Time for pre-election predictions and analysis! Below I outline three scenarios about how election night could wind down, and what to look for early on to determine how the night is going to develop. I then offer my prediction about how the election will go, explain the basis for that prediction, and provide a state by state breakdown, organized according to poll closing times on Tuesday. Enjoy!
1. McCain Comeback: Senator McCain faces a difficult map, and his supporters have to hope for a lot of things to happen if he is to come back: the undecideds must break decisively for McCain, many “soft” Obama supporters have to have second thoughts at the last minute, and the Republican get out of the vote effort has to over-perform, while the Obama effort – massive in scale – fails to motivate new voters. A tall order.
It is possible. Barack Obama is black, and while I do not believe in the so-called “Bradley effect” whereby someone of color loses 5% of votes between the opinion polls and the actual electoral poll, nobody knows for sure. We don’t know the role race will play, or if the intense robo-calling and negative campaigning will work against a black man named Barack Hussein Obama.
There are a few scenarios where McCain can come back. Most likely he would have to flip Pennsylvania, and then run the table with the toss up states Ohio, Indiana, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia and Florida. If he could pick up Colorado, Nevada and/or New Hampshire as well, that would give him a few additional options in his quest for 270 electoral votes..
Good news for McCain: the toss up states are all ones everyone thought he would get a couple months ago, and the polls in Pennsylvania appear to be tightening. Obama’s leads are tiny in the toss up states he holds the lead in, and the undecideds are mostly white, and could go heavily for McCain. If that happens, it is quite conceivable that his intense focus on these states – with a blitz of anti-Obama ads designed to cause concern about who Obama is – could pay off with a narrow victory Tuesday. Bad news for McCain: He has no margin for error. He has to win all of these. He can’t be surprised by an Obama win a state considered safe, like Arizona. Worse news for McCain: early voting has led to massive Democratic turnout in Florida, Georgia and North Carolina. If Obama gets any of those, McCain’s chances are very low. If Obama gets two of them, he’s got the election.
If you want to see a McCain comeback look for very close races in the states listed above, most of whom have early poll closing times. If McCain appears competitive in all of them, especially Pennsylvania, he may be ready for the comeback of the century.
2. Obama Landslide: Conversely, there is the chance that Barack Obama could be ready to ring up upward of 350 or even more than 400 electoral votes, especially if he can hold on to his popular vote lead and score a 10% victory (most polls have his lead slightly less than that).
To truly get a landslide, he’d have to have a massively successful get out the vote effort and actually bring to the polls the new voters and minorities that have under voted in the past. If he can do that, plus pull a majority of the undecideds his way, he could ring up victories in states like Georgia, Indiana, Florida, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, and even be competitive in Arizona. The states to watch early are Georgia and Virginia. If Virginia seems solidly for Obama, and Georgia remains very close as the night goes on, it could be a landslide. If North Carolina goes early for Obama, things are looking very good.
3. A narrow Obama victory. Another scenario is that we’ll get neither a comeback nor a landslide. McCain will surge late and cut into Obama’s large lead, and whether it’s undecideds or the Bradley effect, a lot of the red states that now tilt blue will stay with the Republicans by the end of the night. In this scenario, Obama will win against McCain much like he won against Clinton – appearing invincible, but ending up looking like he was lucky the contest didn’t go on much longer. If McCain looks very strong in Georgia, North Carolina, Florida and Virginia, but weaker in Pennsylvania or Ohio, then it looks good for Obama, but will not be the kind of victory some Obama supporters hope for. Given the closeness of the races, the “narrow” victory could ultimately be over 300 electoral votes if he wins a few of those toss ups, but nothing like the dream some have of a landslide.
My prediction and analysis: Going out on a limb
I do not believe this election is going to be close. I think Obama will win by 53% to 44% in the popular vote, and by 410 – 128 in the electoral college. I am basing this prediction on a theory that is yet untested: the ground game Barack Obama has put together to get out the vote, expand early voter numbers and generate enthusiasm amongst minorities and youth voters will yield an unexpected surge of Democratic support. Moreover, the decision the GOP made to cut their ground game’s budget in favor of last minute advertising will hurt them. They are going to spend half of what they spent in 2004 on election day get out the vote efforts.
