Spotlight on swing states in November

Andrew Clark

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As the presidential campaign kicks into high gear, the attention of both parties shifts to the swing states, according to experts.

“Swing states are states that are thought to be closely contested in a presidential election,” said Lawrence Becker, professor of political science at CSUN. “We tend to see many of the same states as swing states from one election to the next, because they are states that have roughly even numbers of voters who consistently vote for the Democrat and the Republican nominees.”

As many as 10 states are considered to be swing states this election. Each state has a certain number of electoral college votes based on the population of the state.

“The president of the United States is not elected by a majority vote of the people, rather he is elected by a majority vote of electors making up the Electoral College,” said Martin Saiz, professor of political science at CSUN.  “There are 538 electors, and a majority of 270 votes is required to win the presidency.  Most states use a ‘winner-take-all’ system that gives all of its electoral votes to one candidate.”

The largest swing state, Florida, has 29 electoral college votes. In past elections, Florida voted for President George W. Bush twice and President Obama in 2008. The most recent polls show Obama with a slight lead over former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

Florida hosted the Republican National Convention in Tampa last month, but both parties are seeking the state’s nearly 3.1 million seniors, causing the debated issue of Medicare to take center stage in the Sunshine State. Florida seniors favored 2008 GOP candidate John McCain and comprised of 22 percent of the state’s total vote during the last election, according to NBC News.

“In Florida, Barack Obama is busy reminding the elderly that he is the Democratic Party’s nominee, and will continue to protect Social Security and Medicare,” Saiz said. “Mitt Romney, on the other hand, is doing much the same, but he knows he has almost no chance of winning the majority of the elderly vote. Thus, he focuses on other demographic groups that he knows  already support his policies.”

Another southern state, North Carolina, hosted the Democratic National Convention earlier this month, but recent polls show that the state is moving into the GOP column.

When Obama won the Tar Heel State’s 15 electoral votes in 2008, he was the first Democrat to win it since Jimmy Carter in 1976. North Carolina is home to a number of agricultural and financial jobs, but the unemployment rate in the state is 9.6 percent, which is above the national average, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

While southern states like North Carolina and Virginia are relative newcomers to the swing state column, midwest states like Ohio and Wisconsin are swing state veterans.  Multiple polls in Ohio are indicating that Obama is pulling away from Romney in the Buckeye State, a key state for industrial and manufacturing jobs. No Republican has ever won the presidency without Ohio, according to ABC News.

Becker argues that candidates will stump anywhere, regardless of the polls.

“Candidates seek to persuade voters in a variety of ways,” Becker said. “They hold campaign events, they do local interviews and national interviews to ‘earn free media,’ and they engage in more micro-level efforts to contact voters on particular issues of interest to them.”

Both Ohio and Wisconsin have an unemployment rate below the national average. Wisconsin is even further in play because of Republican vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan, who hails from the state. The Badger State has also been in the political spotlight in recent years because of the ongoing fight to strip collective bargaining rights from state unions and the subsequent failed governor recall.

Out west, Nevada has the highest unemployment rate in the nation, 12 percent, but polls favor Obama by a slim margin. The president is getting a boost from the state’s Hispanic voters, who have grown dramatically in the past ten years. But Becker argues that polls are not to be trusted as undeniable proof of a candidate’s standing.

“Polling doesn’t so much ‘impact’ the election as it provides us with some sense of both the relative standing of the two major party candidates and the trends in the election (who is doing better/worse, etc.),” Becker said.  “Polling is part science and part art because it is hard to know for sure which registered voters will vote on Election Day and whether their current preferences will change.”

As for California, with the largest amount of electoral votes at 55, its turn as a swing state will have to wait.  Polls have shown President Obama will take the Golden State with a comfortable lead.

“The demographic groups that tend to support Democratic candidates (namely Latinos and Asians) are growing faster than the demographic groups that support Republicans,” Saiz said of California voters.