McCain Leads For First Time

FiveThirtyEight runs a rather unique projection site. Unlike RCP’s crude averages that follow the current state of the race, 538 tries to project the result based on current polls, underlying demographics, and cyclical trends (i.e. when a convention bump happens, 538 will be discounting those numbers). 538 runs a large number of simulations using a calculated probability of winning each state.

For the first time this general election, a majority of simulations are showing a McCain victory. The narrowing has crossed over and McCain now has a better chance of winning than Obama does. This result comes from a huge load of polls released today. See below the fold for more on those.More polls released on Wednesday show the continued McCain improvement. First, the national polls. Zogby clocks in with McCain +5. Battleground finds McCain +1. Rasmussen tracker shows Obama +1. Gallup tracker sees Obama +2. LA Times gets Obama +2. CBS found Obama +3 and NYT agrees with Obama +3. Can you say “margin of error”? Yeah, they are all within the margin of error. Tie game.

Next, a slew of state polls came out in the past 3 days. The best news for McCain were seeing MO (+10), AZ (+10), IN (+6), OH (+5), LA (+18), MN (-2) and NC (+6). Some decent news include NC (+2), FL (+2), NH (-1), and MD (-10). All of those polls are improvements on recent polls except for the NC +2 which is on par with most recent polls showing NC in the 2-5 range.

The only “bad” polls were PA (-5) and IA (-7). As the race narrowed to a tie, these states have stubbornly stayed in the D column.

All in all, that’s three fantastic days of polls for McCain. It is no wonder that 538’s projections have shifted. It’s a very tiny, narrow lead. But it is a lead.

[UPDATE]Since I rely on Nate’s projections so much, I want to include a bit of his analysisof the numbers:

Things get confusing, however, when looking at the electoral college. We project Obama to earn slightly more electoral votes on average. However, we also project John McCain to win the election slightly more often. What accounts for the discrepancy? Obama’s wins tend to be larger, and McCain’s tend to be smaller. If Obama wins this election by between 7 or 10 points, there are very few high-EV states that he won’t be able to put into play; even something like Texas is probably winnable. If McCain were to win by that margin, on the other hand, he would still almost certainly lose New York, he would almost certainly lose Illinois, and he would almost certainly lose California. Those states represent 107 electoral votes that are essentially off-limits to McCain, even on his very best days.

But when the election is close — and this is the case that we really care about — McCain has appeared to develop a slight advantage in the electoral math. There are several states on our map that are colored light pink, meaning that they tip very slightly to the Republicans; these include Colorado, Ohio, Virginia, Florida, Montana and Nevada, in each of which Obama has better than a 25 percent chance of winning, but less than a 50 percent chance. There are a fairly large number of scenarios, then, where Obama comes tantalizingly close to a victory, but loses several different battleground states by mere points or fractions thereof. This dynamic is fairly fluid, however, and if Obama were able to get a toehold somewhere like Colorado or Virginia, it could quickly reverse itself.