In almost every factor political scientists consider important for an election, Obama has the upper hand. He has spent far more money, has the most sophisticated get out the vote effort, has run a disciplined campaign, and is far more attractive than McCain, who has appeared old and often angry. Also, Obama has been able to mix positive with negative campaigning in a way that has made it appear all the negativity has come from McCain. McCain’s been intensely negative, and rarely does that win a national election. McCain also was supposed to win on stature and leadership, but Obama has appeared to be the cool and steady one. Obama’s supporters are far more enthusiastic (and that usually means more likely to vote) than McCain’s, according to an AP poll. Finally, the strongest determiner of an electoral outcome is the economy. Almost never can a nominee whose party has the Presidency in a time of economic crisis and pessimism win. It’s hard to be more pessimistic than now.
Objectively, taking all these factors into account and looking at the polls, I find it almost incomprehensible that Obama could lose; McCain would have to have everything go his way on Tuesday. However, Barack Obama is a unique candidate, with unique strengths and vulnerabilities. If fear of Obama as black, different, un-American or “far left” works for McCain, Obama could lose. I would think we’d have seen a backlash against Obama by now if that were true, so I’m going to make my prediction that the desire for change and Obama’s ground game will trump the GOP attack strategy.
Moreover, I believe this will be a realigning election like that of 1980 – another election which took place on November 4th. A bit of trivia: 1980 was the last year (before this one) that the Phillies won the world series. In that election people thought Carter could pull it out up until the end, but once the electorate decided they really wanted change, they moved strongly to Reagan. I sense the same thing is happening here. Things broke Obama’s way a couple weeks earlier this cycle than in 1980 because in that year it was the late debate that pushed people to vote Reagan. Therefore, I am expecting a landslide victory for the Democrats, with a pick up of 7 or 8 Senate seats and at least 30 house seats.
State by State Analysis:
States are listed in order of closing time, rather than in alphabetical order.
Closing time State (electoral vote)
6:00/7:00 Kentucky (8)
Kentucky should be a safe Republican state, as the demographics favor McCain, and he holds a double digit lead in the polls. However, if you want to see whether or not there is an “Obama effect” bringing out Democratic voters, watch the Senate race. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is in a tight race with Bruce Lunsford. McConnell should pull it off; if he doesn’t that’s a sign of Obama coattails.
6:00/7:00 Indiana (11)
If anyone suggested two months ago that Indiana would be in play, I’d have said they were crazy. Polling suggests McCain should hold on to this Republican state, but it’s officially now a toss up. Given my belief in the efficacy of the Obama ground game, I’m giving it to Obama. If Obama wins it, it’s an early sign of a potential Obama landslide.
7:00 Virginia (13)
Those looking for a McCain comeback will get evidence for it if McCain wins Virginia, or the results look very close early on. The polls have been tilting Obama, some significantly; if McCain does well in Virginia, that’s strong reason to doubt the polls and get ready for a long, tense night. Very late polls showed the race tightening. Mark Warner should easily win his Senate race, a pick up for the Democrats.
7:00 Georgia (15)
Georgia has had a phenomenal amount of early voting, and voter turnout had a significantly larger than usual black rate. McCain needs this state. If Obama wins, it’s an early indicator of a potential Obama landslide. Another indication of the strength of the Obama ground game would be if Jim Martin defeats Republican incumbent Saxby Chambliss for Senate. If Chambliss loses, it’s the Obama effect. However, Georgia law requires a Senate candidate to get 50% + 1 vote to win; it’s likely Martin could outpoll Chambliss but not reach 50%. In case of a runoff, there would be fewer voters and Chambliss would likely win.
7:00 South Carolina (8)
There are some who think that South Carolina might be in play. His lead has shrunk here, as it has in Kentucky. It should remain safe McCain. If not, then it’s a wow-za landslide for Obama!
7:00 Vermont (3)
This should be called early; there’s no real race here.
7:30 Ohio (20)
This is another state McCain really needs. If he can’t hold Ohio, he probably can’t make his way to 270 votes. There are reasons to think McCain will hold on – late polls showed an Obama lead, but McCain could pick up late deciders, and Ohio is one place where race might become a factor. The McCain campaign has put a lot of money and time into this state in the last week. My prediction is again predicated on my belief in the Obama ground game, and the fact Ohio has early voting (though not as extensive as Georgia, Florida, North Carolina and Nevada).
7:30 West Virginia (5)
This is a state that some people think might tilt Obama.. Maybe Obama could surprise, but I have my doubts that the Obama ground game will be as strong here as elsewhere. Race could matter here as well. An Obama win in West Virginia would signal a blowout.
