Assistant Election Officer Belinda Strickland, center, assists voters on Nov. 6, in Fairfax County, Va.(Photo: J. Scott Applewhite, AP)
Here's one more way swing states stand out: Their citizens are more likely to vote.
may not be surprising given, in this year's presidential campaign, the
battleground states were deluged by TV ads and targeted for
sophisticated get-out-the-vote operations. After all that, 10 key swing
states had significantly higher turnout than the rest of the USA, an
analysis of data by the non-partisan Center for the Study of the
American Electorate shows.
That turnout gap is growing, with
potential repercussions for candidates down the ballot and the sense of
connection some Americans have with their government.
people in non-swing states don't think their vote makes any
difference," says Curtis Gans, director of the center. That seems to be
costing non-battleground states some of the boost in voter participation
that presidential contests traditionally bring.
It is a
distinctly American phenomenon. Because of the Electoral College system,
presidential candidates now essentially ignore states that are solidly
Republican or Democratic. They focus instead on the dwindling number of
states that might swing one way or the other.
As recently as 1996, there was essentially no difference in turnout
between the swing states and the other states plus the District of
Columbia: 51.5% of eligible citizens in the battlegrounds voted;
elsewhere, 51.4% did. In that campaign, the presidential candidates
contested more states and their TV ads aired more broadly.
in turnout have been steadily widening since then: 1.2 percentage
points in 2000, 4.4 points in 2004 and 5.2 points in 2008. This year,
64.2% of eligible citizens went to the polls in the battlegrounds
compared with 56.8% in the rest of the nation - a disparity of 7.4
The battlegrounds used in this analysis are Colorado,
Florida, Iowa, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Nevada, Ohio,
Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin. All were targeted by President
Obama and Republican Mitt Romney in 2012, although the list of swing
states would have been somewhat different in each of the previous
campaigns. (That makes the trend line more illustrative than precise.)
The conclusion by citizens in non-battleground states that their vote
doesn't really matter could "add to the sense that some voters feel
left out of politics," Democratic pollster Margie Omero says. calculates
the turnout gap is likely to hurt Democratic candidates more than
Republican ones because the people most easily discouraged from voting
include such Democratic-leaning groups as racial minorities and young
"The good news is some of the new efforts at increasing
turnout seem to be working: The ads, the person-to-person contact, the
early voting," Omero says. Although residents in swing states in 2012
often decried the onslaught of TV ads, most of them negative, the
commercials apparently did more to boost turnout than to turn off
Gans says the findings strengthen the case for modifying
the nation's unique political system so candidates have a reason to
contest more states - perhaps by distributing Electoral College votes
proportionately rather than winner-take-all in a state, or by allocating
the votes by congressional district rather than statewide. Maine and
Nebraska already do that.
Nationwide, 58.75% of eligible citzens
voted in 2012, down from 62.29% in 2008. The turnout rate rose
significantly in the District of Columbia, which permitted same-day
registration. There was a rise in Massachusetts, presumably because of
its hotly contested Senate race between Republican Sen. Scott Brown and
the victorious Democratic challenger, Elizabeth Warren.
edged up a tick in Iowa, Colorado and Louisiana and fell everywhere else
- by 1.9 points in battleground states and 4.1 points in
non-battleground states. It dropped 8.52 points in New York and nearly 5
points in New Jersey, states that had been hit hard by Superstorm Sandy
two weeks before Election Day.