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The November Presidential Elections in the United States: Focus: the Swing States

By Joe DiMento –  While there is a mantra in American politics that in our democracy “every vote counts” that is not the case in the upcoming Presidential election, as it has not been for many of our elections.

 Fundamentally this rather depressing realization derives from the nature of decision-making in a Presidential election. We elect our President through an Electoral College system. Each state gets a number of electoral votes based on the number of members it has in the Congress, two for each state as senators, plus a number based on population that determines the number of representatives in the House. With the exception of two states the Electoral College approach is one of “winner take all.” If your candidate wins by one vote he or she gets that state’s electoral votes. [In the two states that are exceptions, Maine and Nebraska, two electors’ votes are made based on the candidate who received the most votes statewide. The remaining votes are determined by congressional districts; the candidate who received the most votes in each district is awarded the vote.]

Only a fifth or so of the states in the upcoming election are “in play” or swing states, their electoral votes up for grabs. These are sometimes called purple states since red is associated with Republican states and blue states are Democratic. A Democratic vote for example in Kansas for President will never make a difference. By various assessments there are 8-12 swing states. Now with 50 plus days before the election the number seems to be decreasing and favoring the incumbent President Obama. [We will follow shifts in future columns but last week was not a great one for Governor Romney with some unfortunate comments after the assassination of the American Ambassador to Libya and his losing his edge in campaign contributions.]

So despite historical patterns both major parties will address the remaining uncertainty over outcome that exists in these states.  Uncertainty in this election cycle comes from a number of sources.

Some of those who voted for a Party in the last election are expressing dissatisfaction or disappointment with their candidate.  While the great predictor of the future is the past thus indicating that there will not be much movement among state voting patterns those who continue to hope for a swing point out that: 1. the economy can take a major shift in the next month; 2. the debates can [as they have been on occasion] important in the minds of some undecided votes; 3. and that something can happen to get people who don’t ever vote to enter the political process this time. This third factor is crucial explaining “get out the vote campaigns” as well as many legal challenges to actions making it more difficult to register to vote.

Not many of us vote; although 2008 was an exception if half of us turn out that is a good showing. Below is the record for the present century.

Year Voting-age
population

Voter
registration

Voter turnout

Turnout of voting-age
population (percent)

2010**

235,809,266

NA

90,682,968

37.8%

2008*

231,229,580

NA

132,618,580*

56.8

2006

220,600,000

135,889,600

80,588,000

37.1

2004

221,256,931

174,800,000

122,294,978

55.3

2002

215,473,000

150,990,598

79,830,119

37.0

2000

205,815,000

156,421,311

105,586,274

51.3

From: : National Voter Turnout in Federal Elections: 1960–2010 — Infoplease.com http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0781453.html#ixzz26YhHkBZ8


The parties then will be focusing their time, attention, and resources on swing states—and indeed on a small percentage of people within those states.  This may mean appealing to independent votes in those states. [Independents now represent a voting block as large as either major party] and it will try to find themes appealing to those who are truly undecided.

According to a   Washington Post/ABC News poll, only six per cent of Americans think “there’s a good chance” that they will change their minds about the Presidential race before November.  At this time point in the 2008 election period, ten per cent of Americans said they were undecided, and twenty-five per cent said there was a chance they’d switch their choice.

 A major indicator that a campaign thinks a state is still in play is campaign spending therein. Already the campaigns have decided to stop all spending in some states. The cost per undecided voter that the parties are spending is immense.  Mitt Romney’s campaign launched $4.5 million worth of ads last week. Presidential candidates and supporting groups have already spent $575 million on political ads in 12 swing states, according to an NBC News analysis released last week.  More than half the money, 55%, has been spent in the swing states of Florida, Ohio and Virginia.

So we will be seeing a lot of President Obama and Governor Romney and a lot of advertising about these men in Ohio, North Carolina, Colorado, Iowa, Nevada, Wisconsin, New Hampshire [the only Northeastern state remaining in play] and Florida, the source of so much controversy in recent presidential elections.

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Professore ordinario all'Università di California Irvine

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