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Tuesday, November 02, 2004
Politics--- It is now Judgment Day for the presidential campaigns of George W. Bush and John Kerry, with their fate now in the hands of America's voters (and ten to twenty thousand lawyers being flown around the country in chartered jets). The following is an overview of the poll averages from RealClearPolitics.com, followed by my thoughts and analysis.

Please note that these are NOT the actual results of any national or state elections; these are merely the final poll numbers headed into Election Day.

National Polls
Bush: 48.9%
Kerry: 47.4%
Result: Bush favored by 1.5%
Bush has had the lead in the national poll average to the tune of 1-4 percentage points for the past several weeks, and in the final week it narrowed from the 2.5 range to the final tally of 1.5 percent. Of the 14 final national polls, only two of them are predicting a Kerry victory in the popular vote (Fox News and Marist). Two other polls have it dead-even (Gallup and ARG), while the remaining ten polls all give it to President Bush.

Conventional wisdom for presidential elections is that the incumbent must have a lead of several points in the final national polls in order to overcome the fact that undecided voters usually end up heavily favoring the challenger. The question facing pollsters and America today is whether this is going to be the "typical election" in terms of how the undecided voters break down, or whether this election is unique because of the unusually high percentage of voters who are firmly supporting one candidate or the other.

Swing State Polls

Bush: 48.2%
Kerry: 47.6%
Result: Bush favored by 0.6%
This state is extremely important for the Bush campaign. Its lead of 1.0 in the RCP Average a week ago has gone up and down over the past week before finally settling in on a microscopic 0.6% lead for Bush. If anything, the state has been trending slightly towards Kerry in the past few days' worth of polls, which has to have Republicans worried. If Bush loses Florida, it will be extremely hard for him to come up with the required 270 electoral votes needed to win the election.

Bush: 48.8%
Kerry: 46.7%
Result: Bush favored by 2.1%
This state was exactly tied in the RCP Average one week ago, and since then it developed into a 1-2 point lead for Kerry before swinging strongly in the past few days towards Bush. Of the eight final state polls in Ohio, all but one of them have Bush winning. This has to be particularly troubling for the Kerry campaign because Kerry needs to win Ohio a lot more than Bush does. Bush can actually afford to lose Ohio due to the fact that he appears to be picking up several states that were Gore states in 2000. On the other hand, Kerry absolutely must win Ohio unless he is able to upset Bush in Florida.

Kerry: 48.2%
Bush: 47.3%
Result: Kerry favored by 0.9%
The common line of thinking a few months ago is that Pennsylvania would be a vitally important swing state, and that the presidency would ultimately be won by the candidate who won two out of three in the Florida-Ohio-Pennsylvania trio. That line of thinking has been undermined in the past couple months by a consistent lead for Kerry in the poll averages, at times by as much as three or four points. The last week's worth of polls have been trending towards Bush and have narrowed the deficit to 0.9 percent, but it is still considered unlikely that Bush will win this state. The belief within both the Democratic and Republican camps is that while it might be close, Kerry will win Pennsylvania. An upset here, while unlikely, would change the whole dynamic of the election because Pennsylvania's 21 electoral votes could easily be substituted for Ohio's 20 electoral votes in the event that Bush loses Ohio.

Bush: 47.7%
Kerry: 46.8%
Result: Bush favored by 0.9%
If the election is going to come down to any single state other than Florida and Ohio, it is likely to be Wisconsin. The expectation in the last few weeks has been that Bush is more likely than not to win Wisconsin (which went to Gore in 2000), and that is still the expectation despite a narrowing in the last few days' worth of polls. The reason Wisconsin is so important is because if Bush loses Ohio, he will have to pick up either Wisconsin, Minnesota, or Michigan if he wants to win the election, and Wisconsin is easily the most likely of those states to switch over to the Bush column in 2004.

Kerry: 48.5%
Bush: 45.3%
Result: Kerry favored by 3.2%
Up until about a month ago, Minnesota was not really considered a swing state and looked to be an easy victory for Kerry. In the last few weeks of the campaign season, the RCP Average started to narrow to within a few percentage points, then down to one percentage point, and at one point even a one percentage point lead for Bush. However, in the last week polls have shown the state to be swinging back towards Kerry, with four of the six final state polls predicting a Kerry victory. A win here for Bush is considered an achievable but still unlikely upset. Minnesota is extremely important because its ten electoral votes could easily be substituted for Wisconsin's ten electoral votes in the scenario where Bush loses Ohio and needs to pick up one of the northern three states (Minnesota, Wisconsin, or Michigan).

