You might live in a swing state if…

…you’re more likely to run into a candidate for the White House than a Mormon missionary when you get a knock at the door.

I ran into an interesting set of data today: voter turnout nationally has never really been that high, and while it may be falling, it’s never really changed in Presidential years.

Voter Turnout in Presidential Elections from 1948-2008

Why is it that voter turnout seems stuck somewhere between 55 and 65%? What would it take to boost participation?

States/districts in the 2008 United States Pre...

Swing states in 2008 colored by which party won them. Image via Wikipedia

I can’t help but wonder if the level of voter turnout is somewhat depressed by the low-level of competition between presidential candidates in most states. Already, pundits are naming Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Nevada as the “battleground states” (or swing states) that the candidates will fight over.  And while those states get drenched with attention from campaigns for the Presidency, the rest go relatively untouched. They’re sufficiently safely red or blue and probably won’t see more than marginal campaigning from candidates, if at all.

Why not campaign nation-wide? Because most states (Nebraska and Maine excepted) have decided that they will allocate their Electoral College votes in a “winner-take-all” method.  In essence, to boost their candidate’s benefit, party bosses back in the 1800s determined that who ever wins the state will get all the state’s votes, even if that candidate only won a mere 51% of the popular votes. As a result, candidates don’t have any incentive to put staff and resources into a state they know they will win, or lose,  in the hope of boosting turnout in their favor. Only swing states are in competition, and so only swing states get campaign resources.

The unintended consequence? Florida and Ohio decide who will win the White House. And, as evidence of the distortion, we’ve seen four presidents take office without a majority vote. (Extra points if you can name them all in the comments). As one blog puts it “270 to win: This isn’t a Popularity Contest.”

Voters realize that their votes matter less because their state is likely to fall in one category or the other, regardless of whether they vote. Less competition results in less motivation to vote.

So what might happen if suddenly every state came into play? If every vote came into play? If your vote mattered for the election? I think we would see an increase in turnout and, too, the candidates campaigning in every state. Florida and Ohio would become, well, just like the rest of us: a campaign stop among many.

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APROPOS: Utah, my state and a sure shot for the Republicans–despite a fair number of Democrats clustered around Salt Lake City and Ogden– is likely to see more action in the Republican nomination fight than later, and that just from GOP hopefuls dropping in to raise cash …ostensibly, for use in swing states.

(h/t The Monkey Cage)

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3 responses to “You might live in a swing state if…

  1. John Adams and George W. Bush were two…Obama made it to Erie last election. We should just get rid of the Electoral College in every state.

  2. I think the percentage of people who vote has stayed about the same because it’s always the same people who get out and vote. It’s the people who were raised in a home where their parents got out and voted or at some point in college they made friends with voters and caught the political bug and will now always be a voter, and for some they vote because they believe it will make a difference – they are naturally hopeful people, it’s a part of their personality and always has been.

    But it takes a lot to convince people to change their ways. So someone who hasn’t ever really gotten out and voted and/or is surrounded by other people who don’t get out and vote, are most likely just going to sit home and not go vote. Everyone will be surprised if Obama can turn out numbers like he did last election. And I think it’s because many of those people he motivated to get out and vote last time, just aren’t the typical, ‘I always vote and perform my civic duty’ kind of people.

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