News / USA

A Quarter of US States Hold Keys to Presidential Outcome

Battleground states, U.S. presidential race
Battleground states, U.S. presidential race
VOA News
The U.S. has 50 states, but its national presidential election is likely to be decided in about a quarter of them.

They are often called battleground states, where surveys show that voters are closely split in deciding whether to give the Democratic incumbent, President Barack Obama, a second four-year term in the White House, or come January, make his Republican challenger, one-time venture capitalist Mitt Romney, the American leader. They are the states that sometimes swing from election to election in their support for Democratic or Republican candidates, whether for president or lawmakers in Congress.

Voters across the country are now weighing their choice in advance of the November 6 election, with residents in some states already starting to cast ballots under early-voting provisions. But analysts watching the close contest said the presidential outcome is likely to be decided in 12 or 13 of the states.

U.S. presidents are essentially elected in a collection of state-by-state contests, in a two-century-old electoral college system, with each state’s influence on the outcome roughly dependent on the size of its population.

Stephen Wayne weighs in

Political scientist Stephen Wayne at Georgetown University in Washington said the candidates pick the places where they campaign because they think they have a chance of winning another state in their quest to reach the needed majority of 270 votes in the electoral college.

“The candidates do a really good job of monitoring which states they have a chance at. And then they follow the polls, since the polls show that they’re winning by a lot, or losing by a lot, they’ll move out of that state," Wayne said. "If you know how the state’s going to turn out, then you don’t concentrate in those states, you concentrate in other states where you’re not sure and you think your campaign will make a difference, one way or another.”

President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt RomneyPresident Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney
x
President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney
President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney
So it is that Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney, and their respective running mates, Vice President Joe Biden and Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan, are regularly staging rallies in the industrial heartland of the country, in the states of Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. They are wooing farmers in the rural Midwestern state of Iowa, visiting retirees in warm-weather Florida in the southeast and looking for votes among government workers in the Virginia suburbs outside the national capital, Washington.

The presidential contenders are also stopping in the small rural state of New Hampshire in the northeastern sector of the country, the technology and financial centers in the mid-Atlantic state of North Carolina, and the central state of Missouri. They also head regularly to three western states - the gambling center of Nevada, mountainous Colorado and New Mexico, the mostly rural sagebrush state on the country’s southwestern border with Mexico.

Battleground surveys say ...

One recent survey of the battleground states, by the respected Gallup poll, showed that voters in the battleground states narrowly favored Mr. Obama, by a 48-to-46 percent margin. In the last several weeks, other surveys have generally shown the president slightly leading Mr. Romney in all but one of the battleground states - Missouri. But in recent days, new polling by media outlets suggests that the president has moved well ahead of his challenger in Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania, three battleground states with a combined 67 electoral votes.

Mr. Obama has moved marginally ahead in several national surveys as well, or, at worst, is tied with Mr. Romney.

With the election being waged in the battleground states, the candidates only fleetingly visit some of the country’s most populous states - New York, California, Illinois and Texas - and then just long enough to tap the pockets of some of their wealthiest supporters for campaign donations. The reason is simple: Voter surveys show that Mr. Obama is handily ahead in liberal-oriented New York, California and his home state of Illinois, while Mr. Romney is expected to easily carry the conservative southern state of Texas.

The U.S. - unlike many democracies throughout the world - does not elect its leader through a direct popular vote, as is the case with French presidential elections.  And it does not have a prime minister, as is the case in parliamentary systems throughout Europe and some other parts of the world, where the country’s leader is picked from among the lawmakers whose party wins the most seats in parliament.

Since U.S. states vary widely in population, they also have vastly different numbers of electoral votes - and as a result a sharply contrasting influence on the eventual outcome of the election.

The question of California

California, the most populous state, has 55 electoral votes, while several sparsely populated states have only three. So in the final six weeks of the campaign, the two presidential contenders and their running mates are doing almost all of their campaigning in the eastern half of the country, where 10 of the battleground states are located and the outcome is uncertain.

With a couple exceptions, the popular vote winner in each state collects all of the electoral votes from that state. The national popular vote does not determine the winner.

Political scientist Wayne said the U.S. electoral college has its roots in the country’s founding days more than two centuries ago.

“The electoral college system was created by the framers of the American constitution to try to make sure that the most qualified person, not necessarily the most popular, would be elected president," said Wayne. "And the framers of the American constitution in 1787, 1788, when it was written, did not have a lot of faith in the knowledge and the abilities of average citizens to make an intelligent choice.  And most people weren’t educated at that point. Illiteracy was very high.”

As a result, he said the country’s earlier leaders settled on creation of its electoral college. “So they designed a system whereby states would choose people - presumably these people would be better educated - and those people would then choose the president based more on ability than popularity,” Wayne added.

Use of the electoral college has on three occasions resulted in a president assuming office who did not win the most votes nationally, but carried states with the most electoral votes. That occurred most recently in 2000, when Republican George W. Bush won the first of his two terms as president.

The political battleground states develop over time, partly because of changing demographics. Wayne said the less politically competitive states are often identified by voters’ political allegiances and ideological views.

“Much of it has to do with partisanship, and where Republicans and Democrats live," he said. "There are certain states where there are more Republicans than Democrats, and vice versa. It also has to do with ideological beliefs that people in the South tend to be more conservative than the people in the northeast and up [along] the Pacific Coast. And so you tend to have states that are not as closely balanced politically.”    

