Candidates Fight for Swing States


Barack Obama carried the majority of the battleground states in Tuesday’s election, resulting in his re-election for a second term as President of the United States.

According to Politico, eight of the nine battleground states-Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin-went to Obama.

Both candidates spent their final days of campaigning in the battleground states, also referred to as swing states. This election year, Republican nominee Mitt Romney and President Obama spent a large part of their time campaigning in Colorado, Florida, Virginia, Wisconsin and Ohio in an effort to secure the vote for their party.

Jeremy Teigen, associate professor and convener of political science, defined a battleground state as one whse outcome cannot be predicted before the election happens.

Teigen explained that one of the reasons battleground states get so much attention during a campaign is due to the “winner-take-all” nature of the Electoral College system. Teigen said that there is no incentive for candidates to try to maximize a vote in a state where the decision is clear.

“The party and candidate preferences in a state have to be pretty close for a candidate to visit and spend their money there,” he said.

Swing State Strategies

In this particular election, Teigen said that the most important battleground states were Ohio, Florida and Virginia.

“Ohio is do or die for Romney based on how I think he will do elsewhere,” Teigen said.

He added that Obama could have picked up all of the smaller swing states and could still have lost Ohio because he had two or three paths to get him to 270 electoral votes to win, whereas Romney did not. Picking up Ohio with 50 percent of the vote, the President did not have to worry about some of the smaller swing states, although he picked most of those up, too.

Adding Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin to the Republican ticket made the swing state, one that has been weakly carried by Democrats in the past six elections, a toss up. Teigen said the Romney campaign knew that having Ryan on the ticket did not guarantee a victory in Wisconsin; they ultimately lost to the President 50 to 47 percent, allowing the President to pick up its 10 electoral votes.

Florida, one of the most famous battleground states, was the largest focus point during this campaign. Although Obama carried Florida in 2008, the media constantly reported that the surge of foreclosures in the state combined with the uncertainty of the Hispanic voters made this a particularly unpredictable state this election.

While Florida has long been a famous battleground state, other states gradually shift in and out of the position of being a swing state. 

“Because of the large but slow party dynamic in the 50 states, over decades states shift,” said Teigen.

One of the newer battleground states, Virginia, which went to the president 49 to 47 percent, has formerly been intensely conservative. Teigen said that their recent shift was a slow one towards the Republican Party, but Obama picked up Virginia in 2008.

This state has become a battleground because there is a large mix of Washington, D.C. suburbs with highly educated and affluent people mixed with confederates as well as a high African American population.

“Some may say that Obama brought Virginia on as a battleground state, but I just don’t see a campaign or a candidate having that much influence,” Teigen said.

Other Notable States

While the battleground states can prove to be nail-biting races, there were no surprises in other states.

It was expected for Romney to carry Arizona and North Carolina, which had been leaning Republican during this campaign.

“If Obama picked up North Carolina that would mean he has tipped the whole country in his favor,” Teigen hypothesized.

Similarly, Obama won six states that had been leaning Democrat: Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, Nevada and Pennsylvania.

Factors such as international migration and issue and policy development generate new political coalitions, according to Teigen, and in turn cause these gradual shifts in party preferences.

Teigen added that campaigns only have a small ability to influence swing states, making these states the most closely watched during a presidential campaign.