The Plank

Today's Polls: Is Pennsylvania A Lost Cause For Mccain?


We have three Rasmussen Reports polls to kick off the week, the most intriguing of which is in Pennsylvania,
where Barack Obama leads John McCain by 4 points. That's a slight
improvement for Obama from Rasmussen's May poll, when he had led by 2.
Nevertheless, Rasmussen shows Pennsylvania tighter than most other
polling of the state.The
operative question about Pennsylvania is whether John McCain should
make a serious effort to compete there. The way to evaluate this is not
by looking at the Pennsylvania numbers in the abstract, but by
comparing them to the national averages. Presently, we project Barack
Obama to win Pennsylvania by 8.3 points, but we also show him winning
the entire election by 5.2 points. That means that if the race tightens
to a draw -- and it's only when the popular vote is very close that
electoral math matters -- we'd expect Pennsylvania to be in the range
of Obama +3. That's tight enough such that it's too early for McCain to
write Pennsylvania off entirely. A lot of things will have to go right
for McCain to win Pennsylvania, but then again, a lot of things will
have to go right for him to win this election.The New Mexico
result is Obama +8; he had been ahead by 9 in Rasmussen's May poll. One
thing to keep in mind is that, while we focus a lot on trendlines
within any one given agency's polling, the comparison to other
pollsters does matter too. Thus, while Obama lost a point in New Mexico
relative to Rasmussen's previous poll, our win percentage for him went
up there, since an 8-point lead is still much comfier than other
pollsters have seen the state. Conversely, even though Obama gained in
Pennsylvania relative to Rasmussen's previous poll, his win percentage
went down there, since Rasmussen continues to see the state much
tighter than agencies like Quinnipiac.Finally, in Utah,
Rasmussen has John McCain ahead by 19 points. Utah is probably
interesting only insofar as trivia questions go. When Bill Clinton won
the election in 1992, Nebraska was his worst state, which he lost by
"only" 17.2 points. That was the best worst
state for a winning candidate since FDR, assuming that you count the
District of Columbia as a state. The modern record, however, appears to
be held by Woodrow Wilson, who lost no state by more than 11.6 points
in the three-way election of 1912. If Obama has an exceptionally good
election night, it is conceivable that he could threaten some of those
records, but Utah will almost assuredly be his limiting factor.

--Nate Silver 

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