Kerry: 48.7%
Bush: 45.2%
Result: Kerry favored by 3.5%
Unlike its neighboring states of Wisconsin and Minnesota, Michigan has not stood out as a swing state with polls favoring both of the candidates. Instead, the polls have consistently shown Kerry ahead, although by a much smaller margin than would be required to say that the state is "safely" in Kerry's corner. Out of Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan, it is clear that Michigan is the least likely to swing in Bush's favor at the last minute.

Bush: 47.4%
Kerry: 47.1%
Result: Bush favored by 0.3%
This is a state that Al Gore narrowly won in 2000, but it has been consistently in the Republicans' column by several points over the past several weeks. Last-minute polls by Zogby and SurveyUSA have considerably narrowed the RCP Average, but it is still expected within both campaigns that Iowa is more likely than not to be won by Bush. The booming economy and social conservatism of Iowa make it fundamentally hard for Kerry to win this state, but he remains within striking distance of doing so. If Bush loses Florida or Ohio, part of the contingency package that Bush would have to pick up would include Iowa.

New Hampshire
Kerry: 48.5%
Bush: 47.5%
Result: Kerry favored by 1.0%
Bush narrowly won this state in the 2000 election and is now favored to lose narrowly in this election. Kerry's average lead in the polls has ranged from 1-2 percent in recent weeks, and that pattern has held up in the final week of polling. Nonetheless, New Hampshire is considered easily win-able by either candidate and will be watched very closely because there are a number of scenarios in which the other 49 states could produce electoral ties or near-ties, and it's entirely conceivable that New Hampshire's four electoral votes could end up deciding the presidency.

New Mexico
Bush: 47.8%
Kerry: 46.4%
Result: Bush favored by 1.4%
Al Gore won this state by less than 1,000 votes in the 2000 election, but it has been steadily trending Republican ever since and appears to be a likely victory for Bush. Make no mistake about it, though, New Mexico is one of the final handful of the closest swing states, and its outcome is considered far less certain than the outcomes of states that get more attention like Pennsylvania and Michigan. New Mexico is critical to the Bush contingency plan if Kerry wins Florida. If Kerry wins Florida, a Bush victory in the presidential election would require the very unlikely feat of Bush winning four of the following five states: Ohio, Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and New Mexico. If one of those four states were to be New Mexico, the election would actually be tied at 269 electoral votes apiece, assuming that there were no surprises in the non-swing states. New Mexico only has five electoral votes, so its outcome won't be watched quite as closely as another key swing state in Iowa with its seven electoral votes.

Bush: 51.0%
Kerry: 44.7%
Result: Bush favored by 6.3%
Nevada was a swing state a few months ago and has been incorrectly called a swing state in recent days and weeks by people who haven't been paying attention to the polls, which have sharply favored Bush. I don't expect Nevada to be as much of a blow-out as the RCP Average would suggest, but it would be one of the biggest upsets of Election Day if Kerry were to actually win the state. It's worth noting that Democrats had initially planned to win this election in part by taking over the "Sun Belt States" of New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and Nevada, which don't have a lot of electoral votes individually but do make for a nice electoral package if you can sweep all of them. That plan has fallen apart in recent months, as Arizona and Utah aren't even remotely close, Nevada is strongly leaning Bush, and only New Mexico is still a toss-up.

Bush: 50.0%
Kerry: 44.8%
Result: Bush favored by 5.2%
Colorado was considered to be right next to the Democrats' Sun Belt strategy of making inroads in New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona, and Utah, but like all of those states except for New Mexico, it has become a solid Bush state in recent weeks and months. Colorado is still worth keeping an eye on if for no other reason because it appears to be Grand Central Station for election fraud in this campaign season. Statistics show that there are significantly more people registered to vote in Colorado than there are people actually living in Colorado. Nonetheless, a minimal amount of legal effort to challenge fraudulent votes has been focused on Colorado because it's expected to be a win for Bush regardless of the apparent "Vote Early, Vote Often" tendencies.

