We have been calling "battleground states" those states projected within five points, and states projected between 5-10 points "penumbra states." These are somewhat arbitrary labels, though ground game’s outer limit when one is overwhelmingly better than another is about five points.
When we last updated 538’s battleground states, we were in the midst of John McCain’s post-convention, post-Palin bloom-on-the-rose period. At that time, McCain’s projected win would be 274-264. Today, Barack Obama has 269 electoral votes outside the battleground zone. That is, if you only give Obama the states he is projected to win by more than five points, that is enough to get him an Electoral College tie, which is essentially the same as a win.
Note that when you see the decimal point Electoral Vote pie chart projection in the upper left hand corner every day, you are seeing the aggregate result of our 10,000 daily simulations. Of course, on Election Day, each candidate will win or lose a particular state. For purposes of this post, we’re not running simulations but handing the total electoral vote victory to the leader.
To break down the math, we project all Kerry states save New Hampshire outside of five points, so that’s 252 minus 4, or 248. Then add Iowa (7 EV), New Mexico (5 EV) and Colorado (9 EV), and Obama hits 269. As Nate has explained, that would be as good as an Obama win. In fact, if we put the line at six points, we’d get the same result. Obama projects to win Colorado by 6.1%
As of this morning before today's polls update, we project Obama victories in Virginia (4.4%), New Hampshire (3.4%), Ohio (2.4%), Florida (2.4%), and Nevada (2.1%), with Indiana a tie. Give all these states to McCain, it’s 269-269 and an Obama presidency. Allocated by lead, it’s Obama 338, McCain 189, 11 tossup. McCain also projects precarious wins in North Carolina (0.1%) and Missouri (0.4%).
This does not include ground game, which is about the effectiveness of each side turning out voters who are reporting their presidential preferences over the phone to pollsters. Nor do all pollsters effectively capture the cellphone effect.
A major caveat. The fact that the race can swing this dramatically in this short a time reflects the truth that a few days in presidential politics can be a lifetime. We are both close to the end and yet nowhere near.