7:00/8:00 Florida (27)
This is a state McCain should win. He’s spent a lot of time and money here, and the demographics, while better for the Democrats than they were in the last two elections, favor McCain. I think, though, early voting will make a big difference, and Obama could win by a surprisingly comfortable margin. I wouldn’t bet the house on it, but…Also, this is a must win for McCain. If he loses Florida, it’s really hard for him to reach 270.
8:00 Alabama (9)
The Republican version of Vermont: this will be an easy McCain victory. (Think of Alabama as the anti-Vermont in just about every way).
8:00 Connecticut (7)
Another easy one to call. At one point McCain thought his Lieberman ties would help him here. It won’t happen.
8:00 Delaware (3)
Biden will also win re-election, so whatever happens, Biden will win something tonight.
8:00 District of Columbia (3)
8:00 Illinois (21)
Easy victory in his home state – and if he wins the election, the site of a raucous election party (though I wouldn’t want to be there if he loses…)
8:00 Maine (4)*
A solid blue state but the 2nd District (home to UMF) could go to McCain. Maine is one of two states that disperses electoral votes based on district — whoever wins the state gets two, then one each is awarded for who wins in each district. If it’s a tight race a McCain victory in ME-2 could mean a tie, or even put McCain at 270. Incumbent Republican Susan Collins should win re-election, but since the 2nd district is competitive the Democrats have made an effort to expand the ground game here. If TomAllen wins it will be due to the Obama effect.
8:00 Maryland (10)
We’re zipping through the blue states here, no contest.
8:00 Massachusetts (12)
No contest, easy Obama win.
8:00 Mississippi (6)
Believe it or not, Mississippi could go Obama if it’s a tsunami landslide (talk about mixed metaphors). Recent polls show the race in single digits. Still, I question whether or not Obama’s ground game is as strong here as elsewhere, so I think McCain will hold on. Wicker will likely hold on to his Senate seat, though the Democrat Ronnie Musgrove has a slight chance if the Democratic turn out is extremely strong.
8:00 Missouri (11)
This is all about Obama’s ground game. Missouri should go McCain, but recent polls show a toss up, and I think the ground game breaks it to Obama. It’s not a must win state for McCain, but losing here would diminish his paths to 270.
8:00 New Hampshire (4)
New Hampshire kept Al Gore from the Presidency in 2000. It’s unlikely to do the same to Obama, recent polls give Obama very large leads. Still, this is a state where McCain has some real popularity, and Obama lost to Hillary here. McCain visited New Hampshire on the last weekend of the campaign. If McCain wins in New Hampshire, he could be on a path to 270. Look for Shaheen to defeat Sununu, a pick up for the Democrats in the Senate.
8:00 New Jersey (15)
McCain once thought he’d have a chance here, but not any more. Not as deep blue as some others, but a McCain victory here would signal disaster for Obama.
8:00 Oklahoma (7)
As “red” as they come, one of the few states where McCain may hit 60%.
8:00 Pennsylvania (21)
McCain claims he has the chance to take Pennsylvania. If he does, then victory isn’t guaranteed, but it looks very good for McCain. I can’t see him taking it, the polls show solid Obama leads (though some late polls do show tightening). McCain is helped by the fact there isn’t early voting in Pennsylvania, and his campaign has spent a lot of time here.
8:30 Arkansas (6)
Bill Clinton and the top state Democrats toured Arkansas recently, trying to turn an almost certain McCain state to a toss up. Does Clinton still have Arkansas magic? If Obama is enjoying a landslide, it’s possible, but this should be safe McCain.
8:30 North Carolina (15)
This is a shock to a lot of people, North Carolina was strong for Bush, and should be an easy McCain victory. Early voting plus a large black population cause me to see this as a place where the Obama ground game could pull off an upset. It’s a must win for McCain. Also, look for a loss for Elizabeth Dole, the incumbent, to the Democrat Kay Hagan, especially after Dole’s “Godless” commercial. Note that North Carolina’s screwy election process could become a controversy if it’s really close – if you vote straight ticket, you still have to vote separately for the President. A lot of new voters might just vote straight Democrat and forget to vote for Obama too (some Republicans will no doubt make the same error).
8:00/9:00 Michigan (17)
Remember the days when McCain thought that he could win here, and Hillary’s supporters were mad about the primary? McCain pulled out of Michigan early, it should be an easy victory for Obama.
8:00/9:00 Nebraska (5)*
Prediction: McCain 4 Obama 1
Nebraska allocates its electoral votes like Maine, and in this case I think Obama’s ground game will take the Omaha district, and split the vote. If so, and if McCain is running a tight race, this could give the victory to Obama, or perhaps cause a tie. Though most Americans don’t understand the intricacies of the electoral college, the campaigns do!