Bush: 44.7%
Kerry: 43.8%
Result: Bush favored by 0.9%
Hawaii is the wild card of the 2004 election. This is a state that Al Gore won by a whopping 18 percentage points in 2000, which is what made is so shocking in mid-October when two Hawaii polls not only showed a close election, but Bush actually holding a narrow lead. There are reasons for Hawaii to be trending Republican, given that in 2002 it elected its first Republican governor in decades. In an election that could come down to a few electoral votes, the Republicans recognized the importance of Hawaii's four electoral votes by staging a rally earlier this week attended by Dick Cheney, and the Democrats were concerned enough to counter by sending Al Gore to have a pro-Kerry rally. That is significant and shows that internal Democratic polling may also show a very tight race in Hawaii; otherwise they wouldn't have sent Al Gore half-way across the Pacific Ocean when there are lots of other places they could be sending him. Despite all of this, it's still considered slightly more likely than not that Kerry will win Hawaii due to the fact that there have only been two state polls in recent months, and they were both 2-3 weeks ago, and it's just not conceivable in many people's minds that a state could go from an 18-point lead for one party in a presidential election to a win for the other party in the very next election. If the election in the continental United States is deadlocked, it's going to be a very long night because of the time-zone difference and the fact that Hawaii's polls don't close until 1:00 AM Eastern Standard Time.

Former Swing States
The following states were once considered swing states, but are now considered to be firmly behind one of the candidates. It's possible but unlikely that we will see an upset in one or more of these states (heavily-favored candidate in parenthesis).

Arkansas (Bush), Maine (Kerry), Missouri (Bush), New Jersey (Kerry), Oregon (Kerry), Washington (Kerry), West Virginia (Bush)

Other States
The following states are not expected to be close at all, and it would be a huge surprise if there were an upset in any of these states. However, only in looking at the final results of the states below will we be able to identify the swing states of tomorrow. For example, if a particular party won a state in 2000 by eight or more percentage points and is heavily favored to do so again, but they end up only winning the state by 2-4 points, that state is likely to be a 2008 swing state.

A perfect example of this would be Ohio, which was considered to be an easy victory for the Republicans in 2000. When Bush only won Ohio by 3.5 percentage points in 2000, it sent chills down the spines of the Republicans and represented a new hope for Democrats. Sure enough, here we are four years later and Ohio is almost dead-even and could very well decide who will be the next president of the United States.

So, don't expect any upsets in the following states, but do expect some of them to become crucial swing states in the 2008 presidential election.

Firmly Behind Kerry: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, District of Columbia

Firmly Behind Bush: Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, North Carolina, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Wyoming

Combined Electoral Count and Analysis
The closest estimate we can get to the final predicted Electoral Count in this election is to assume that the RCP Average leaders are going to win each state, whether it's a landslide like California or a tightly contested state like Florida. Using that math (and giving Hawaii to Kerry), the average of all polls favors Bush to win in the electoral college, 295 to 259.

That might seem like a wide margin for Bush at first glance, but it's really not. If the RCP Averages hold true except Bush loses Florida, Kerry wins the election. If the RCP Averages hold true except Bush loses Ohio, Kerry wins the election. Those are the two most likely scenarios in which Bush could lose, so let's take a look at what would happen in both of them.

Bush is extremely unlikely to win the election if he loses Florida. If Bush loses Florida and all of other states vote as expected, a Bush victory would require Bush to win Ohio and also win three of the following four states: Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, and New Mexico. It is extremely unlikely that Bush is going to win three of those four states, so it is absolutely vital for him to win Florida.

If Bush loses Ohio and all of the other states vote as expected, a Bush victory would require Bush to win Florida and also win two of the following three states: Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa. It's considered about 50-50 whether Bush would be able to win three of those three states, given that polls show him narrowly ahead in Wisconsin and Iowa, and narrowly behind in Minnesota.

So, there you have it. The RCP Averages suggest that Bush is going to win in the electoral college, 295 to 259, but either candidate could easily end up with 300 or more electoral votes. There are also several highly possible scenarios in which the electoral college could also end up being 276 to 262 in favor of one candidate, or 272 to 266, or 270 to 268, or even (God forbid) 269 to 269. The only truly safe prediction is that anything can happen and you should expect the unexpected.