A swing state (also, battleground state or purple state) in United States presidential politics is a state in which no candidate has overwhelming support, meaning that any of the major candidates have 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 Republican
candidate (the more conservative
of the two major parties) can easily expect to win many of the Southern
states like Mississippi
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
, 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, 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, neither has ever had a split electoral vote.
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.
Historical swing states
The swing states of Connecticut
, New Jersey
and New York
were key to the outcome of the 1888 election
, and Illinois
were key to the outcome of the 1960 election
has often been considered a swing state, , particularly during the 2004 election
, having voted with the winner in every election since 1948 except for 1960, and Missouri
has voted for the winner of every presidential election since 1904, save for its support of Adlai Stevenson
, prompting the state's reputation as a bellwether
Recent swing states
- Florida: The outcome of 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 heavily Democratic large cities like Miami, heavily Republican large cities such as Jacksonville, and sparser, more Republican areas like the Florida Panhandle.
- Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania is famously described by Democratic strategist James Carville as "you’ve got Philadelphia at one end of the state, Pittsburgh at the other end, and Alabama in the middle.” Pennsylvania Secretary of the Commonwealth Pedro A. Cortés stated on March 17, 2007, that "The commonwealth’s large number of electoral college votes and diverse population make Pennsylvania a key battleground state."
- Ohio: "I think 2008 is very likely to be a hotly contested race in Ohio," stated Eric Rademacher, director of the University of Cincinnati's Ohio Poll, for the Cincinnati Enquirer. Its 20 electoral votes were critical to President Bush's reelection in 2004.
Other terms for swing state