INDEPTH: US ELECTION 2004|
CBC News Online | August 20, 2004
What makes a swing state?
President Bush speaks at a campaign stop billed "Ask President Bush" in
Columbus, Ohio Thursday, Aug. 5, 2004. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
A swing state is a state that, through the evidence of polling and its history, could vote either Democrat or Republican on election day. Most swing states are "small-town America" states in the Midwest. Powerhouses New York and California won't get nearly the attention that Iowa and Florida will from the campaigns.
Given the way U.S. presidential elections are decided, (Election 101) different states are important for different reasons. It becomes a numbers game; which combination of states will bring in the 270 electoral college votes needed to win the presidency. Different analyses of the numbers lead to slightly different definitions, meaning different media or political outlets will have different lists of "swing" states. But, for the most part, organizations will agree on at least a dozen states that are up for grabs.
This time out, there are as many as 22 states considered to be in play, depending on the source you consult. We've included 15 here - in no particular order - to help you get a sense of what some of the deciding issues might be.
Looking at the past four presidential elections, this state may not look like an obvious "swinger." Iowans have voted Democrat since 1988. But before that, state voters had been picking Republicans since the late 1960s. The last election, 2000, saw Democrat Al Gore taking the state by just 4,000 votes.
The state has two senators, one a Republican, and one a Democrat, both popular. Now, the state is considered very much up for grabs, and both the Bush and Kerry camps will be working hard. The economy is likely to be the major issue. Iowa is showing signs of recovery after the recession in 2001, and the jobless rate is below the national average, and down from a year ago. But one of the main industries, farming, has undergone a big shift, and the state that produces the most corn, soybeans, pork and eggs is seeing many family farms unable to survive.
In 2000: Al Gore by 0.31 per cent.
Electoral college votes: 7
George Bush took this state in the last presidential election, but only by four per cent. The state has done well economically, and the jobless rate is below the national average. These are elements in his favour. Also, the rural population tends to favour Republicans. But John Kerry could pull ahead on a single issue: Yucca Mountain. Polls show three-quarters of the state's residents oppose Bush's plan to bury the country's nuclear waste in Yucca Mountain, about 160 kilometres north of Las Vegas. Kerry has opposed the plan from the start (although his running mate, John Edwards, has supported it in the past.)
In 2000: George Bush by 3.55 per cent
Electoral college votes: 5
Although the state has chosen Democratic presidential candidates for the last four elections, the results have, for the most part, been very close. Polls and pundits suggest that the candidates are in a neck-and-neck race, and the state is up for grabs. Wisconsin has a history of non-partisanship, in that it has often filled its national and state governments with members from both parties.
Both sides agree that employment is a major issue in the state, but the picture is different depending on which side is talking. The Republicans say the economy is improving. The state was hard-hit by the downturn in the manufacturing sector, but the jobless rate is back down to where it was four years ago. The Democrats say that despite the return of some jobs, many are lower-paying, no-benefit jobs. Residents are waiting to see if these jobs are a sign of solid economic recovery.
The Democrats also say residents of the state are growing more uncertain about the U.S.'s role in Iraq. Wisconsin, like most states, has had its share of injured soldiers and bodies returning from Iraq, and people are starting to question whether the risk has been worth the reward.
In 2000: Al Gore by 5,708 votes (0.2 per cent)
Electoral college votes: 10
This state is an atypical state because of its demographic makeup. At 43 per cent, the state's Hispanic population is larger than any other state's. But the population is not necessarily one of Democrat-favouring immigrants. Most of the families have been there for generations, some since the 1600s. Al Gore won by just 366 votes in 2000, the slimmest margin in the country 0.06 per cent. But since that time, residents elected Democrat Bill Richardson as governor.
His popularity, as well as his tax cuts and education reforms, may help to tip the scales in Kerry's favour. Republicans are appealing to their traditional base in the state, mainly white oil ranchers, but they are also trying to draw away some of the older, Spanish-speaking voters, by appealing to their traditional values. They are stressing their opposition to abortion, and so-called family values, in an attempt to appeal to older Roman Catholics. The state is too close to call, so both Bush and Kerry have already made multiple stops there, and invested heavily in Spanish-language advertising.
The results may all come down to turnout. The Hispanic voter turnout was about 40 per cent last time higher than in other states with Spanish-speaking populations, but lower than the percentage of white voters who turned out.
