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Small States, Big Advantage

One thing today’s Alaska poll reiterated, in which Obama ran fully 22 points better against John McCain than Hillary Clinton, is that we’re generally going to see much larger differences in the performances of the two candidates in smaller states, which may have quirkier and less heterogeneous demographics.

Keeping that in mind, here is one way to look at the relative electoral strengths of Clinton and Obama. What I’ve done is to take the difference in Win Percentage between the two candidates in a given state, and multiply them by the state’s number of electoral votes. For example, our model projects Obama to win Nevada 35% of the time that Hillary does not (69% versus 34%), so we multiply this 35% by Nevada’s 5 EV, and come up with a 1.75 electoral vote advantage for Obama. (I’m tired, so I hope this explanation suffices). If we run that calculation for all states, here are the top ten net electoral vote grabs for each candidate:

Obama                    Clinton
1. Colorado 5.74 1. Florida 6.54
2. Iowa 4.48 2. Arkansas 4.08
3. Washington 4.44 3. Pennsylvania 4.06
4. Wisconsin 3.50 4. Ohio 3.64
5. Oregon 2.92 5. West Virginia 2.91
6. Illinois 2.73 6. Missouri 1.98
7. Virginia 2.72 7. Massachusetts 1.97
8. California 1.85 8. Tennessee 1.57
9. Connecticut 1.85 9. New York 1.47
10. New Hampshire 1.83 10. Louisiana 1.31

The general pattern here is that Obama does better in small states by large margins, whereas Clinton does better in large states by small margins — a pattern which is eerily reminiscent of what’s happened in the Democratic primary campaign. So, for example, even though Hillary has an advantage in Pennsylvania, this is worth no more in terms of electoral votes than Obama’s advantage in Iowa, because Hillary’s advantage over Obama in Pennsylvania is small, whereas Obama’s advantage over Hillary in Iowa is large.

I think you can make arguments either way about whether one or another of these positions is stronger from a resource allocation and risk-hedging perspective.

Nate Silver is the founder and editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.