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Fun with electoral maps

October 13, 2008

NOTE: This post is from October 13th, 2008 — check the actual pollster sites I link to below for the most up-to-date numbers.

I’m getting excited for the election … mostly because it is dominating my idle thoughts and I’m starting to feel some fatigue!

If you’re not from the States and don’t know what the electoral college is or why we do it this way, check out this site (or the Wikipedia page is pretty good too). Essentially, instead of a direct popular vote, each state has a number of electors equal to the number of Senators and Representatives in Congress. The larger the state’s population, the more Representatives it has, and the more electoral votes it has. For example, California, New York, Texas, and Florida have between 27 and 55 whereas Montana, Wyoming, and South Dakota have only three. I don’t really want to get into a debate of whether this is good or bad … at least not right now … certainly for the election in three weeks, this is the system. UPDATE: From a commenter – check out this site for discussion of why we should have and how to achieve a national popular vote system.

There are a total of 538 total electoral votes, a candidate needs 270 to win the election.

There are several pollster sites out there that update the national map based on daily polling*. Some go into excruciating detail about their methodology. This post is really about defending or criticizing specific pollsters or whether or not this is valid … blah blah blah … this is mainly just for fun.

So, today is October 13th, 2008 – the election is three weeks from today.

Here’s the map from Pollster.com.

Electoral map from Pollster.com on 10-13-2008

Electoral map from Pollster.com on 10-13-2008

In this version, the deep red are strong McCain, pink are weak McCain, deep blue stong Obama, and light blue weak Obama. The yellow states are considered by this pollster to be a “tossup” at this point (sometimes called a “swing state”). If you go to their site you can hover over each state and get the internal numbers just for that state. The total number of electoral votes for each candidate come from adding the strong and weak states. In this case, Obama has already surpassed 270 by a long shot. But remember, this isn’t necessarily a prediction of November 4th, but a prediction if the election were held today based on polling numbers. If you check these day to day, they can change … although they tend to become more solidified as the election draws near. As an aside, it’s quite astonishing that North Dakota, Indiana, West Virginia, and Missouri are “tossup” states on this map!

The next map is from RealClearPolitics.com.

Electroal map from RealClearPolitics from polling on 10-13-2008 (realclearpolitics.com)

Electoral map from RealClearPolitics from polling on 10-13-2008 (realclearpolitics.com)

Theirs is essentially the same as Pollster.com’s – the only differences that they give North Dakota to McCain and give Virginia to Obama.

Finally, is a map is from a site called Electoral-Vote.com.

Electoral map from electoral-vote.com on 10-13-2008

Electoral map from electoral-vote.com on 10-13-2008

This screenshot was taken on the same day as the other sites above (Oct. 13th, 2008). This site is a bit less hesitant about calling a state. They only show one state (Missouri) as exactly tied and attribute all the other electoral votes to a candidate even if it’s close. As a result, they have Obama and McCain with 346 and 181 electoral votes, respectively. There are some differences between theirs and the above maps in the swing states. Again, please visit these sites for all the details about their methodology.

One of the cool features of electoral-vote.com is that they have a button to see “this day in 2004” so you can see what the race looked like on the same day for that election. Below is the electoral map for the 2004 election (Bush vs. Kerry) for October 13th based on polling data.

Electoral prediction for 2004 election based on 10-13-2004 polling data (electoral-vote.com)

Electoral prediction for 2004 election based on 10-13-2004 polling data (electoral-vote.com)

Although they didn’t exactly predict the actual outcome (Bush ended up with 286) the point here is that it was a very close race with three weeks to go. I remember following it and the numbers bounced around a bit but it was always pretty close. If you go back up to the electoral-vote.com map for 2008, note the line on the bottom that says “Dem pickups (vs 2004)” – there are nine states there that Obama is currently polling better than McCain that Bush won four years ago.

Another cool thing about electoral-vote.com is that they have a cartogram option such that the states are sized proportional to their electoral votes (population).

Cartogram of electoral map from 10-13-2008 polling data (electroal-vote.com)

Cartogram of electoral map from 10-13-2008 polling data (electoral-vote.com)

Kinda puts things in perspective.

On many of these sites you can play around with the map and make your own. So here it is — this is my prediction!

My prediction for the 2008 U.S. presidential election

My prediction for the 2008 U.S. presidential election

Although Obama is polling extraordinarily well for a Democrat in states like North Carolina, West Virginia, Missouri, Nevada, Indiana, and North Dakota I think those will stay red. I’m even going to give Florida to McCain … Florida is fickle … difficult to predict. But I will go ahead and turn Virginia blue. Ohio is very close right now, but I think it’ll also go Obama.

I could be wrong, but this is what I’m gonna go with (barring some super-duper October surprise that fundamentally changes the race). Also, this prediction assumes no voting “irregularities”.

If anyone else wants to make a prediction, link to it in the comments … could be fun.

* The major news networks have electoral maps on their websites but none of them show Obama with more than 270 electoral votes even though polling shows otherwise. This is most likely due to the fact that they want it to be close, they want a horse race … what else would they talk about? If it weren’t a “dead heat” all the time, then you wouldn’t tune in to their idiotic commentary 24/7. If Obama’s lead opens up even more, watch the major networks drive the narrative that it is “very close”.

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. October 13, 2008 8:42 pm

    http://www.fivethirtyeight.com/ also includes lots of statistical treatment, for those who like that sort of thing.

  2. October 14, 2008 5:18 pm

    The real issue is not how well Obama or McCain might do state-by-state, 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. In 2004 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 passed 21 state legislative chambers, including one house in Arkansas, Colorado, Maine, North Carolina, and Washington, and both houses in California, Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont. The bill has been enacted by Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, and Maryland. These four states possess 50 electoral votes– 19% of the 270 necessary to bring the law into effect.

    See http://www.NationalPopularVote.com

  3. October 14, 2008 6:01 pm

    Susan, thanks for the commment and the link, I have seen your site and think a national popular vote should is a discussion our country should be having.

  4. October 14, 2008 6:04 pm

    oops … I mangled that sentence above, but you know what I mean.

  5. October 15, 2008 1:23 am

    “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).”

    Don’t you need a constitutional amendment, which would require 3/4 of the states to give state legislative approval? A lot of those states aren’t very big…

  6. October 15, 2008 4:42 am

    It looks like that even if a certain number of states entered into an “interstate compact” and passed state laws, that those laws wouldn’t ultimately override the Constitution. What the states can constitutionally do is decide how their electoral votes have to be cast – and state laws can require them to be cast more along the lines of the state’s popular vote. This bill’s format would send all electors for the candidate elected by the entire U.S. popular vote, in the states that pass these state-by-state bills. Because this voting change would be by state law only, the participating states could change if one to a few states changed their laws. At least that’s the way I understand it.

    An attempt for a Consitutional Ammendment on this subject didn’t make it out of the U.S. Senate in 1970.

  7. October 21, 2008 12:24 am

    I like your use of electoral-vote.com’s a cartogram showing states proportional to their electoral votes. A similar map, based precisely on population is at http://www10.giscafe.com/nbc/articles/view_article.php?section=CorpNews&articleid=601182
    This new Presidential Election Map allows you to see exactly how and why the election is so close. This map ignores land mass in favor of one dimension only – how many people live in each state. Each of the map’s grid squares represents 250,000 people. On the map is the exact population of the larger states along with each state’s electoral votes. The bigger the state on the map, the greater the electoral clout. See: http://odtmaps.com/detail.asp_Q_product_id_E_pres-map-2008

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