McCain is in best position since general election began

Following the best projection pollster site of the cycle, fivethirtyeight, the Obama friendly writer admits that:

Although Barack Obama remains a slight favorite in this election, his position is more vulnerable than at any point since the primaries concluded, and he no longer appears to have a built-in strength in the electoral college that we had attributed to him before.

The reason is a new poll out of Ohio, where Public Policy Polling now shows the race dead-even at 45-45. In a PPP poll conducted in July, Obama had led by 8; that poll had been largely responsible for propping up Obama’s Ohio numbers. Our simulation model operates quite literally in shades of color, rather than a simple red:blue duality. However, with this poll figured in, we now figure McCain to be a very slight favorite in Ohio.

Furthermore, with Ohio now trailing behind Obama’s numbers nationally — we regard Obama as a 1.0-point favorite in the national popular vote, but McCain an 0.6-point favorite in Ohio — McCain now rates as slightly more likely to win the electoral college than the popular vote, a reversal of the trend apparent for most of the past couple of months.

The site uses probabilities of winning states rather than a black/white win/lose map. For example, McCain has a 54% chance of winning OH now but a 33% chance of winning MI. If you give every state to the person with a 50+% chance of winning, the EV is Obama 273-265. The closest state is CO which Obama has a 52% chance of winning. If it flips, you get our very own Flynn’s current projection where McCain wins 274-264.

Two other notes: First, the site uses probabilities to also calculate the chance of victory (Obama 57%) and the expected EV total (Obama 284). The expected EV total is better for Obama than assigning each state to a candidate because McCain leads several states by tiny amounts (OH and VA) while Obama has more safe EVs. Put otherwise, Obama is closer at flipping several states that change the outcome than McCain is (or Obama has more “paths to victory”).

Second, I am increasingly at odds with Michael Barone’s main thesis about the 2008 race: that the map has changed. It seems IA and NM are likely to flip to Obama but still have swing state status. The current map at fivethirtyeight has IA, NM, and CO flipping but the other 47 states staying in their red or blue corner. Of the few safe 2004 states that have been talked about (SD, ND, MT, CT, NJ, AK, NC, VA), only VA and NC look like they will be worth watching in November. This is the same map we’ve had for 10 years with small changes due to demographic change, migration, and some local political shifts.