In 2000: Al Gore by 0.06 per cent
Electoral college votes 5
This is not a traditional swing state. Voters have chosen a Republican since 1968, except a brief detour to Bill Clinton in the 1990s. Last time out, in 2000, the Gore campaign considered New Hampshire too Republican to bother with, but Bush only won the state by 1.27 per cent. The state is doing well economically, with unemployment just 3.9 per cent, and population and housing prices on the upswing. So this is one state where the economy won't necessarily be the major issue. A New York Times/CBS News poll suggests that more than 40 per cent of state residents say war and terrorism are the most important issues.
In 2000: George Bush by 1.27 per cent
Electoral college votes: 4
Ohio voters have picked the winner in every presidential election since 1964. Bush took it by just four per cent in 2000, so it is ripe for the Democrats to take it back. It is the ultimate swing state. With 20 electoral votes, the winner here could be the winner overall. Both sides have already spent millions here, and will have made scores of visits by the time voting rolls around in November.
Most of the elected officials at the state level are Republicans, though, so Kerry will have that to overcome. But, as with many swing states, the economy is likely to top the list of priorities for voters and the stats don't favour the Republicans. The state has lost more than 170,000 factory jobs since 2000, about one of every six jobs in the state. Bush's decision to eliminate steel import tariffs has caused a lot of anger in this heavy-industry economy.
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass.,
participates in a neighborhood front porch campaign stop in Columbus,
Ohio Sunday, July 25, 2004. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Many also are beginning to question the U.S. involvement in Iraq. Although many supported the war initially, the state houses one of the biggest air force bases in the country, and many have relatives serving in Iraq, with no clear end in sight. Residents of the state are socially conservative, and may not be ready to leap to a party that could support civil unions for gay couples, and does support a woman's right to choose when it comes to abortion.
In 2000: George Bush by 3.51 per cent
Electoral college votes: 20
Pennsylvania is a prime target for both the Bush and Kerry campaigns. Bush has visited this state more often than any except Texas since becoming president. But the state appears to be leaning Democratic. There are more registered Democrats, and residents elected a Democratic governor in 2002. Also crucial this is Kerry's wife's home state. She is a well-known and respected philanthropist in Pennsylvania, and there are many things that carry the name of her first husband, Republican Senator John Heinz, who was killed in a plane crash.
Bush is not likely to surrender here, though, because the state's 21 electoral votes are too big a prize to ignore.
The economy issue is a balancing act for both: the wealthier voters don't want more taxes, but there are also many less well off people who have lost jobs since Bush won in 2000.
In 2000: Al Gore by 4.17 per cent
Electoral college votes: 21
This is another state hard hit by declines in the manufacturing sector. About 200,000 manufacturing jobs have been lost here since the 2000 election. The unemployment rate has gone as high as seven per cent in the last few years. Two of its larger cities, Detroit and Ann Arbor, are Democratic strongholds. The state governor is a popular (Canadian-born) Democrat, but Republicans control both houses of the state legislature.
The two sides will have to use the same statistics to convince voters of opposing views. The Democrats will stress the high rate of unemployment, and use Kerry's portrayal of "Benedict Arnold" corporations exporting jobs to make the point. The Republicans will need to highlight signs of recovery, and the fact that job losses appeared to have levelled out. His other possible appeal could be to blue-collar, socially conservative voters, who find Kerry's social views too liberal.
In 2000: Al Gore by 5.13 per cent
Electoral college votes: 17
The fact that this state is now considered "in play" may be a shock to many long-time Democrats. Minnesota is well known for its Scandinavian influences, including support for social programs. The state has picked a Democrat in the last seven presidential elections, but Al Gore squeaked by with only a two per cent lead last time out. Part of that is due to the success of independent candidates in the state, both nationally and at the state level. Many votes that might have gone to Gore were given to Ralph Nader, running under the Green Party banner in 2000.
Unfortunately for Kerry, the economy has remained fairly stable here. The Economist reports that the economy has been diverse enough to survive the downturn in the manufacturing and blue-collar job sectors. In the "Iron Range" up north, Bush's decision to remove steel import tariffs caused anger, but state moves to cut social programs and not raise taxes have been popular.
In 2000: Al Gore by 2.4 per cent
Electoral college votes: 10
Except for once in the 1950s, Missouri has backed the winner in every presidential election for the past 100 years. Many political analysts describe the state as a "bellweather" for its reflection of the country as a whole. Bush himself visited the state 18 times in his first three years as president. The Economist predicts that both campaigns will spend more money per voter here than in any other state.
