The Coming Landslide

Much effort has been made to tell you how close the 2008 election is. Pundits of all stripes have talked up both candidates, commentators have perpetuated the blue-red divide, and media outlets have even suppressed and misrepresented their own polling information to perpetuate the notion that the race could hinge on any break at any moment over the next four and a half months.

Reasons for this vary. Obviously the memories of razor tight races in 2000 and 2004 lingers, but those are statistical anomalies. Historically, one of the primary functions of the modern electoral college has been to take modest wins in terms of the popular vote and turn them into broad electoral victories. Bill Clinton’s 43% and 5.5% margin of victory translated into 370 electoral college votes. George H.W. Bush’s 1988 victory of 7.5% was good for 426. And in arguably the 2 best examples of the phenomenon, Richard Nixon’s 0.7% margin of victory over Hubert Humphrey translated to a 301-191 electoral college victory in 1968, and in 1960 John F. Kennedy managed a 303-219 electoral victory despite a mere 0.2% advantage in the popular vote.

So how does this effect the 2008 election? In the recent ABC-Washington Post poll, that ABC used to write a story about Obama’s electoral problems incidentally, Barack Obama enjoyed a 6% advantage nationally. But digging into the cross sections of the data yielded stunning results. According to the AP poll, 7 in 10 Hispanic voters, a group John Kerry won 53% of the vote from, prefer Senator Obama to Senator McCain. Increasing those margins alone in Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada, while achieving parity in other demographics, would have flipped each of the aforementioned states from Bush to Kerry in 2004 and given Kerry the Presidency. It seems every bit likely that Barack Obama would carry each of them if 70% of Hispanic voters support him, and indeed polling is showing Senator Obama to be consistently leading in Colorado and New Mexico, and in a dead heat in the slightly more red Nevada.

Likewise, Obama’s support from African-Americans continues to provide the Democrat with a solid base from which to build. Obama earns 90% of the African-American vote, not uncommon for a Democratic candidate, but John Kerry managed a paltry 84% of the African American vote in Ohio in 2004, and Obama will in all likelihood prompt a noticeable increase in African-American turnout. If Obama could increase Kerry’s 84% of black voters to 90% in Ohio, and increase the share of the state electorate made up of black voters from 10% to 13%, while reaching parity with Kerry’s support in other demographics, Ohio would also turn from red to blue, using 2004 numbers.

Neither of these tasks seems all that daunting. Hispanic voters deserted the GOP in 2006, most likely driven away by the nativist, anti-immigrant rhetoric hailing from the far right of the party during the immigration debates. Apostasy from the right or no, McCain does not appear to be reaping any benefits of his less orthodox stand with Hispanic voters. And of course, Obama has already driven large numbers of new black voters to the polls in the Democratic primary, so there’s no reason to think it can’t be done in the general election, when turnout of all stripes is typically much higher than in a primary.

And then of course, there is the much remarked on change in demographics across the country, most notably in Virginia. The economic boom in Northern Virginia has famously brought new people to the state, who have since pushed it in a bluer direction. New polls out show Obama in statistical dead heats, and slightly ahead of McCain there. Again, with increases in African-American turnout to go along with the changing demographics, Virginia should be looked at as a state that tips somewhere between outright toss up and, hide the children, leaning Democratic.

There are a host of other factors that could be discussed; the unpopular Republican President, the unpopular Republican war, the shaky Republican economy, the explosion of oil prices under an administration topped by 2 oil men, healthcare, etc., and as has been well documented in moments of lucidity, the landscape clearly favors Obama. But putting aside politics, public opinion, and human dynamics, one thing above all else blows up the media’s close race narrative; math. Between the increasing margins of demographical support being shown by current polling and demographic changes in key states, Obama stands poised to translate seemingly modest popular vote gains into sweeping electoral pronouncements. 70% Hispanic support, parity in other demographics from Kerry’s campaign, and a 25% increase in African American turnout would flip Ohio, Nevada, New Mexico, and Colorado from 2004. These factors and changing local demographics move Virginia into the Democratic corner. And Iowa is a state that could almost be regarded as a safely blue state this year. Barack Obama is from neighboring Illinois, he built up a formidable organization there during the caucus, and between a mix of his stance on ethanol and his perceived disdain for their beloved caucuses, John McCain has never been very popular in Iowa. These 6 states could all move into Obama’s category with a 3% increase from Democrats’ 2004 popular vote effort, and assuming Obama will get most or all of John Kerry’s 2004 support and electoral victories, which would translate into a 1.5% popular vote edge and 311 electoral votes. If Obama managed the margin measured in the ABC poll, 6%, Missouri and Florida would almost certainly turn to blue as well, giving Obama at least 349 electoral votes, and in all likelihood moving North Carolina, South Carolina, Indiana, Alaska, Montana, North Dakota, and Georgia within striking distance for Obama, creating a potential for a 407-131 electoral victory.

This, of course, is all based on the current state of the race. A lot can happen in 4 and a half months, and there’s always the possibility that a major event could shake the political landscape between now and then. But given that something on the scale that would be required to make up for better than 80% of Americans feeling that the country is on the wrong track is most likely not going to occur before November 4, every current electoral indication points to a large, sweeping, convincing victory for Barack Obama.