It’s been a while since I’ve had an opportunity to react to the many excellent comments and questions you have been sending my way, so let me take the opportunity to do so now, before the storm hits. I’ll work somewhat in reverse chronological order…
Conor Shaw suggests that Obama’s ability to turn so many traditionally red states into pink, tossup or even blue states vindicates his decision to run a 50-state campaign. It is true that states that have not voted Democratic in several elections, such as Virginia, Indiana, North Carolina and possibly even Georgia, are now in play and several of these (Virginia the most obvious) may in fact go Democratic. But as I noted in my post regarding Arizona, Obama is leaving himself open to criticism if somehow McCain holds on by a narrow margin in enough battleground states to eke out an Electoral College vote win. Then the critics will be wondering why Obama didn’t concentrate his resources to seal the deal. Andrew Piccirillo also weighed in on this topic, arguing that Obama believes his election prospects improved by expanding the playing field, in part because it forced McCain to spread his more limited resources across a larger area than he might like. I guess we will be able to judge the effectiveness of this strategy on Tuesday.
Conor also suggests that the race would be closer if Clinton had been the Democratic nominee. Again, we will never know. But I suspect that she would have fared better in the big ticket rust-belt states of Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania and in the Appalachian areas including West Virginia, as well as Florida. She likely would have done worse in North Carolina, Georgia and perhaps Virginia. Keep in mind that she outpolled Obama in the primary states during the nominating phase (depending on how you count Florida and Michigan). So I’m not sure I agree she would have been the weaker candidate. In fact, I could make a strong case that she would have done better among the very voters that are now undecided.
Jane asks what the minimum gain in the popular vote McCain needs in order to plausibly have a shot in the Electoral College. Note that at this point he could hold onto North Carolina, Florida, Indiana and Georgia without much increase in his current level of popular support. But to keep Ohio and Virginia, and flip Pennsylvania and then win either Colorado or New Hampshire, he needs to net a minimum of 5% nationally in the next 72 hours in my view. I don’t see it happening.
Marshall suggests that the undecideds may consist of a large portion of voters who are actually going to vote for McCain, but who are hiding their preference by characterizing themselves as undecideds in order not to be labeled racist. This gets to the heart of the discussion on the recent posts regarding how the undecideds will go. I think the majority will go to McCain, and that may indeed swing several battleground states to him. At this point, however, I don’t think it will be enough to give McCain the election. Tomorrow I hope to devote an extended post to this idea.
Olivier and Rob both think I underestimate the impact of the Powell endorsement because even if it did not persuade voters to vote for Obama, it certainly dominated the news coverage for 48 hours, or more, thus preventing more favorable (to McCain) stories from getting aired. I don’t disagree that, all things being equal, McCain would rather not have had the Powell endorsement dominating the news at that point. My objection, however, was to the media characterization that this endorsement “dealt a body blow” to McCain’s candidacy. The general thrust of the media coverage was to suggest that this endorsement might seal the deal for Obama. I should add here that Olivier in particular has pushed me to more explicitly recognize the importance of a candidate’s winning the media cycle in terms of the opportunity costs it imposes on the opponent. In part, our differences are ones of perspective driven by our professions – I’m more interested in the larger picture, while Olivier reacts more acutely to the daily narrative. I think we agree on more than we disagree here, but I hope readers of this blog appreciate the exchange between us as much as I do.
Bhima argues that because the undecideds are less engaged and informed about the election, the fact that they may swing the election as a group indicates a weakness in how we choose the president. Andrew disagrees, arguing that undecided voters are not necessarily ignorant voters (and I apologize to Andrew if his post was somehow deleted – I remember reading it but can’t find it now). I would note that the number of undecideds has dwindled to about 5-6%, and I expect it to be about 3% on election day. I’m not sure if Bhima would find this reassuring or not, but I guess I lean toward Andrew on this point. Again, I hope to do an extended post on this question tomorrow.
Finally, Jack Goodman wonders whether the relatively “smoother” polling graphs for many of the red states (and the occasional blue state like Vermont) suggests that voters in these states are simply more closeminded. I would suggest not. Instead, I think it simply reflects the fact that neither candidate has bothered to campaign in strongly red or blue states, and thus voters aren’t really given a choice between the two. How many times have we seen Obama, McCain, Biden or Palin in Vermont? Without visible signs of debate, media coverage of competing arguments, etc., opinions are less likely to change. That’s why these states are less frequently polled as well.
As always, these are great questions and comments, and I only wish I had time to answer them all at the time they are asked. Keep them coming, and I’ll do my best.