The electoral map five days before the election

As I’ve said before, I’m a big fan of Nate Silver’s work at FiveThirtyEight.

Silver’s a wordy but clear writer; his analyses of the current state of the presidential race are some of the best — and most understated — that you’ll find anywhere.

Of course, he’s better known for his statistical model than for his analysis.

As I hope most of you know, Silver aggregates ALL available polling data, combined with some other economic and demographic data, to put the likelihood of outcomes in specific percentage terms.

In a post on Tuesday, Silver yet again made a compelling case for looking at state polling for the best guide to the election. It’s been a conundrum: national polls have consistently shown a virtually tied race between Obama and Romney for the last few weeks, but the state level polling indicates that Obama is a pretty heavy favorite to win the Electoral College. It’s possible that the national polls and state polls could both be right on the mark — huge Romney margins in populous states like Texas and Georgia could boost his standing in national polls without helping him in the Electoral College.

But it seems likely that the national polls are having more trouble getting good data than state polls. Gallup relies on a likely voter model that makes it bizarrely erratic. Rasmussen has a slight partisan lean, according to Silver. All the polling firms are dealing with low response rates and an increasingly cellphone-dependent culture. It’s a muddle, that’s for sure.

The state level polling is consistently showing Obama headed for something around 300 electoral votes. Obama is apparently ahead in Ohio, which would seem almost certain to guarantee him the election, but he also has other paths to 270 with states where he apparently has even narrower leads: New Hampshire, Iowa, Colorado, and Virginia. Florida looks very close too, but an average of state polling puts Romney slightly ahead.

Is it possible that a wide variety of polls in 7 or 8 key states are showing systemic bias against Romney and/or toward Obama? That just seems really unlikely, given the accuracy of polling averages tracked by Silver in 2008 and 2010.

At the moment, we’re headed toward a map that will look something like this: