Swing state: Wikis


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2008 swing states. States where the margin of victory was less than 6% are colored red if McCain won and blue if Obama won.

In United States presidential politics, a swing state (also, battleground state or purple state) is a state in which no candidate has overwhelming support, meaning that any of the major candidates has a reasonable chance of winning the state's electoral college votes. Such states are targets of both major political parties in presidential elections, since winning these states is the best opportunity for a party to gain electoral votes. Non-swing states are sometimes called safe states, because one candidate has strong enough support that they can safely assume they will win the state's votes.


Origin of swing states

Heavy television advertising by candidates in a swing state can bring out supporters for the candidates more than in other states. These yard signs in a residential district of Grosse Pointe, Michigan during the 2004 presidential election show the difference in opinions between two neighbors.
These maps show the amount of attention given in the 2004 election by Bush and Kerry campaigns during the final five weeks of the election. At left, each waving hand represents a visit from a presidential or vice-presidential candidate during the final five weeks. At right, each dollar sign represents one million dollars spent on TV advertising by the campaigns during the same time period.

In U.S. presidential elections, the Electoral College system allows each state to decide the method by which it awards electors. Since in most states the legislature wants to increase the voting power of the majority, all states except Maine and Nebraska (explained below) use a winner-take-all system, where the candidate who wins the most popular votes in a state wins all of that state's electoral votes. Under this system no advantage is gained by winning more than a plurality of the vote, nor is there any advantage gained by winning additional votes in a state that will still be lost. In other words, Presidential candidates have no incentive to spend time or resources in states they are likely to win or lose by a sizable margin.

Since a national campaign is interested in electoral votes, rather than the national popular vote, it tends to ignore states that it believes it will win easily; since it will win these without significant campaigning, any effort put into them is essentially wasted. A similar logic dictates that the campaign avoid putting any effort into states that it knows it will lose.

For instance, a Republican candidate (the more conservative of the two major parties) can easily expect to win many of the Southern states like Mississippi, Alabama, and South Carolina, which historically have a very conservative culture and a more recent history of voting for Republican candidates. Similarly, the same candidate can expect to lose California, Vermont, Hawaii, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and New York, traditionally liberal states, no matter how much campaigning is done in those states. The only states which the campaign would target to spend time, money, and energy in are those that could be won by either candidate. These are the swing states.

In Maine and Nebraska, the apportionment of electoral votes parallels that for Senators and Congressional Representatives. Two electoral votes go to the person who wins a plurality in the state, and a candidate gets one additional electoral vote for each Congressional District in which they receive a plurality. Both of these states have relatively few electoral votes (for the 2004 election, Maine had 4 and Nebraska had 5; the minimum is 3) and are usually not considered swing states (Maine is generally considered a Democratic-leaning state while Nebraska is typically thought to be a Republican state). Despite their different rules, only once has either state split its electoral votes--Nebraska in 2008, giving 4 votes to Senator John McCain and one to Senator Barack Obama.

In the 2004 elections Colorado voted on Amendment 36, an initiative which would have allocated the state's electoral votes in proportion to the popular vote in the state. The initiative would have taken effect immediately, applying to the selection of electors in the same election. However, the initiative failed and Colorado remains under the winner-take-all system that is present in 48 states.

Determining swing states

The Oregon Daily Emerald cited University of Oregon political science professor Joel Bloom as mentioning three factors in identifying a swing state: "examining statewide opinion polls, political party registration numbers and the results of previous elections." The article also cites Leighton Woodhouse, co-director of "Driving Votes," as claiming that there is a general consensus among most groups regarding about 75 percent of the states typically thought of as swing states. [1]

In December 2008, Nate Silver (of FiveThirtyEight.com) did a statistical analysis of the eight Mountain West states, and their change in vote from 2004 to 2008, thus concluding that they were the "new" swing region in the United States.[2]

Historical swing states

The swing states of Connecticut, Indiana, New Jersey and New York were key to the outcome of the 1888 election,[3] Likewise, Illinois[4] and Texas were key to the outcome of the 1960 election. Ohio has often been considered a swing state.[5][6]

Recent swing states

  • Florida: The outcome of the 2000 presidential election hung on a margin of 537 votes in this state and the fierce legal battles that ensued. Florida's electorate is balanced by large, heavily Democratic cities like Miami and large, heavily Republican cities such as Jacksonville; as well as sparser, more Republican areas like the Florida Panhandle.
  • Ohio: Its 20 electoral votes were critical to President Bush's reelection in 2004, but Barack Obama won the state by 4.53% in 2008.
  • Virginia: Before 2008, the state last went for Democrats in 1964. Recent demographic changes, especially in Northern Virginia have made the state competitive for Democrats. The last two gubernatorial elections were won by Democrats. Also, the last senatorial election was won by Democrat Jim Webb, and Democrat Mark Warner won the seat being vacated by retiring Republican John Warner. Barack Obama took Virginia for the Democratic party in the 2008 election. Republicans swept state-wide office elections in 2009.
  • Colorado: In 2008, Colorado voted Democratic in a presidential election for the first time since 1992.
  • North Carolina: In 2008, North Carolina voted for a Democratic presidential candidate for the first time since Jimmy Carter in 1976. Long thought a safe Republican state, North Carolina has shifted voter demographics in recent years. Barack Obama campaigned heavily in North Carolina during 2008, in response to this shift. Democratic candidates Kay Hagan and Beverly Perdue also won elections for U.S. Senate and Governor, respectively.
  • Indiana: In 2008, Indiana voted Democratic in a presidential election for the first time since 1964.

Other terms for swing state

Cartogram of results in 2004, 2008 and the swing between the two. Each square represents one electoral vote.

Criticism and proposed reform

Those in favor of a national popular vote as the method for electing the president argue that the electoral system gives swing states arbitrarily large power in determining the result of an election, and therefore receive an undeservedly large proportion of attention and campaign funds. One proposal to make the transition to a national popular vote system is the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact.

See also


External links

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