Josh Goodman is a former staff writer for GOVERNING..E-mail: email@example.com
Just ten days ago, I wrote that Barack Obama is not, for now, another John Kerry. At the time, he was performing better than Kerry's 2004 showing in 46 states.
Since then, though, Obama's standing in the polls has clearly weakened. That raises another possibility: Obama is Al Gore, circa 2000.
Six different national polls were released yesterday (including the Gallup and Rasmussen daily trackers). The results were McCain +5, McCain +1, Obama +1, Obama +2, Obama +3 and Obama +3. A simple average of those six polls gives Obama a .5% lead nationally. Al Gore won the popular vote in 2000 by almost exactly .5%.
Now consider the most recent poll in each state. Usually, looking at just one poll is a bad idea, but, since we're talking about developments over the last few weeks it makes sense (perhaps), to sacrifice accuracy for time sensitivity.
Obama still leads in the most recent poll in all of the Kerry states. That's 252 electoral votes. Among Bush states, he leads in Iowa, New Mexico and, believe or not, Alaska (in a partisan poll of only 400 people, but, for the sake of argument, nevermind that). Those states get Obama to 267.
In Virginia, two polls were conducted on August 12, the most recent day with polling. One had the race as a tie and one had McCain ahead by 1. As a result, I'm giving Virginia to McCain.
The other state where the last poll had a tie is Montana. If Obama wins Montana, that gets him to 270 and he wins the election. But, if not, McCain wins 271-267. In 2000, Bush beat Gore 271-267 (or 271-266 if you want to get technical, since one of Gore's electors left her ballot blank).
In other words, you can make a case that if the election were held today, Obama would win the popular vote by the exact margin that Al Gore won it in 2000 and lose the electoral vote by the exact margin that Al Gore lost it in 2000. At the risk of a gratuitous and juvenile use of capitalization, allow me to say, THAT IS CRAZY.
Of course, chances are that if the election were held today Obama wouldn't both win the popular vote and lose the Electoral College -- it's really hard for that to happen. That's true, even if there's a slightly better than 50% chance that Obama would win the popular vote and a slightly better than 50% chance that he would lose the Electoral College. Don't think about that too long or your head may start to hurt.
Of course, it's also true that the vice presidential picks, conventions and debates will probably shake up the polls, to the point that we'll all look silly for fixating on them over the summer.
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