Election watching advice: Don’t pay any attention to the electoral college until after Labor Day, at the earliest. I’ve been making that point for some time now. It’s worth a bit of an example.
Let’s jump in the wayback machine to April 2008. John McCain is the Republican nominee; Barack Obama is very close to being the Democratic nominee, but Hillary Clinton is still contesting primaries. Meanwhile, are beginning to construct electoral college scenarios Do we learn anything from that exercise? No, we do not.
As we know now, Obama won by the election 7 points, and consequently dominated the electoral college. So, for example, Richard Baehr was way off in predicting that “McCain opens up the map to a broader Electoral College victory than George Bush achieved in 2000 and 2004, particularly against Barack Obama.” Baehr said that Obama “trails badly in Virginia.” Oops – not only did Obama win there, but his 6- point win almost matched his national total. Also, we learn that “Some Democratic Party officials have written off Florida if Obama is the nominee,” but of course Obama won there, too, although only by about 3 points.
As it turned out, the key states in 2008 were Virginia, Colorado, Iowa and perhaps New Hampshire. With those, but without North Carolina, Indiana, Ohio and Florida, Obama still won by a fairly comfortable margin; those were the states with margins that matched the national spread. Those states did not play a particularly significant role in Baehr’s analysis.
Then there’s a Politico column, which had Obama in trouble in “Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Florida” – he won all three, the first two by large margins – while winning in North Dakota, which didn’t work out. Talk Left had an analysis that talked about “ten key states.” The good news is that Virginia, Colorado and Iowa were all included (thoughnot New Hampshire); the bad news was that Missouri and Arkansas were too, even though it turned out that Democrats could lose them both in a blowout.
Nate Silver was deep into the numbers of course. Does this May 2008 post help understand the November election? Not especially. Colorado doesn’t get the leading role in his scenarios; nor do the other states that would eventually be the (theoretical) critical ones.
The bottom line is that it’s just too early to know exactly which electoral college scenarios will be relevant if we’re in for a very close election. And if we’re not, then the electoral college becomes irrelevant. Really: Just ignore it until Labor Day.