There's new polling out showing Barack Obama leading Mitt Romney in a general election trial in Arizona. Arizona? I've lost the link, but someone responded by expressing serious surprise, given that Democrats have only carried the Grand Canyon State once in recent years.
Let's step back a bit. First of all, it's too early for head-to-head polling to be meaningful. Second, that's especially true, as I've said many times, of state-level polling. It's safe to assume that any candidate who wins solidly at the national level will win the electoral college, and far too early to analyze how the EC will turn out in any potential very close contests.
My point about the link that I lost earlier, however, is that the key is to look at where states fall compared to other states. So Arizona of course was very Republican in 2008 with John McCain on the ballot, although even then it was only 18th most Republican state -- but a solid 15 points more Republican than the nation as a whole. In 2004, however, it was a lot closer, with George W. Bush winning by only 8 points better than he ran nationally, and it was just 6 points more Republican than the nation in 2000 and 1996. So ignoring 2008, it's certainly a Republican state, but hardly one of the more solid ones.
Indeed, Arizona was a bit more Democratic than Colorado in 1996 and 2000, although Colorado was slightly more Democratic in 2004. If the two states are similar, then it's certainly relevant that Colorado moved strongly away from the Republicans -- compared to the nation as a whole -- in 2008, when it was just slightly more Democratic than the national average for the first time in a while.
Granted, there's no way to know whether Arizona is in fact likely to shift blue along with Colorado, or for that matter whether the Rocky Mountain state just had a one-time blip for whatever reason in 2008. And the 2010 election cycle probably is evidence for divergence between two states, not convergence. Still, I wouldn't be at all surprised to see Arizona move in that direction in 2012.
Whether that would put it in Obama's column, of course, will depend on how the overall national trend is pushing things.
So while I'm interested in my native state in particular, the real lessons here are: think about states in comparison to other states when you're thinking about the electoral college; it's the national trend that produces the state results, not the other way around; and it's still far too early for general election trial heats, anyway.