Is it over? Of course not. A single, dreadful news cycle could still turn the race quickly back towards McCain. But, the numbers are daunting to say the least.
The first problem for McCain is that virtually every competitive swing state is a state that George W. Bush carried last election. Put differently, all the states that John Kerry won in 2004 are solidly in the Obama camp. McCain continues to contest Pennsylvania, but Obama leads there by a margin of 52.1% to 41.6% according to the average of statewide polls published by RealClearPolitics.com (and from which all figures in this post are taken.) What is striking about the Pennsylvania spread is not only the fact that it is in double digits, but that Obama has cleared the 50% threshold. That means in the remaining days, McCain would have to convince voters who have already decided to back Obama to reconsider their choice and change their minds. That is tough to do this close to the election.
Other swing states tell a similar tale. In Colorado, Obama only leads by 6 points but he has 51.5% of the RCP average. In the critical state of Ohio, Obama’s numbers float just above, or just below, the majority line: in today’s average, Obama has 49.8% to McCain’s 43.4% but he would probably rather still have yesterday’s average which had him at 50.3% to McCain’s 44.3%. It is difficult to see how McCain will win either state unless Obama commits a game-changing self-inflicted wound.
In Florida, Obama leads McCain 48.4% to 45.1%. It is conceivable that all those who have not yet made up their minds could break to McCain, but it is doubtful. In Indiana, Obama’s lead is even narrower – 47.4% to 46.0%. In both states, McCain would only need to convince presently undecided voters to come his way, which is why his campaign is trying still to cast doubts about Obama’s readiness to lead.
The nationwide polls vary all the time but most of that is just white noise. They go up a little or down a little, but tracking polls have a relatively small daily sample size so such fluctuations are inherent in the exercise. As Nate Silver pointed out, on any given day, the tracking polls reflect the views of 3,539 respondents but the statewide polls that came out yesterday reflected more than 22,000 interviews. So, the statewide polls are likely to be more accurate. More importantly, the popular vote does not elect the president, the Electoral College does, so the statewide surveys are the only ones that matter.
The Obama campaign is relying upon heavy turnout from first-time voters, especially from those who have been under-represented in the past, especially poor blacks and young people. And, voting is not always an easy thing to do, as a story out of North Carolina shows.
So, it ain’t over until the fat lady sings as the saying goes. But, the fat lady is in her dressing room and she has just finished her make-up.
Michael Sean Winters