The foundation firms us
Although I know better than to take polls too seriously, I'm as curious as any political junkie about the state of the presidential race. As a devoted Democrat, I smile when Obama opens up a solid lead and I cringe whenever it narrows—even though I know what the polls say today is not necessarily what the ballots will say in November. Still, competent pollsters know how to take a snapshot of voter sentiment and give us a sense of how things might be shaping up.
That's why I watch the numbers over at electoral-vote.com, where the Votemaster tracks several polls and aggregates the results. (I've even installed its vote-tally widget in my sidebar; just look to the right.) I wonder whether people have noticed an interesting trend in the numbers. The Votemaster provides a number of graphs to illustrate how the results have varied with time. The graph depicting the electoral vote for each candidate shows how McCain appears to have closed the gap with Obama and turned the presidential contest into a neck-and-neck horse race. This is enough to curdle the blood of any partisan Democrat, although it's certainly too early to panic:
But the Votemaster also provides a graph of “solid” electoral votes. He notes that “The electoral votes of a state only count in this graph if the candidate has a margin of 5% or more over his opponent.” The story in the “solid” graph is quite different. While the first graph showed how the gap has closed in terms of total electoral votes, including the closely fought states, the second graph demonstrates that it has widened in terms of the solid states. Obama has been grinding away at building a strong base—a “solid” foundation—of states where his margin over McCain is at least five percentage points. While a five-point margin isn't entirely beyond the typical pollster's error bounds, it's an extremely good bet. With minor variations, Obama's base of solid states has been growing steadily, until it now approaches the magic number of 270.
By contrast, McCain's tally of solid states has been very slowly eroding. This implies that his recent apparent success in closing the gap with his rival is based entirely on tiny margins in swing states. He must essentially run the table to prevent Obama from snagging the one or two marginal states needed for a Democratic victory. Any one of the states of Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, or Virginia would put it away for Obama. Colorado plus one of the Dakotas or Montana would also suffice.
Perhaps McCain should ask Cindy if she remembers where their homes are. She may need to buy houses in all of the swing states to give her husband that home-base advantage. He's going to need it.