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Electoral College: Mixed changes, but mostly more Obama bleeding

In terms of the categories I use to classify states based on the average of the last five polls, today was another brutal day for Obama. It just keeps getting worse. There had been some talk about the “bump” from the debate having bottomed. I’m just not quite seeing it yet. One state does move in Obama’s direction today, and I’ll get to that, but for the most part the theme today is states that had once looked pretty safe for Obama now once again looking competitive.

So lets look at the states, from smallest to largest in the electoral college:

Immediately before the debate, Obama’s lead in Wisconsin stood at 9.2%. As of today’s update, it has dropped to a 3.6% lead with 4/5 polls now from after the debate. Huge drop. This of course puts Wisconsin back in “Lean Obama” territory, meaning Obama is ahead, but by a small enough margin it is easy to imagine Romney taking the state. Wisconsin has been in this category before of course. But it is a big change from the time period right before the debate.

Michigan looks pretty similar to Wisconsin. Right before the debate Obama had a 9.0% lead. Now he has a 4.0% lead with all five polls in the average after the debate. So Michigan also returns to “Lean Obama” and I include a win here in Romney’s best case.

Does the pattern look familiar? Before the debates, Obama had a 8.6% lead in Pennsylvania. Now with all five polls in the average after the debate, Obama’s lead is down to 4.0%. So Pennsylvania also comes within reach for Romney. Yes, he is still behind. In all three of these states. But they are all close. Another bad new cycle for Obama, and seeing these states move over to Romney does not seem impossible.

The one move toward Obama today is the biggest state moving today, but Obama folks should not get too excited. The five poll average for Florida moves from a 0.2% Romney lead yesterday to a 0.2% Obama lead today. Those margins are negligible. Either way, Florida is incredibly close and could very easily go either way. Before the debates Obama had a 3.2% lead in Florida, so his drop has not been as large here as elsewhere. But in a state this big and this close, every little bit counts.

Florida is hyper close, but I have to classify it somewhere, and for the moment, for today, it goes back into the Obama column, where it has been most of the year. Just barely.

Which brings us to the new summary of the race:

Romney Obama
Romney Best Case 333 205
Current Status 215 323
Obama Best Case 191 347

Romney’s best case is better than it has been all year. He beats his post-primary peak from the beginning of September, and he even passes all time peak from January. Obama’s lead in state after state has just been washed away in the aftermath of the first debate. Obama is still ahead in these states for the most part… but what once had been substantial leads are now very narrow.

This is clearly not where Obama wanted to be right now.

Now, the current status does improve for Obama compared to yesterday because of Florida flipping categories, but as I mentioned above, the margin in Florida is essentially zero. So the difference between today and yesterday isn’t really substantive on that front. Either way, Florida is a toss up at the moment.

So to try to get a little more insight, although I won’t do this every time, lets once again look at the actual current margins in all of the close states to see how they rank. With just the states he is ahead in by more than 5%, Romney starts out with 191 electoral votes. From there Romney needs 78 more electoral votes to tie, 79 to win.

Ranked in order of current polling, these are the current “close” states:

  • North Carolina (15 ev): 3.5% Romney lead – 2/5 polls after debate
  • Colorado (9 ev): 0.7% Romney lead – 5/5 polls after debate
  • Florida (29 ev): 0.2% Obama lead – 4/5 polls after debate
  • Nevada (6 ev): 1.6% Obama lead – 5/5 polls after debate
  • Ohio (18 ev): 2.2% Obama lead – 5/5 polls after debate
  • Virginia (13 ev): 2.2% Obama lead – 5/5 polls after debate
  • Iowa (6 ev): 3.2% Obama lead – 1/5 polls after debate
  • Wisconsin (10 ev): 3.6% Obama lead – 4/5 polls after debate
  • Pennsylvania (20 ev): 4.0% Obama lead – 5/5 polls after debate
  • Michigan (16 ev): 4.0% Obama lead – 5/5 polls after debate

That is a lot of “close” states. Before the debate, we were down to just a handful of close states. No more.

Anyway, if Romney pulls those states toward him “evenly” then a move of just over 2.2% more in his direction would get him all the states through Virginia on the list above, which would give him an over all win.

Obama is still ahead. It is worth repeating that. But this race is so much closer than it was before the first debate. And Romney has so many more “paths to victory”. The easiest route is though Florida, Ohio and Virginia. But there are now many more options available as well.

Are we now at a ceiling for Romney though? Has he picked up about all of the “persuadable” votes that he can? Is there really headroom to move higher? If not, then it still isn’t enough. Obama will win.

If the Obama folks screw up more, and the Romney folks effectively capitalize on it though… then maybe Romney ends up with more room to go up further.

The next event expected to have the potential to move numbers is of course the Vice Presidential debate… a few hours from the time I am posting this update. We probably won’t really start seeing any move from that debate in the state polls for a few days, but this is probably one of the last moments we’ll really be able to look at the poll numbers and attribute the motion directly to the first debate. Starting with the VP debate, things get more muddled again, and more factors are at play.

But looking at things right now, it is clear that the debate had a devastating short term effect. It was NOT enough to put Romney in the lead when you look at the electoral college. But it was enough to take what looked like an insurmountable lead for Obama and turn it into a tight race. The big question now is does it stay a close race, or does Obama start to claw back his previous lead. Or… of course the third option… does Romney/Ryan score some more big blows and actually start taking the lead in this race.

Note: Chart and map from the 2012 Electoral College Prediction page. Both assume Obama vs Romney with no strong third party candidate and show polling as it currently exists. Things will change before election day. On the map red is Romney, blue is Obama, gold states are too close to call. Lines on the chart represent how many more electoral votes a candidate would have than is needed to tie under several different scenarios. Up is good for Obama, Down is good for Romney.