Local and presidential elections are often squeakers. It is part of a north-south belt of swing states, right up against the Midwest Republican strongholds. The state itself is a division worthy of a Politics 101 textbook case: the urban centres tend to vote Democrat, and the rural areas tend to vote Republican. The further from the inner city, the more likely to lean Republican.
Also, the rebounding economy could help Bush in this state. After a downturn, the state now has more jobs than it did just after he was elected. The Republican state legislature has put an amendment banning gay marriage on the ballot for November, hoping to lure more social conservatives to the polls, who are more likely to vote for Bush.
In 2000: George Bush by 3.34 per cent
Electoral college votes: 11
This is the smallest of four southern swing states. It is only swinging slightly, as it is still more likely to fall again to Bush, who won it by more than five per cent in 2000. But some political analysts are suggesting that win showed a lack of effort on Gore's part, as much as a successful campaign on Bush's part.
African Americans, who make up more than 12 per cent of the electorate and usually support Democrats, could have something to say this time out, but voter turnout is always an issue. The Iraq war could be an important touchstone here, since Arkansas has sent many National Guard troops (many of them black) to Iraq. Although a southern state is important to any Democratic win, the Kerry campaign may decide to cut its losses here, and sacrifice the six electoral college votes to concentrate resources elsewhere.
In 2000: George Bush by 5.44 per cent
Electoral college votes: 6
Al Gore squeaked through in 2000, winning by just 0.44 per cent. Oregon voters have chosen a Democrat in the last four elections. This time out, both candidates have visited, and stressed economic recovery in their stump speeches. The state has lost jobs since 2000, which may not be good news for Bush. Kerry stressed that the tax burden on the middle class had gone up in the last four years, while wealthier Americans benefited from tax cuts. Bush fought back, saying tax increases hurt employers, and eventually, their employees. He also promised $15 million to improve access to Portland's port. Socially liberal voters here may be drawn to Ralph Nader, however, who could pull votes away from Kerry.
In 2000: Al Gore by 0.44 per cent
Electoral college votes: 7
The biggest swing state prize of all, both numerically and symbolically. Many people can recite the famous number 537 the number of votes by which Bush won the state in 2000, after unprecedented recounts, court rulings and hanging chad debates.
With 27 electoral votes, and no undisputed favourite, Florida will be well worth the trouble for both parties. The issues here are tricky, though. The economy is doing well, with more jobs than in 2000, and lots of wealthy immigrants and retirees. That is likely good for Bush.
But a good economy often means voters focus on other issues, and candidates must work hard to appeal to diverse interests. The Cuban population is important here, and strongly favours Bush and his support of the embargo on Cuba. But his recent move to restrict the flow of money and travellers to Cuba has not been popular. Neither party has articulated a solid Cuba policy.
Another big issue is prescription drug access, important to the many seniors in the state. There are also many questions about the electronic voting machines now in place in the state, since there is no paper trail for recounts, and studies have suggested they are vulnerable to failure and tampering. The results should be another nail-biter.
In 2000: George Bush by 537 votes
Electoral college votes: 27
Arizona is usually a Republican state. Despite voting for Bill Clinton in 1996, the state has been solidly GOP since 1952. But voters chose a Democratic governor in 2002, albeit a moderate one, indicating there may be change in the wind. The population growth rate is second only to Nevada. People are not only coming from Mexico, but from other states to retire.
So far, there is much still in Bush's favour. The economy is doing well, and many people with economic ties to Mexico are thankful for freer trade. But the war in Iraq may be a liability in a state with so many army bases. Arizona is still likely to stick with the Republicans in November, but Kerry may be able to get his foot in the door for next time.
In 2000: George Bush by 6.29 per cent
Electoral college votes: 10
This is only a swing state if Bush can give it a push. Although Washington hasn't voted for a Republican presidential candidate in decades, Bush may have some hope here. Voters have definitely favoured Democrats in the past, but the demographics in this state are changing, and their political leanings could be changing.
This high-tech state of independent thinkers is difficult to pigeonhole. Its coastal cities are definitely more liberal, and home to a strong anti-globalization movement. But further east are more conservative voters, who could make the difference if they show up in greater numbers on Nov. 2.
Economically, the state is stabilizing after a downturn in jobs, a fact that could favour Republicans. Ralph Nader may also prove to be a factor here. But the state is probably still Kerry's to lose.
In 2000: Al Gore by 5.58 per cent
Electoral college votes: 11
Voting age population (VAP) in 2000:|
Eligible voters (VEP) in 2000:
Voter turnout (% of VEP) in 2000:
Numbers of seats up for election (2004):
House: 435 (all of them)
Senate: 34 (of 100)