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Obama Making Inroads in Deep Red States, Lagging in Reddish-Purple States

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In the 2004 presidential election, George W. Bush won 31 states while John Kerry won 19 plus the District of Columbia.

According to the most recent public opinion polls, Barack Obama is currently in a strong position to win all of the “Kerry states� and is running strong enough in a few “Bush states� (e.g. Iowa, New Mexico, Colorado, Virginia, Montana) as well as leading in the national polls to make him the favorite (at the moment) to win in November.

Of the 31 states Bush won in 2004, 22 were blowout victories by double-digit margins, while 9 were competitive contests decided by less than 10 points. In an interesting twist this election season, Obama is faring much better than Kerry did in the 22 deep red ‘blowout states,’ but faring poorer than Kerry in the reddish-purple ‘competitive Bush states.’

Here’s the evidence:

Non-partisan public opinion polls have been conducted in 18 of the 22 ‘deep red’ states during the past 3-4 weeks: Alaska, Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and West Virginia (current polling is not available in Idaho, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming). (Note: a few of these states have a strong Democratic presence in state politics and even on Capitol Hill; they are labeled ‘deep-red’ for the purposes of discussion here in reference to Bush’s 2004 margin of victory).

In the most recent polls for each state, Obama is polling ahead of Bush’s 2004 margin of victory in 16 of the 18 states (the exceptions being Louisiana and Tennessee – although Obama is within a point in each of those states as well). Bush won these 18 deep red states by an average of 21.6 points in 2004, while Obama is currently polling at an average deficit of just 9.2 points. Obama even leads McCain in the most recent surveys of likely voters in Indiana and Montana.

There is, of course, a world of difference between what polls tell us in June and July, and what voters have to say in November. So Smart Politics also looked at the Bush-Kerry matchup polling in each of these states at the point closest in time to the respective June/July 2008 McCain-Obama polls.

How was Kerry performing in these deep red states at this time back in the summer of 2004?

Comparable polls were available in 15 of the 18 states (all but Mississippi, Nebraska, and Utah), and, at this time in 2004, Kerry was polling at an average deficit of 14.5 points across those states. This tells us a few things.

First, while Obama is polling noticeably better than Kerry in these deep red states (by 5 points on average), it is likely that McCain will eventually bolster his lead in these states come November, just as Bush did by about 7 points per state in 2004. (Although Kerry’s polling was primarily damaged by a specific incident – the Swift Boat controversy).

Second, this data per se does not demonstrate so much that that these deep red states are more enamored with Obama (whose voting record, after all, is even more liberal than Kerry’s), as it suggests they are less enthused with the once maverick Republican Senator from Arizona. Given Obama’s policy positions and voting record, the vast majority of undecided Republican voters will ultimately back McCain, even if they are not thrilled with his campaign to date.

Obama’s strong performance in these deep-red states does not translate, however, into momentum in the reddish-purple “competitive Bush states� – those states that the President won by single digits in 2004. Of these 9 states, Obama is polling ahead of where Kerry was sitting in 2004 in just two of them: Colorado (10 points better than Kerry) and Virginia (5 points better). Obama is even with Kerry’s position in 2004 in Iowa and is polling behind Kerry’s mark in Florida (by 12 points), Arkansas (by 10 points), Nevada (by 7 points), New Mexico (by 4 points), Ohio (by 4 points), and Missouri (by 3 points).

Back in the summer of 2004 Kerry was actually leading Bush in 6 of these 9 states, with an average advantage of 1.7 points. Kerry ultimately lost these states by an average of 4.6 points. Recent polls tell us Obama is currently leading McCain in 5 of these 9 states; the question is whether they will likewise slip away from the Democrats as they did in 2004?

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