Swing States

By John Lim

During the month of this past November, American citizens frequently googled the word “election” and observed the red and blue map of the United States that displayed a live count of voting ballots. The average American inspected this map at least five times a day, waking up in the middle of the night to silently root for certain states to magically turn either red or blue in front of their eyes. It isn’t a secret that the presidential election is the most trending topic every four years in America. Especially during this year, it seemed as if almost everybody in the world had an opinion on it. However it was certain states like Pennsylvania, Florida, and Ohio, that most attracted the general public’s attention. It was because the results of these states would be influential in “swinging” the election one way or the other, hence being dubbed “swing states”. While in a time of such political debate and discussion of the past 2020 election, it is crucial to be aware of the topic of swing states, their history, and how they came to be such an important factor in past elections in American politics and history. 

So What Are Swing States?

Swing states, also nicknamed “battleground states”, are states where the two major political parties usually have similar levels of support among voters. These states are usually targeted by both major-party campaigns, making them the states in which the competition is most vigorous. In fact, presidential candidates almost exclusively visit these states, spending a whopping 75%  of their campaign budget to gain the support they need from their votes, often skipping other states.  www.brookings.edu

Swing states can be defined by several notable factors: 

  1. Changes to Population: Urban regions usually tend to vote for the Democratic party, while rural areas tend to vote for the Republican party. When citizens decide to move from liberal-leaning urban cities to more rural areas, or vice versa, this may tip the balance between the political parties of these states, potentially changing the results of the election from each state.
  2. The Divergence of Ideologies: Studies show that up until the 1990s, liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats were still at large. However, in today’s political climate, the fact remains that most Republicans are conservatives and that liberals are mostly Democrats. One might even say that certain ideologies and political parties are paired with each other now. The more this continues, the support from swing states which usually fluctuates between political parties might become more defined to one side, changing whether it is a swing state or not. 
  3. Moderate politics: If one would consider themselves a moderate party, they would reject all radical views in terms of religion and politics. Most likely they would be in the middle of the left/right political spectrum, being independent of the two major political parties. States that have more moderate voters, would breed more political competition in regards to each side attempting to persuade them to gain their support.  



History of the Swing States and Their Influence on Politics 

When the Founding Fathers gathered to discuss the best way to elect their next president, the electoral college was created as a result. Each state would have a number of electors based on the combined total of the state’s delegates in the Senate and House of Representatives. There are 538 electoral college votes total, and presidential candidates need 270 electoral votes to win the election. Most states had a system where whomever gained the most popular votes from each state would win the electoral votes as well. www.archives.gov

The most controversial and competitive presidential elections in U.S history stemmed from how close the poll results from the swing states were, further displaying the significance of the impact that swing states have on American history. Take a look at a few of the closest elections:  

Harry S. Truman vs. Thomas Dewey, 1948 election. Truman defeated Dewey, winning by less than one percent of the popular vote in swing states from that era, such as Ohio, California, Indiana, Illinois, and New York. This race was so close that a few newspapers accidentally headlined that Dewey was the winner of the election. 

Richard M. Nixon vs. John F Kennedy, 1960 election. Kennedy defeated Nixon, by winning 10 states in less than two percent of the vote. On a national scale, it is generally considered that he won by 112,827 of the popular vote, a margin of 0.17 percent. 

George W. Bush vs. Al Gore, 2000 election.  Bush defeated Gore. The results of this election came down to who won Florida, which Bush claimed by a margin of just 537 votes, a margin of 0.009% of the popular vote. This was probably the closest presidential election of the 2000s era.



How Did Swing States Affect the 2020 Presidential Election?

The 2020 presidential election will probably go down as one of the most controversial elections in American history. There are several factors as to what each political party and their representative candidate would have to keep in mind during their respective campaigns, to form strategic plans and methods in order to win over these states. They stem from the history and pattern of the popular vote results from each state, what elements may have changed the state’s overall public opinion, and which political party they may support. 

The most recent election’s swing states were Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Maine’s second congressional district, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska’s second congressional district, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, with Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. From these states, The Cook Political Report identified Arizona, Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and North Carolina as most important in determining who won the 2020 presidential race. 



So yes, the saying “Every vote counts”, can never be more true, especially in swing states. The United States holds a presidential election every four years,  but not just because they need someone to fill in a vacant seat in the White House. Before they created the electoral college, the Founding Fathers were rather divisive in deciding upon the most practical method to choose their next leader. Some wanted Congress to elect who they saw to be best fit to assume leadership, and others wanted the public to vote directly for someone to assume the presidency. The system that we have now, was created with the intention of giving the people a voice. The right to vote is one of the most significant, influential ways that Americans can express their beliefs and thoughts – a value that the United States was founded upon, and was what the Founding Fathers had in mind. So go out. Vote. It is ultimately in our hands to decide what the future of our country will look like; therefore, we must take full advantage of the freedom and privilege that is given to us, and take responsibility for our citizenship in this great nation. 


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