Portrait of a swing State
There’s a logical explanation why Oregon seems to have more than its share of presidential campaigning this election season, and it has to do with the citizens’ indecisiveness.
A swing state is a state where political affiliations are not
Dark red — registered republicans outnumber
Dark blue — registered democrats outnumber
Light red — registered republicans outnumber
Light blue — registered democrats outnumber registered
The predominantly democratic counties are usually more populated than the predominantly republican counties.
In Oregon, the number of Sen. John Kerry and President George W. Bush supporters appears almost dead even. So dead even that it has been called a ‘swing state’ — a state where no
candidate has the assured support of the majority; opinion swings from one side to
“Swing states are where the fight is,” University Political Science Professor and survey researcher Joel Bloom said. “It’s not the same campaign nationally as it is in the swing states.”
Because the country’s voting
system is the winner-takes-all
Electoral College– which allots all of a state’s electoral votes to whoever wins the popular vote no matter how razor-thin the margin — it is crucial that candidates focus their campaigns in those states where no candidate has a clear advantage, Bloom said.
In an election this close, “it makes no sense at all for a candidate to spend time in a state that’s not a swing state,” Bloom said.
States with a clearly dominant party are virtually removed from a campaign radar screen because of the unlikeness of anything swaying the large number of voters that have already decided to support a particular candidate, Bloom added.
Bloom, who is teaching a political science course examining campaigns and elections this term, said while there
is no formal method for determining which states are swing states, the most common involve examining statewide opinion polls, political party registration numbers and the results of previous elections.
Some polling agencies use different techniques to gather data, but Leighton Woodhouse, co-director of the national voter registration organization Driving Votes, said there is a general consensus among most groups regarding about 75 percent of the states typically thought of as swing states.
“By and large, it’s a judgment call,” Woodhouse said.
Woodhouse, who lives in California but has done extensive work in Oregon organizing voter registration efforts, said the difference between a swing state campaign and a non-swing state campaign is noticeable in nearly every aspect of the campaign.
Woodhouse said he saw firsthand how quiet campaigning is in a state where party affiliations are more distinct and cemented in place because of the solid lead Kerry has held in California since the beginning of the campaign.
“There’s no campaigning; there’s no major voter registration or
persuasion or anything like that,” he said. “It’s just not where the fight is; it’s not where the campaign is.”
The fact that the Electoral College results in heavy campaigning in only a handful of states is troubling, Canvas Director for Eugene’s New Voters Project Justin Barker said, but it’s a reality that must be accepted if anyone wants to make a true difference in this election.
Barker, 22, moved from Sacramento, Calif., to Oregon to help with the project and said the differences in campaign strategies between the two states were evident immediately, which he said is troubling in the long run but inspiring in the short run.
“For this campaign, the young people can make a difference because this is a swing state,” Barker said. “Young people can actually step up and swing the state.”
Because campaign efforts are concentrated only in swing states, Bloom said most political talk in non-swing states is limited to what appears on the national scale. While swing states are saturated with localized campaigns designed specifically for that state, Bloom said national television news programs and late-night and early-morning talk show gossip can be other states’ only exposure to different campaigns.
“All they’re getting in the other states is a sort of national punditry,” Bloom said.
Paige Richardson, director for the Kerry campaign in Oregon, said the lack of a distinct political party division is what distinguishes swing states from non-swing states.
“When we’re sitting here putting together a campaign plan, the things we have on it are raising money so that we can have television and radio and cover the administrative efforts of a field effort that will then go out and make person-to-person contact on the phone and at the door,” Richardson said.
Person-to-person contact is heavily pushed in the swing states, Bloom said, because of how effective it can be in reaching out to voters who are still undecided and swinging support from one candidate to another.
This has resulted in candidates dedicating the majority of their campaign stops to swing states. Oregon played host to campaign visits from both President Bush and Sen. Kerry in August and party officials have not ruled out the possibility of more visits before voting day on Nov. 2.
Bloom said these visits are very beneficial to a candidate’s campaign, particularly because of the attention the local media give them.
“It can mean something different when your local TV news station has an interview with a candidate,” he said. “That tends to be pretty
Both Bloom and Richardson said an increase in campaign visits in swing states is accompanied by a heavier get-out-the-vote effort, an increase in campaign spending and a greater number of political ads on television and radio.
According to a Sept. 25 Register-Guard article, the two candidates, along with a barrage of political interest groups, have purchased about 13,000 30-second advertisements on the four biggest television stations in the Eugene area in the last seven months alone. This number is undoubtedly higher than in non-swing states like California, as Woodhouse and Barker have attested to.
If support continues to swing
between Kerry and Bush in Oregon, Bloom said the political climate
will continue to be saturated with campaign ads as interest groups and political parties will continue to pump money into state-wide canvassing efforts. Also, candidates will continue to tailor their message to local issues and the state will continue to see tremendous voter registration efforts.
Those efforts are extremely necessary for each campaign because, as Woodhouse said, “every vote counts, but in some sense, the swing-state votes count more.”