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The Swing State Phenomenon

Could somebody please try to explain to me, preferably in basic junior high school level English, how this whole swing state phenomenon works? I can easily understand how an entire state can be consistently Democrat (MA, NY, CT, RI, CA) or consistently Republican (AL, TX, OK, ND, SD). But I really have a hard time figuring out the same population can vote completely differently every four years (OH, PA, VA, IA, FL).

I mean, since the 2000 Bush v. Gore election things have become so polarized that what each party stands for completely contradicts the other party’s beliefs.

You’re either pro-choice or anti-abortion

You’re either for same-sex marriage or against same-sex marriage

You’re either for tax reform or against tax reform

You’re either for decreased military spending or against decreased military spending

The list goes on and on. And generally speaking, you’re likely to share most of your beliefs with one particular party, although there are obviously large numbers of people who, for example, may be anti-abortion yet for same sex marriage. I get that. My beliefs don’t always fall down party lines, either.

However, my core convictions are consistent. If a candidate (or party) is consistently against the majority of my strongly held beliefs, it’s fairly obvious for which party I’ll tend to vote. And with both parties for the past 12 years consistently maintaining such opposing platforms, I don’t understand how votes in swing states can fluctuate so much? The way I see it, you either believe what you believe or, to be blunt, you have no spine and can be easily bought. In which case, I feel sorry for you (and this country). But there must be more to it than that, but I truly cannot figure it out.

My rant is neither pro-Democrat and anti-Republican (nor anti-Democrat and pro-Republican). I’m just trying to get to the bottom of this drama we deal with every four years where only a handful of states get to essentially control the election.

I look forward to the comments. Seriously!




  1. Comment by Randy on November 1, 2012 10:34 pm

    Well many issues are not so yes or no, black or white.
    I think many things are not even addressed. Welfare for instance, will there be any changes from either candidate? I doubt it. And answering really how to fix the economy. I think high level people can say ways to do it but how do you get it passed? Congress wants to get elected again and wont jeopardize their long term standing if fixing the economy hurts their states.
    The swing states also have to deal with many voters who vote based on who they like and not on their convictions. Sure some convictions are important but mostly people vote out of their gut instinct of who they like. In my humble opinion this is also a factor of education levels as well but I wont bother going into that.

  2. Comment by Roy on November 4, 2012 4:18 pm

    The easiest explanation is that they are not the same demographics, and this is particularly noticeable over 4 year timeframes. Take for instance, 2004 vs 2008. NV went from voting for GW Bush (by 3%) in 2004 to Obama (by 12%) in 2008. NV has had a dramatic increase in Hispanic population in the 2000s, who generally are more D voting. Quite notably in 2008, as well, D got out the vote for who would be the first black US president, and subsequently there was an increase in populations that are traditionally very D leaning but do not go vote in large percentages, so would make a difference in states that have large e.g. African-American populations (see VA 2008(D) vs 2004(R)).

  3. Comment by Ryszard Kilarski on November 4, 2012 8:59 pm

    I suppose part of it is about turnout… the swing states are because 50% of voters are for one party or the other, by definition. What’s left is whether one side can out-motivate the other for that .001% turnout to put them over the edge, right? I’d assume many swing states are swinging because they started as a state for one party and is slowly being transformed.

    Take Florida; it was naturally older and skewed conservative for decades. But with the large Latino population exploding in Miami, it’s slowly turning blue. Texas(!) is headed towards a politically seismic shift as it slowly is starting to turn blue as its younger and more progressif population grows and its old crazies die off (unless the Republicans change their tune socially!).

    This won’t happen in Massachusetts or other blue states anytime soon because the majority of young’uns are naturally skewing blue/Dem. But eventually the force of demographics will cause both parties to change their platforms, it’s inevitable and the country will find a new center. That’ll be fun.

    I’m sure it’s also true that “all politics is local” at some point. No matter how crazy Congress can get, it may be that the local government that, right or wrong, may generate the positive feelings for their elected representatives. I wonder if the majority of people in Michelle Bachmann’s district are doing well, despite her being batshit crazy, and therefore she and the Republicans get the reflected shine. I don’t know about this point though, it would require more study.

  4. Comment by Ryszard Kilarski on November 5, 2012 11:31 am

    I want to point out one other thing you said that jumped out at me:

    >things have become so polarized that what each party stands for
    >completely contradicts the other party’s beliefs.

    While this is factually true, you know that a ton of voters don’t pay attention; they just read the headlines that their bubble gives them and that’s it. It fits into their narrative and the case is closed.

    If you’re not paying attention, you might think Romney is a reasonable moderate person based on those three debates. He certainly sounded semi-reasonable to me (and he sounded like someone I could respectfully disagree); but I’ve been paying attention to his campaign and actually read the party platform and know the batshittery he’s embraced.

    You might think Obama raised taxes–that’s the story from Fox news, isn’t it? Nevermind the foolishness over his birth certificate, “taking over” healthcare, “suppressing” religious liberties, and so on.

    I think it’s these headline-reading people (and I work with one of them–I keep having to refute the nonsense he sends me because he doesn’t read the damn details of the articles he sends me!) that are making things difficult. I can’t say what the hell is wrong with them; are they lazy? are they stupid? are they crazy? I have to say no to all three because I know some of them. But there’s something wrong when facts and reality are being argued over.

    I don’t mean to sound like an irate lefty, though that’s how I’m sounding. We have similar people-in-a-bubble on the left, but I at least agree with them. 😉

  5. Comment by Ryszard Kilarski on November 5, 2012 3:36 pm

    “Regardless of whether Romney wins or loses, Republicans must move to confront its demographic crisis. The GOP coalition is undergirded by a shrinking population of older white conservative men from the countryside, while the Democrats rely on an ascendant bloc of minorities, moderate women and culturally tolerant young voters in cities and suburbs. This is why, in every election, since 1992, Democrats have either won the White House or fallen a single state short of the presidency.”

    Read more:

  6. Comment by Dana on November 6, 2012 12:02 am

    New Hampshire in the past several presidential elections have been decided by just 1%. In our small state that isn’t that many people. It ends up with which candidate can energize their base to go out and vote. Maybe we need a law that forces ever single person to vote.

    Along the lines of previous comments I also agree with the other comments above how some states are changing demographics. We in NH are also getting a lot of people moving over from the neighboring blue states into what once was a red state. And are working hard to make our state a lot like what they left. So our state now is pretty equal red and blue with the balance being independent voters which are harder to predict since they hold their cards closer to their vest.

    Too many people are looking for the perfect candidate, which will never be, so they become disillusioned. Which is, well that is for another topic all together. So they once voted and now they are not.

    The issue of people only reading the headlines and believing the TV ads. They must work for both campaigns to spend millions on them. I think both sides honestly believe their side has the solution and want what is best for our country. But only one sides plan will work.

  7. Comment by Ryszard Kilarski on November 6, 2012 12:18 pm

    >Maybe we need a law that forces ever single person to vote.

    Agree!!! Like!! Even if it’s to fill in “None of the above”, I wish it would be a) mandatory and b) a holiday. Other western countries have this and their electorate is heads-and-shoulders more educated just by default. It does not guarantee good decisions, but at least all voices are part of the conversation. But this is about as likely as tweaks to the Electoral College too.

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