The Sports Report

A Statistical Take on Sports and Politics

Electoral College Breakdown

Using tools from, and, I have expanded upon my research that I used to breakdown the electoral map a month, and a half ago. With Barack Obama vs. John McCain as the match-up for the election set for just about 16 weeks from now, the state-by-state polls are starting to become a bit clearer. Most websites (Five Thirty Eight, and currently show that Obama has about a 65% to 70% chance of winning the election, as of right now. While that number could drastically change over the next few months most notably because of the impending selection of vice presidents from both campaigns, that number is a rough estimate based upon the current state-by-state totals.

In this article, I want to breakdown the states that will decide the election this coming November. To find the states that will be most crucial to this election, I compared the election results from the 2000, 2004, and then looked at the most recent four-day average from the polling estimates on Five Thirty Eight. All states that have consistently voted for one particular party, and look to vote for that same party by a margin of at least 7% in 2008, are placed into the easy point column. In terms of easy electoral votes, Obama leads McCain by a total of 183 to 154, with 201 toss-up electoral votes remaining.

Toss-Up States

These 19 states, and 201 electoral votes will be the most contested this coming November. Obama leads McCain 183 to 154 in all other states, not including these.

The table to the side shows all of the remaining states that look to be rather competitive this coming fall. As you can see here, Minnesota, Oregon and Wisconsin are the only states that currently look to be decided by over 7%, but they have all been much closer in the past, and thus are not labeled easy Democratic victories. In addition, there are several states that have voted Republican in both 2004, and 2000 for George Bush, but could lean Democratic in 2008. These states include (in ascending order of current margin) North Dakota, Florida, North Carolina, Missouri, Nevada, Indiana, Montana, Virginia, and Colorado. These nine states, and 97 electoral votes, are spread all across the continental United States, and show how the electoral map in 2008 will be something extraordinary.

In the 2000 Presidential election, George Bush defeated Al Gore by a count of 271 to 267 electoral votes, and in the 2004 Presidential election, George Bush defeated John Kerry by a count 286 to 252 electoral votes (both totals include one extra delegate in each election, who abstained or switched their aligned Democratic vote). Both elections, however, followed the easy electoral vote breakdown by winning those 31 states that do not seem to be very competitive at all in 2008.

Currently, not including the states in the table above, Obama leads McCain 183 to 154. If you include the states that are clearly leaning a particularly way as shown in the table, Obama still leads McCain by a total of 242 to 186 electoral votes. To win the election, a candidate needs to win at least 270 out of the 538 total electoral votes. This means, that of the 110 votes aligned to the nine purple states in my table, Obama would have to win 28 to win the election, while McCain would have to win 84.

Thus far in my breakdown of the electoral votes, only one state has changed over from the results in 2004, and that is Iowa (0.7% victory for Bush in 2004, 0.3% victory for Gore in 2000). With the current numbers coming from Iowa, I have it labeled as the state most likely to change over from red to blue in the upcoming election. Perennial swing states New Mexico, and Ohio are both showing Obama as the slight favorite, as are back-and-forth Michigan, and Republican Colorado. Of all of these states, the one that is most likely to change over from blue in 2004 to red in 2008 is Michigan, a state that has Obama winning by 3.9% right now.

In one particular situation, Barack Obama could lose the important states of Ohio, Michigan, and Florida, and their 64 electoral votes, and still not lose the election. This situation may utilize the situation that many political pundits are starting to point out, about how Obama may only need to total 269 electoral votes. Since Congress will most likely be heavily Democratic in 2008, Obama would probably win their vote in case of a tie. Thus, if Obama loses those three big-time swing states, but takes away Iowa, New Mexico, Colorado, and Virginia (all states he is currently leading in) from the 2004 red column, he will have 269 exactly.

The two biggest swing states that will most likely decide the 2008 election are Michigan, and Ohio, according to the statistical work of Nate Silver’s tipping point states at Five Thirty Eight. Obama leads slightly in both states right now, and McCain would absolutely have to win either, if not both, to have a chance at victory in November. This illustrates how McCain can only surrender 26 electoral votes from the 110 in the purple stack to Obama. Obama’s national polling averages have fallen down over the last four to five days from 6% to 3%, but he still maintains the clear-cut advantage in the state-by-state breakdown.


July 14, 2008 - Posted by | Politics | , ,

1 Comment »

  1. The real issue is not how well Obama or McCain might do in the closely divided battleground states, but that we shouldn’t have battleground states and spectator states in the first place. Every vote in every state should be politically relevant in a presidential election. And, every vote should be equal. We should have a national popular vote for President in which the White House goes to the candidate who gets the most popular votes in all 50 states.

    The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC). The bill would take effect only when enacted, in identical form, by states possessing a majority of the electoral vote — that is, enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538). When the bill comes into effect, all the electoral votes from those states would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

    Because of state-by-state enacted rules for winner-take-all awarding of their electoral votes, recent candidates with limited funds have concentrated their attention on a handful of closely divided “battleground” states. Two-thirds of the visits and money were focused in just six states; 88% on 9 states, and 99% of the money went to just 16 states. Two-thirds of the states and people have been merely spectators to the presidential election.

    Another shortcoming of the current system is that a candidate can win the Presidency without winning the most popular votes nationwide.

    The National Popular Vote bill has been approved by 20 legislative chambers (one house in Colorado, Arkansas, Maine, Massachusetts, North Carolina, and Washington, and two houses in Maryland, Illinois, Hawaii, California, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Vermont). It has been enacted into law in Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, and Maryland. These states have 50 (19%) of the 270 electoral votes needed to bring this legislation into effect.


    Comment by Susan | July 14, 2008 | Reply

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