Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
September 16, 2008
POLITICS: Swingers

The further we get into the fall, the more meaningful the state-by-state polls become. But it's nonetheless useful to bear in mind the hard numbers from past years to keep a realistic view of what the range of possibilties are in any given state. A few months back, I had gone through the Federal Election Commission website and put together a spreadsheet, which I'm only getting back around to now, tallying up all the votes for federal office (President, Senate, House) in the last four election cycles (2000, 2002, 2004, 2006) comprising two presidential elections, four House elections, and a full cycle and a third of Senate races. The chart below lays out the results.

Now, let's be clear: while the underlying numbers are actual votes cast, basically what I'm doing here is using a metric, not a statistic; I'm combining different types of votes over time in a way that's not scientific, but rather an effort to take disparate pieces of data and make them digestible. Obviously, there are a host of reasons why this isn't science: turnout is much larger in presidential years, some incumbents in the Senate and House run unopposed (although this is itself usually a sign of strength), a third of the Senate seats are counted twice here, gerrymandering affects House races, and of course, there's no fixed way to measure the relative probative value of 2006 results vs. 2000 results in measuring 2008's political terrain. That said, using three levels of balloting over four election cycles does help give us a large enough sample size to get a look at the real, underlying partisan makeup of particular states, and limit the distorting effects of individual personalities.

Here's the methodology. I present two sets of numbers: "raw" numbers that treat each of the four elections alike, and "weighted" numbers that give a larger weight to more recent results. For the raw numbers, I tallied up all votes cast for each of the two major parties (ignoring third party votes, for simplicity's sake) in presidential, Senate or House races in 2000, 2002, 2004 or 2006. For the Weighted totals, I weighted the votes by year as follows:


i.e., a vote for a House candidate in 2006 was worth twice the weight of a vote for the same candidate in 2002, and four times the weight of a vote for that candidate in 2000.

The final two columns attempt to combine the electoral vote weight of each state with its partisan composition in order to put the closeness of the state in the context of the reward for presidential candidates of swinging it, dividing the number of electoral votes by the square of the margin separating the two parties (the sum is then divided by 100 just for ease of the reader). The equation is:

= (EV/(D%-R%)squared)/100

Without further ado, here is the chart:

StateEVD-TotR-TotD% (Raw)R% (Raw)D%(W)R%(W)EV/Margin (Raw)EV/Margin (W)

A couple of things jump off the list:

(1) Yes, as we all know, Colorado and Pennsylvania are two of the really critical battlegrounds in 2008, and not only at the presidential level.

(2) Some states are genuinely competitive yet never become swing states at the presidential level. Maine has two Republican Senators because they are much more liberal than any national Republican; South Dakota has a Democratic Senator and at-Large Congresswoman because they are much more conservative than any national Democrat, and aren't running for Commander-in-Chief.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:24 AM | Politics 2008 • | Poll Analysis | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)

Interesting chart Crank. I think I'll forward it to the Obama campaign. I figure the sleeper Democratic state this year maybe South Dakota. With less than half a million registered voters, Obama can hire a car service to drive each one of them to the polls - and if they vote according to your weighted average -- the Dems could steal a deciding state.

Also interesting is how far down New Hampshire is as a solid GOP state. NH actually decided the 2000 campaign. If the Dems concede Florida that year(which we may someday), the next closest state that would have put Gore over the top was the Granite State - Bush won it by 7,200 votes.

This year will be close again in NH with two factors countering each other: 1) more liberal Massachusetts types moving up there and commuting to Boston; and 2) McCain is somewhat of a favorite son, having trounced GWB there in the 2000 primary and quasi-resident Mitt Romney in 2008.

The big question this year will be whether any of the foundational states will change colors (FL, OH, PA, MI), which will pretty much decide things right there, or will it be 2000 all over again with the SDs and the NHs deciding it?

Either way, hold on to your seats. Its going to be slugfest.

Posted by: Patrick at September 16, 2008 11:41 AM

The one South Dakota poll taken since the conventions shows McCain up by 17. As I said, the local Democrats there survive by being more conservative than national Ds (and, as Tom Daschle can tell you, fail to survive when they are no longer seen as such), whereas Obama won his nomination in large part by showing himself to be more liberal than Hillary Clinton. Recall that Obama lost the SD primary in June after leading there in the polls.

On the other hand, Tim Johnson is coasting to re-election even though he admits he's too sick to appear for debates.

Posted by: Crank at September 16, 2008 11:49 AM

Another odd result is that your chart ranks WV pretty far down the list of contested states because its such a safe state ...for the Democrats!! Yet Barack is not even contesting it.

Its a shame -- I think he should send Bill Clinton down South for the next two months and reward him with one pardon for each Southern state Bubba can deliver.

Posted by: Patrick at September 16, 2008 12:15 PM

On second thought, a pardon may be a little too Nixonian; perhaps he can get Bubba's juices flowing with a second-tier cabinet pick for each Southern state he delivers, and if he can deliver three, maybe a Supreme Court pick.

Posted by: Patrick at September 16, 2008 12:49 PM

I see Palin's husband refuses to answer a subpoena. Is there a blanket immunity for first dude's I am unaware of?

Posted by: Daryl Rosenblatt at September 19, 2008 11:29 AM
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