Mon Oct 27, 10:59 pm ET
If you've been living and dying by the national polling, here's a piece of advice: stop looking at just the national poll numbers. Start looking at the state polling.
As we all were reminded in the 2000 election, the presidency is not decided by popular vote. It's decided by the Electoral College. The candidate who gets 270 Electoral College votes wins, so poll analysis turns into a simple math game. What collection of states can a candidate put together to get to 270?
Right now, it looks like Barack Obama has a lot more routes to 270 than John McCain does. Obama is starting off with what I call an electoral college "head start." More states are likely in his camp than John McCain's, giving Obama about 234 electoral votes to bank on compared to John McCain's 163.
I arrived at those numbers by putting these eleven battleground states into the toss-up category: Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and New Hampshire. (George Bush won each of these states, except Pennsylvania and New Hampshire, in 2004). The map I created below on the Real Clear Politics
electoral vote generator shows what this vote distribution looks like on the map.
The electoral map I created with swing states listed as undecided
The good news for McCain is that at least six of these states are so close, they could go either way come Election Day. The bad news for McCain is right now Obama has a polling lead in each of these states. (The Yahoo! News Political Dashboard
below reflects this by using the Real Clear Politics state poll averages to project a winner.)
Yahoo! News Dashboard, as of 10/27
The really bad news for McCain is that Obama only needs to win a few of the battleground states to get to 270.
In past elections the road to the White House ran through the "Big Three": Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida. If a candidate won two of these three states, they'd win the White House. Not any more.
The electoral map has loosened a lot since the last cycle. States that would never be in play like Virginia are suddenly up for grabs. You can blame that on the anti-Bush backlash or on Obama's capacity to get people excited. Either way, it's conceivable that Obama could lose all three of the "Big Three" and still pick up enough votes from other states to hit 270.
An example: we realized that this election could be a squeaker like 2000 if Obama loses the "Big Three" but picks up Virginia, New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada and New Hampshire. That puts him at 270 to McCain's 268.
The ways to arrange the electoral vote count feel endless. Every set of pundits creates their own electoral map projection, some based on polls alone like on our dashboard. Others factor in the unmeasureables like crowd sized and boots on the ground. I've included samples of various media projections with links to their sites below.
No matter what you factor in, there are certainly more ways to imagine an Obama win than a McCain victory.
Pundits have been throwing around a football metaphor reflecting the increasing probability of an Obama win. It goes something like this: There's two minutes left in the 4th quarter. One team has a 14-point advantage. Who do you think is more likely to win?
I like to change the football metaphor a bit. I use the Patriots from last year as an example. They had won 18 games, a perfect season, heading into the Super Bowl. And we all know what transpired there.
In other words, anything can happen.
Electoral projection maps from around the web
NBC, as of 10/27
Karl Rove, as of 10/26
Politico, as of 10/27
Pollster.com, as of 10/27
-- Liz Green