Thursday, September 11, 2008

McCain/Palin Competitive in Swing States

It's time to really pay attention to what's happening at the state level. National polling data are fun to watch, but presidential horse-race snapshots only tell us so much: We will have, in essence, fifty state elections on November 4, and the Electoral College outcome naturally decides the winner.

To win, Barack Obama needs to hold onto every state John Kerry won in 2004, as well as Iowa and New Mexico, two states currently leaning Democratic.


But Obama's having trouble in Michigan and Pennsylvania, two Democratic states in 2004 that combine for 38 Electoral votes.

I noted previously that
Michigan's in play for John McCain and Sarah Palin, and Nate Silver argues that Obama's having trouble in this traditional Democratic stronghold:

Democrats have grown accustomed to winning Michigan by relatively comfortable margins. Bill Clinton flipped the state in 1992, bringing home the Reagan Democrats and giving the party its first win in the state since 1968. Clinton's margin grew to 13 points in 1996--five points better than his national popular vote margin against Bob Dole--and he successfully passed the torch to both Al Gore and John Kerry, each of whom also finished 5-6 points ahead of their national margins in the state.

But Barack Obama has had trouble getting traction in the Wolverine State. Although nearly all polling since the Democrats resolved the state's messy delegate situation in June has had him ahead, it has often been by uncomfortably small margins--just one point, for instance, in a Public Policy Polling
survey released on Monday. For most of the election cycle, Michigan has polled no more than 1-3 points ahead of Obama's national poll standing, placing it well within the range of a potential Republican takeover.

All of this comes in spite of a seemingly favorable environment for the Democrats. Michigan, its fortunes still tied to the struggling domestic auto industry, has the nation's highest unemployment rate at 8.5 percent. Its population is 14 percent African-American, among the highest figures outside of the South. And it has two huge university towns in East Lansing and Ann Arbor, potential ground zeroes for youth voter enthusiasm.
Check the link for more, but Silver suggests that Obama's languishing in Michigan due to Democratic Party liabilites (the troubles of both Jennifer Granholm and Kwame Kilpatrick, which I mentioned previously), as well Obama's disadvantage from not campaigning in Michigan during the primaries, and the GOP's considerable advantages with Michigan voters (a large Republican congressional delegation, and the state's affinity for Mitt Romney).

Obama's also
losing ground in the Keystone State as well:

Republican Sen. John McCain has closed within three points of Democratic Sen. Barack Obama in the presidential race among likely voters in Pennsylvania, according to the latest Quinnipiac University poll released this morning.

Mr. Obama leads Mr. McCain 48-45 percent in the state, but Mr. McCain has received significant support among white women and independents, the poll shows.
While Joseph Biden, Obama's vice-presidential running mate, is holding down some Pennsylvania Catholics and Scranton voters for the Democratic column, Obama lost the state to Hillary Clinton in the primaries, and he dissed the state's voters at his campaign rally in San Francisco in April (Obama's "bitter" controversy), which many residents aren't likely to forget.

Meanwhile, GOP running mate
Sarah Palin has helped close the gap a bit in some of the key swing states:

Sen. John McCain's vice-presidential pick, Sarah Palin, is helping the Republican candidate nationally but hasn't yet changed his fortunes in some of the largest swing states.

Sen. McCain is still trailing in Ohio - seen as a Republican must-win - according to new surveys of big battleground states by Quinnipiac University. There, Democratic nominee Barack Obama is leading by five percentage points, 49% to 44%. Last month the Obama lead was just one point.

Sen. McCain continues to trail in Pennsylvania, though Gov. Palin may be proving more helpful to him there, partially thanks to gains among women. Sen. Obama's lead has shrunk: He is preferred by 48% of likely voters to Sen. McCain's 45%, a slight improvement for Sen. McCain, who trailed by seven percentage points a month ago.

In Florida, Sen. McCain continues to lead, now by seven percentage points, up from four last month, according to a Quinnipiac survey there. The new reading has Sen. McCain up 50% to 43%.

To be sure, Alaska Gov. Palin wins positive reviews in all three states, with voters saying by significant margins that she was a good choice for the Republican ticket.

"Palin's having an impact, there's no doubt about that," said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. "Whether it's a lasting impact or not...we'll find out down the road."
In future essays I'll examine electoral trends in other key states. Meanwhile, check Rasumussen and RealClearPolitics for more on polling trends at the state-level.

Image Credit: Wall Street Journal