexico was yesterday and where it is today.

New Summary:

McCain Best Case – McCain 336, Obama 202
Obama Best Case – Obama 378, McCain 160

If everybody gets their leans – 282 Obama, 256 McCain

The lesson for today is just that small basically meaningless changes in individual states can make big jumps on the charts. This is in the nature of a winner takes all electoral college system. So when a state flips categories, great. But don’t trust the sudden changes as indication of a trend… unless they last and are confirmed by other changes.

Having said that, the charts are now starting to look like we really are seeing a full fledged movement toward Obama in all categories… not just movement of “Weak McCain” states to “Lean McCain”. It is still early though, and there is a chance some of these changes are ephemeral. So we need to continue waiting to see if new polls confirm and strengthen this trend… or not.

In the mean time, given the still huge 176 electoral college votes which are too close to call, we still have an overall election without a clear leader.

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