Show Me a Winner

October 17, 2008

Among the great myths about sure-fire ways to predict the results of US presidential elections, some are rather silly.  There’s the one that predicts that the incumbent party will lose if the Redskins (that’s Washington DC’s American football team, for those non-Americans out there) lose the game the weekend before the election, which was correct for 17 elections in a row… until 2004 when they lost, and so did John Kerry.  There’s a Boston Halloween retailer that says that they can accurately forecast who will win by the number of masks of each candidate they sell (right three times running).  And then there’s one that seems silly, but is actually kind of interesting: the state of Missouri always picks the winner.  For this, it’s often referred to as the bellwether state (in addition to its more common nickname of the “Show Me State”).

In every election since 1906, with the exception of 1956 when Missourians voted for Adlai Stevenson instead of Dwight Eisenhower, Missouri has voted for the presidential candidate that ends up winning the race.  Not only that, since 1960, Missouri’s vote split has been within 1.5% of the national vote split.  This wouldn’t be interesting in and of itself if it was the result of just dumb luck, but it’s interesting because Missouri is actually a good microcosm of the United States on a number of demographic metrics.  First, it’s rural / urban population divide is exactly the same as the US as a whole.  Also, the same percentage of Missouri’s population is African American as in the country as a whole.  It is situated in the middle of the US, and shares borders with a number of states with distinctly different demographics and regional identities.  Plus commentators have made much of the fact that the state has two liberal “coasts” (in the form of the two cities St Louis and Kansas City) and a conservative interior.  All of this is why one of the presidential debates is almost always held in Missouri.

So how’s it looking now in Missouri?  Polls vary, but on average, Missouri is leaning Obama 48.8% to 47%.   You can click on this cool graph to watch how over the course of the election, McCain has gained, and then lost, the lead in Missouri.  In 2 out of 4 polls, Obama is leading, while McCain is leading in another 2. However, Obama’s leading margin is greater (in one case 8%) than McCain’s (never more than 3%).  So if you’re in to this sort of thing, it seems that despite commanding leads in the national polls for Obama, the results of the 2008 election are far from a foregone conclusion…

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