In early August, The Washington Dispatch began its weekly swing-state and electoral college poll tracking model. 10 key states were identified as battlegrounds with the potential to go either way on November 6th based on polling data: Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin.
Based on state-level polling data, The Washington Dispatch is now adding Minnesota to the list of Battlegrounds that will be tracked for the purposes of the weekly electoral college tracker.
Minnesota has not been identified by most pollsters and pundits as a potential battleground state, however analysis of current polling data and past voting trends tells a different story.
Using the latest poll data and The Washington Dispatch's aggregation model based on Party Identification, Mitt Romney is within about 2 percentage points of Barack Obama in Minnesota, and holds the President about 2% below the 50% support threshold. This represents better performance for Mr. Romney than in some other widely acknowledged battleground states.
The political make-up of the Minnesota electorate has remained relatively stable over the past decade, with Democrats usually winning the turnout battle by around 4%. In addition, exit polling Party ID data over the past few elections in which exit polls have been conducted (none were conducted in Minnesota in 2010) has proven relatively accurate when compared to actual election results.
2004 exit poll party ID data overestimated John Kerry's victory by 2%, but the more recent 2006 Senatorial and 2008 Presidential exit polls produced far more accurate/predictive party ID data. Over the 3 elections, exit poll party ID data has, on average, predicted the Democratic margin of victory to within 0.56%, showing only a small, statistically insignificant overestimation in favor of Democratic candidates.
Minnesota has not voted in favor of the Republican candidate for the Presidency since 1972, which begs the question, why has Minnesota suddenly become a Battleground state?
The answer is that Mitt Romney is vastly outperforming prior Republican candidates among the state's self-identified independent voters.
Mr. Romney currently averages a 4% lead across state polls among Minnesota independents. In contrast, President Obama won independent voters by 17% in 2008, Senator Kerry won them by 13% in 2004, and Senator Klobuchar won the independent vote by a whopping 35% in the 2006 midterm elections.
The Washington Dispatch estimates that, based on current polling data in Minnesota, Mr. Romney would need undecided independents to break in his favor by a margin of 80% to 20% by election day in order to carry the state's 10 electoral votes, so an Obama victory remains probable. However, it is clear at this point in time that Romney is greatly outperforming recent Republican candidates for national office in Minnesota.