The post convention resurgence of McCain's poll numbers along with the closing of the enthusiasm gap brought about by putting Palin on the ticket has created some serious panic in democratic ranks. Panic would not be the appropriate response to a race that is effectively a statistical dead heat in nationwide polling. But I think a great deal of concern is clearly in order.
We should all bear in mind that the general election battle is going to be won in the electoral college, not by the popular vote. Remembering this should bring into crystal clear focus for everyone exactly what we should be paying attention to in the polling we are being inundated with. In the primaries, Team Obama had total clarity that the war would be won on the delegate count, not the popular vote. They better be similarly focused on the electoral college in the general, because this race is tightening quite a bit in a way that I think puts the writing on the wall. The above map is the Real Clear Politics electoral map with toss up states allocated to one or the other of the contenders. At the moment, it projects an Obama win by a scant 8 electoral votes. Now, I don't know how RCP is allocating the toss up states, but whatever methodology they are using, I don't agree with it. I looked at what they are reporting for poll data for each of the toss up states and made my own judgment about how the toss up states would fall.
My read: If nothing were to change between now and the GE, Obama loses in a squeaker by one electoral vote. I've already begun steeling my spirit for that outcome and consoling myself that McCain perhaps won't be so bad, and hopefully he will keep the insufferable Palin in the basement most of the term.
How do I reach this result? I went through and looked at the toss up states poll numbers as reported by RCP and looked at how they appeared to be trending in most of the toss ups. In many, they are trending McCain and they have tightened in others. So I allocated all of the states in the direction they appear to be leaning based on the direction the trend has been changing in. This approach shifts some toss up states into the McCain column, even if Obama is currently ahead. Using my approach, you get the following result:
Obama ability to run in parts of the west is a big element of what gives him a fighting chance, because if he takes western states like NV, or MT, or NM and holds the territory he has now, he can actually afford to lose in much of the heartland like OH, IN and MO and still win the presidency.
But my look at the toss up states has him losing in NV, NM, and MT, holding onto CO only. In that scenario, he has to get one of the midwest states like IN, OH or MO to bring it home. None of that is looking like their trends will be reversed, though they may not get any worse for him.
Now, my caveat was if nothing changes. We do have some things that could change the trends. Additional economic bad news like the Lehman Brothers collapse could help Obama's economic message where voters favor Obama. The debates will be key. The performances of both candidates could have an impact. The troopergate investigation of Palin may yet yield a deal breaker item that could also affect the race. So, something could change.
The other caveat here that does not bode well for Team Obama is the so-called Bradley effect. I believe there will be some Bradley Effect, that boils down to people who think they will vote Obama won't when they get in the booth. Some are arguing that Obama has a large, unmeasured youth constituency out there that is not accurately counted by the pollsters, but will show up on election day. If I'm Team Obama, I would be assuming that Bradley will be around on Nov. 4th and the invisible youth vote will remain invisible.