For the last few weeks, now that the excitement over Sarah Palin has died down, Barack Obama has led John McCain by at least 3 points in the CNN poll of polls, and for the last week he has been at least 5 points ahead. 5 points in the popular vote is enough if that's what happens on polling day. Bush beat John Kerry by 3% in 2004 and beat Gore by -0.5% in 2000. Carter won with 3% in 1976, and Nixon with 2% in 1968. Kennedy famously won by 0.1% in 1960. So 5 per cent is way more than enough. But the key as always is the votes in the individual states.
Florida, the scene of the recount and Supreme Court debacle in 2000, was taken by Bush with a 500 vote margin and sealed the Electoral College for him despite Gore winning the overall popular vote. Bush solidified his lead in 2004, helped along by his brother who happened to be the popular incumbent Governor.
In 2004 Bush had a lead of 3% in the popular vote in the country as a whole, but if just 120,000 voters in Ohio had switched sides, John Kerry would be running for a second term as president today. The vote in Ohio in 2004 is another story, but I don't want to get into that here.
New Mexico voted for Gore by just 350 votes in 2000 and went Bush's way in 2004 by only 6,000. Bush took New Hampshire by 7,000 in 2000 (Gore would have been president if he hadn't) and John Kerry edged it by 9,000 in 2004. Although Oregon is considered a safe Democratic state, Gore won by just 7,000 votes in 2000. Bush won Iowa by just 10,000 votes in 2004.
So the individual swing states are crucial to any presidential election, and this year more than ever as more states are tossups than in 2000 or 2004. Along with the traditional big swing states of Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and the smaller tossups, several other recently Republican states are in play. Virginia, North Carolina, Colorado, and Indiana are all in play this year, states that gave Bush big wins in 2000 and 2004. Obama is leading the polls in most of them.
Is this increase in uncertainty in state by state voting a healthy development? Yes. Will it increase the chance of close results and legal battles? Sadly, yes. But based on current polls Obama looks odds on to win, and as bill Clinton put it, he may well 'win handily'.
By Nick Cooper