In this week’s must-read, Democratic pollster Paul Maslin outlines in Salon how Barack Obama reaches 270. The article is long and rich with demographic stats and cultural anecdotes, so I don’t want to do it a disservice by summarizing it, but I will include a quick recap of his math:
- The number of competitive states has been contracting over the past two cycles. In 2000, 21 states fell into a competitive classification, meaning the winning candidate performed 5 points, or less, better than his national showing. It was 19 in 2004. The closest states, 2.5 points or less away from the national level, numbered 14 in 2000 and only 9 in 2004.
- The number of states that shift markedly from one election to the next has also been contracting. In 2000 16 states moved more than 4 points away from the previous election’s national performance level; in 2004 only 6 states did the same. If both of these first two trends continue, that means fewer, not more, states in play in 2008. (Note: This may be an incumbency phenomenon, since there was a similar effect in Bill Clinton‘s two wins. Once the winner establishes his level, it’s hard for there to be much shift the next time he’s on the ballot.)
- In a non-incumbent year with two candidates from regions that have been unrepresented at this level for a long time — the Rust Belt and the Southwest — stronger regional variations could occur. Carter in 1976 (the South) is the archetype of this factor, but Clinton improved Democratic performance throughout the South in 1992, and Bob Dole bucked the national trend in several Plains states in 1996.
- Every successful GOP candidate since 1968 has hailed from California or Texas. Their last two candidates from small to medium-size states lost badly. On the other hand, the last two successful Democrats came from the South, a region that had underperformed in previous elections. This year the two surviving Democrats live in two of the most reliably blue states. Obama does live in the largest state for a Democratic challenger since, well, Adlai Stevenson in 1956.
- The choice of a vice-president has had a pretty spotty geographic impact in the past five elections. Bush father and son ignored it when picking a running mate (must run in the family). For the Democrats the impact has been nonexistent (Bentsen), negligible (Edwards), small (Lieberman) and shared (Gore and Clinton were both Southerners).