8:00/9:00 South Dakota (3)
South Dakota is as Republican as Nebraska, but more independent. Both Dakotas have a history of choosing Democratic Senators, SD has given us McGovern, Daschle and currently Tim Johnson. My sources on the ground there tell me that Obama is running a credible campaign, and getting support from quite a few Republicans. So I’ll go on a limb here.
8:00/9:00 Tennessee (11)
This state once had promise for the Democrats, though even Al Gore couldn’t carry it in 2000. Even a strong Obama ground game won’t win this one, it goes McCain.
8:00/9:00 Texas (34)
There are signs that early voting, and popularity for Obama from Hispanics might make this closer than people expect. But McCain’s got a large lead, and should carry it easily.
9:00 Arizona (10)
Polls in Arizona have tightened, so even though it’s John McCain’s home state, I’m going to predict Obama. This is the pick I’m the most uncertain about.
9:00 Colorado (9)
If my analysis is way off, and McCain wins enough in the East to make 270 possible, Colorado is one state that could become crucial. Recent polls have tilted to Obama, so I expect him to win, but it’s not a sure thing. Mark Udall should easily win his Senate race, a pick up for the Democrats.
9:00 Louisiana (9)
Although Democratic incumbent Mary Landrieu should easily win re-election, McCain’s got this one won.
9:00 Minnesota (10)
If McCain had chosen Pawlenty instead of Palin, this state could be shifting red. But it looks like Obama has this one pretty easily. This is one state where I suspect his coattails may not be enough for Al Franken, and Norm Coleman should win re-election (this Senate race is why I predicted 7 or 8 Democratic pick ups). That’s been a really nasty race, though, so anything can happen. Minnesota has always had very high turnout, the ground game may not effect the Senate race as much here.
9:00 New Mexico (5)
McCain had high hopes for New Mexico, and it was early on a battleground state. Now it looks to be pretty safe for Obama. Still, if McCain wins enough out east to stay in contention, New Mexico is a state where a resurgent McCain could pull off an upset. If it’s still interesting late in the evening, watch New Mexico! Tom Udall’s Senate victory will be a Democratic pickup.
9:00 New York (31)
Hillary’s supporters have forgiven him. The Pumas are dead.
9:00 Rhode Island (4)
Even the “Family Guy” will vote Democratic this year.
9:00 Wisconsin (10)
McCain really hoped to fight hard for Wisconsin, but Obama has pulled away. He also has a strong ground game here.
9:00 Wyoming (3)
Wyoming is Dick Cheney’s state. Nuff said.
9:00/10:00 Kansas (6)
Even in an Obama landslide it’s hard to imagine McCain losing here, where he has a double digit lead.
10:00 Iowa (7)
Late campaigning here suggests that perhaps internal polls show a tightening race. I doubt it. Obama got his start here, it borders Illinois. McCain hoped early to have a chance, but it should go Obama. McCain did make a big push here. A state to watch if at this time of the night it looks tight.
10:00 Montana (3)
It will make the map actually look more blue than red if this large state goes for Obama. Not many electoral votes, but a popular governor who channeled Louis Black at the Democratic convention and independent voters give Obama a real shot to pull an upset here.
10:00 Nevada (5)
Polls show things breaking to Obama, and early voting has been heavily Democratic. As with New Mexico and Colorado, if the race is still interesting and McCain looks like he’s pulling off an upset, this could be a state that McCain could need to pull him to 270.
10:00 Utah (5)
Even if Joseph Smith rose from the dead and endorsed Obama, McCain has this deep red state wrapped up.
10:00/11:00 Idaho (4)
Another massive victory for McCain.
10:00/11:00 North Dakota (3)
The Dakotas are independent, and if things do tilt Obama, North Dakota could see an upset. If McCain mounts a surprisingly successful night, he can’t let ND slip through his fingers.
10:00/11:00 Oregon (7)
Republicans used to think Oregon was in reach. It’s safe for Obama. Look for Jeff Merkley to knock off incumbent Republican Gordon Smith, a pick up for the Democrats.
11:00 California (55)
This hasn’t always been a deep blue state, but Obama has an easy path to victory here.
11:00 Hawaii (4)
They love Obama.
11:00 Washington (11)
Obama is holding the Pacific Northwest.
12:00/1:00 Alaska (3)
But Ted Stevens is gone. Mark Begich will win a Senate seat, another Democratic pickup.
Final: Obama 410 McCain 128.