A Word About Pennsylvania

I have been getting a lot of worried emails from Obama supporters about Pennsylvania. So, I figure it is worth posting about what might be happening in Pennsylvania and what we might expect on election day.

The McCain campaign has said that they are actively going after Pennsylvania, and news organizations are reporting that the polls are tightening. This has led to a lot of nail biting on the Democratic side.

So, first let’s look at the polling numbers.

A look at the composite of all polls this year at Pollster.com shows that John McCain has never polled above 45% in Pennsylvania vis a vis Barack Obama. Even when McCain got the dead cat bounce after the Sarah Palin announcement he did not cross 45% in Pennsylvania. Since Obama locked up the Democratic nomination, John McCain has never led in the polls in Pennsylvania.

A closer look at the polling composite from September and October (with sensitive smoothing) shows that the race was within a few points, with Obama leading, until the Wall Street crisis hit in mid September. In the aftermath of the crisis and the debates, Barack Obama has pulled away from John McCain and has been polling above 50% in Pennsylvania. At the same time, John McCain’s support dropped to below 40% from his high of around 45%. The economic crisis crystallized voter preferences. While Obama gained support from those previously undecided, McCain lost some of his existing support that he already had as voters apparently lost confidence in him due to his erratic behavior during the crisis.

As John McCain has begun to aggressively campaign in Pennsylvania, it appears some of his base has begun to come back to him. His poll numbers are creeping back up toward 45%. However, as McCain has gained support, Obama has not lost any of the support he gained in mid-September. Obama remains above 50%, even as some of those who had abandoned John McCain are now beginning to come back to him. This suggests that the supporters Obama has gained, due to his handling of the economic crisis and his debate performances, seem to not be susceptible to McCain’s message. So, while McCain’s base comes home and he moves back toward his high water mark of 45%, it does not appear he is gaining voters from Obama. Unless something dramatic happens in the next three days, Obama is in a very strong position to carry Pennsylvania next Tuesday, even if McCain somehow manages to break through his upper bound of 45%.

So, stop the nail biting.

As to why McCain decided to go after Pennsylvania, what choice did he have? He is trailing badly in the Southwest and is likely losing Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico. He cannot win without carrying Pennsylvania, while holding Ohio, Florida, Virginia, North Carolina, Missouri and Indiana (not to mention North Dakota, Montana, Georgia and Arizona). A look at the electoral map makes clear that he had no choice but to go after Pennsylvania. McCain’s Pennsylvania gambit is a sign of weakness, not strength.

Now, you can make the argument that the polls are inaccurate. Perhaps. But, the polls are the best evidence we have right now of the state of the race. I am more comfortable judging the race based on the polls than on some nebulous "gut feeling". I refuse to go into a fetal position because of a "gut feeling" or because of McCain campaign spin. And you shouldn’t either.

This is no time to become complacent, but it is also not a time to succumb to fear on the cusp of success. Until the polls close next Tuesday, leave the worry aside, work hard to get the vote out and make sure you vote.


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