Is the Race Tightening? Some State Level Results

In my last post I said the tightening of the race at the national level would mean more if it was reflected in state-level polling, particularly in the big-ticket battleground states. We are now seeing the same trend: a slight – and I emphasize slight – movement toward McCain in three of the four biggest battleground states for which polls have come out in the last two days.

In Florida, there have been three recent polls indicating a slight movement toward McCain:


SurveyUSA has McCain up 49-47, a gain of 1% for McCain since the last Survey poll three weeks ago.

PPP has Obama up 1%, 47-46, a gain of 1% for McCain since the last PPP survey 3 weeks ago.

Rasmussen has McCain up 48-47, a gain of 6% for McCain since the last Rasmussen poll a week ago.

As a result, Obama’s lead in the polls in Florida has been narrowed to 2%.


In North Carolina, 3 polls have come up in the last two days showing a net average gain for Obama:


Rasmussen has Obama up 51-48, a gain of 3% for Obama in NC since the last Rasmussen poll a week ago.

Civitas has Obama up 48-45, a gain of 2% for McCain since the last Civitas poll 2 weeks ago.

PPP has Obama up 51-44, a gain of 4% for Obama since their last poll 1 weeks ago. .

As a result, the RCP average has Obama ahead in NC by 2.3%


In Ohio, three polls have come out in the last two days:


Rasmussen has McCain up 49-47, a gain of 4% for McCain since their last poll a week ago.

Suffolk, however, has Obama up 51-42.  They have no other polls in October.

NBC/Mason Dixon has McCain up 46-45. They have no other polls in October.

As of today, the RCP average has Obama ahead in Ohio by 2.8%.


In Pennsylvania., two polls came out in the last two days:


MorningCall (a daily tracking poll) has Obama up 52-42, a gain of 2% for McCain in the last three days.

Susquehenna has Obama up 48-40. They did not poll previously in October.

RCP still gives Obama a commanding lead here of 11%

Interestingly, McCain has devoted a huge amount of campaign time to Pennsylvania, a state that I think frankly he has little chance of winning. Although the tracking poll suggests he might be cutting into Obama’s lead, he still trails by a considerable margin. So why campaign there at all?  All I can think of is that McCain’s internal polling shows that he has an outside shot in this state, and given its size, and the fact that he has few other options, McCain believes it’s worth making a play here. Of course, John Murtha’s recent comments (in his defense, he no longer is calling western Pennsylvanians racist – – instead they are “rednecks”) may keep this state in play for McCain.

It is important, however, to keep these battleground state-level movements in perspective.  All are in states that, with the exception of Pennsylvania, Bush won in 2004, but which RCP currently gives to Obama.  So McCain is fighting to hold onto states that went Red in 2004. Obama can conceivably lose three of these (maybe all four) and still win the election.  So we ought not to make too much of these microtrends – they are interesting so far only in that they confirm the national tracking polls that show this race is tightening.

Not surprisingly, there is no evidence at either the national or state level of a bump in support for Obama due to the Powell endorsement. This is to be expected, of course, and it’s worth a separate post explaining why the media consistently misreads the importance of endorsements generally, and Powell’s endorsement in particular.  I’ll try to get to that in my next post.


  1. I don’t understand McCain’s continued emphasis on Pennsylvania either. One of his aides was quoted saying that their internal polls show Obama ahead by 7-8%, even while most independent polls show an even wider gap. It’s a long shot, and the only rationalization I can think of to support it is that McCain simply doesn’t have the resources to fight in several other smaller states (like Colorodo, New Hampshire, Maine); in other words, he’s just pooling his resources for a final push in the biggest Kerry state that he has any chance of winning. Nonetheless, the likelihood of a McCain win there is extremely small: in an election where the Republican candidate is defending North Carolina and Indiana and polling consistently lower in Colorado, New Mexico, Virginia, and New Hampshire, it is hard to anticipate anything but an Obama victory a state that was blue in 2004.

    Even if he should pull off an upset in PA, the math is still unfriendly for McCain. In the graphs, he is looking weaker than any other point in the campaign since June. Meanwhile, the national polls show no sign of shifting in McCain’s favor. The average has wavered a little but continues to show a 5% to 8% lead for Obama- all of this alongside the news that McCain has pretty much given up campaigning in Michigan, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Colorado, and New Mexico. Simply stated, I think things are looking very bleak for anyone looking at a map in McCain’s HQ in Arlington. The shift (or concentration) of campaign resources in PA is one of those “once more into the breach, dear friends, once more” moments, but I think it’s more of an attempt to save face than a strategy to win the race.

    I do have one question though: how much do you think Boris Johnson’s endorsement of Obama will affect those swing voters? I’m thinking that it should play a huge role in shoring up all of those Philadelphia suburbs packed with British ex-nationals…

  2. I would guess that the Pennsylvania decision is mostly about desperation. Conor’s theory of concentration of resources doesn’t do it for me – without further information, it seems like McCain could more efficiently abandon PA and focus on flipping/keeping smaller states with smaller leads and less expensive pricetags – Colorado and New Hampshire in particular come to mind.

    McCain could be looking for insurance against a Virginia loss – flipping PA would make up for VA and NH combined. But again, why pour resources into Pennsylvania instead of into keeping Virginia and flipping a smaller state?

    My theory is that the McCain camp feels they’ve already tried everything they can try in Colorado, Virginia, New Hampshire, etc. They’ve been working hard there forever and are getting no traction. So this is a desperation move – they feel like there is room to tighten the race in Pennsylvania, where they haven’t already thrown their best resources and failed.

    If this is the case, McCain might be ready to give up on Virginia completely – polls there have been very stark for him, and NoVa is an expensive media market. He might be left with the decision to fight in Pennsylvania only because it’s the only way he can win after dropping Virginia’s 13 EVs. But it’s a very long shot – rednecky as PA is, the rednecks don’t carry the state – McCain will have to gain ground among exurban Philadelphian-suburb types and uniony (but granted, racist) steel-town types – Obama has been talking to these folks for ages, and it seems unlikely that McCain will reverse their commitments in these last two weeks.

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