He said that at least for the moment, Mr. Obama enjoys the edge in the race, even though the American economy is only sluggishly recovering from the severe downturn in 2008 and 2009, and many voters blame him for the slow advance.
 
“Incumbents do have an advantage over challengers," Wayne added. "Americans prefer the devil they know to the devil they don’t know.”

It's the economy!

“There are signs that the economy is not getting weaker," he said. "People seem to be a little bit more confident now, or maybe a little less fearful. And the anger against Obama has dissipated a little bit. People are disappointed in his presidency, but with the exception of Republicans, they’re not angry.”

Wayne said that Mr. Romney, a former governor of Massachusetts, has yet to convince enough voters that he should replace the president.

"Romney’s got to prove that he is the equal of the president," Wayne said. "We don’t change horses until either we are very dissatisfied or somebody makes an acceptable case for change.  Romney hasn’t made that case yet. And while people are dissatisfied, they’re not very dissatisfied.”

You May Like

Video Video Claims to Show Shi'ite Forces in Iraq Executing Sunni Boy

While not yet independently confirmed, brutal killing already has gotten attention of Islamic State followers on social media More

After Six Years, Little Change for Niger Delta's Former Militants

Nigerians who laid down arms in exchange for government amnesty subsidies fear program may end with upcoming presidential elections More

Vietnam Pushes for More Educated Drivers to Curb Road Deaths

Transportation officials hope that making a greater effort to get drivers to learn the rules of the road will reduce fatal crashes More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
NASA Spacecraft Approaches a Dwarf Planeti
X
George Putic
March 04, 2015 8:51 PM
NASA’s Dawn spacecraft will make history on Friday, March 6, when it becomes the first man-made object to orbit a dwarf planet named Ceres. It is located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, almost 500 million kilometers from Earth. Among other objectives, Dawn will try to examine two mysterious bright white spots detected on the planet’s surface. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video NASA Spacecraft Approaches a Dwarf Planet

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft will make history on Friday, March 6, when it becomes the first man-made object to orbit a dwarf planet named Ceres. It is located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, almost 500 million kilometers from Earth. Among other objectives, Dawn will try to examine two mysterious bright white spots detected on the planet’s surface. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Muslims Radicalized Online

Young Muslims are being radicalized ‘in their bedrooms’ through direct contact with Islamic State or ISIL fighters via the Internet, according to terror experts. There are growing concerns that authorities and Internet providers are not doing enough to counter online extremism - which analysts say is spread by a prolific network of online supporters around the world. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video African Americans Recall 1960's Fight For Voting Rights

U.S. President Barack Obama and thousands of people will gather in the small southern U.S. city of Selma, Alabama, Saturday, March 7th to commemorate the 50th anniversary of a historic voting rights march that became known as “Bloody Sunday." VOA’s Chris Simkins traveled to Alabama and introduces us to some of the foot soldiers of the voting rights struggles of the 1960’s.
Video

Video Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Image

Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Cyber War Rages Between Iran, US

A newly published report indicates Iran and the United States have increased their cyber attacks on each other, even as their top diplomats are working toward an agreement to guarantee Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon and to free Iran from international sanctions. The development is part of a growing global trend. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Answers Elude Families of MH370 Passengers

For the families on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, an airline official’s statement nearly one year ago that the plane had lost contact with air traffic control at 2:40 AM is the only thing that remains confirmed. William Ide reports.
Video

Video Land Disputes Arise Amid Uganda Oil Boom

Ugandan police say there has been a sharp increase in land disputes, with 10 new cases being reported each day. The claims come amid an oil boom as investors appear to be cashing in by selling parcels of land to multiple buyers. Meanwhile, the people who have been living on the land for decades are chased away, sometimes with a heavy hand. VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
Video

Video In Russia, Many Doubt Opposition Leader's Killer Will Be Found

The funeral has been held in Moscow for Boris Nemtsov, the opposition leader who was assassinated late Friday just meters from the Kremlin. Nemtsov joins a growing list of outspoken critics of Russia under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin who are believed to have been murdered for their work. VOA’s Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Simulated Astronauts Get Taste of Mars, in Hawaii

For generations, people have dreamed of traveling to Mars to explore Earth's closest planetary neighbor. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports that while space agencies like NASA are planning manned missions to the planet, some volunteers in Hawaii are learning how humans will cope with months in isolation on a Mars base.
Video

Video Destruction of Iraq Artifacts Shocks Archaeologists

The city of Mosul was once one of the most culturally rich and religiously diverse cities in Iraq. That tradition is under attack by members of the Islamic State who have made Mosul their capital city. The Mosul Museum is the latest target of the group’s campaign of terror and destruction, and is of grave concern to archaeologists around the world. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Smartphones May Help in Diagnosing HIV

Diagnosing infections such as HIV requires expensive clinical tests, making the procedure too costly for many poor patients or those living in remote areas. But a new technology called lab-on-a-chip may make the tests more accessible to many. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials have expressed concern over reports of a crackdown on Afghan refugees in Pakistan following the Peshawar school attack in December. Reports of mass arrests and police harassment coupled with fear of an uncertain future are making life difficult for a population that fled its homeland to escape war. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports from Islamabad.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More