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

Karzai's Legacy: Missed Opportunities?

Afghanistan's president leaves behind a much different nation than the one he inherited, yet his legacy from 13 years in power is getting mixed reviews More

US Urges Restraint in Hong Kong Protests

Protesters angered by Beijing's decision to only approve candidates that it sanctions for Hong Kong's leadership elections in 2017 More

Archive of Forgotten UCLA Speeches Offers Snapshot of History

Recordings of prominent voices in social change, politics, science and literature from 1960s, early 1970s now available on YouTube More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenyai
X
Gabe Joselow
September 29, 2014 6:20 PM
Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Iran's Rouhani Skeptical on Syria Strikes

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani expressed skepticism Friday that U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria could crush Islamic State militants. From New York, VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports the president was also hopeful that questions about Iran’s nuclear program could be resolved soon.
Video

Video US House Speaker: Congress Should Debate Authorization Against IS

As wave after wave of U.S. airstrikes target Islamic State militants, the speaker of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives says he would be willing to call Congress back into session to debate a formal, broad authorization for the use of military force. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington, where legislators left town 10 days ago for a seven-week recess.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Video

Video Ebola Robs Liberians of Chance to Say Good-Bye to Loved Ones

In Liberia, where Ebola has killed more than 1,500 people, authorities have worked hard to convince people to allow specialized burial teams to take away dead bodies. But these safety measures, while necessary, make it hard for people to say good bye to their loved ones. VOA's Anne Look reports on the tragedy from Liberia.
Video

Video Reconstruction? What Reconstruction? Life After War in Gaza

It’s been a month since Israel and the Palestinians agreed to a ceasefire to end 52 days of an air and tank war that left 60,000 homes in Gaza damaged or destroyed and 110,000 homeless. Sharon Behn reports that lack of reconstruction is leading to despair.
Video

Video US, Saudi Arabia and UAE Hit Islamic State's Oil Revenue

The United States, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have bombed oil facilities operated by Islamic State militants in Syria. It was a truly collaborative effort, with the two Arab countries dropping the majority of the bombs. The 12 refineries targeted were estimated to generate as much as $2 million per day for the terrorist group. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb has the story.
Video

Video Russia's Food Sanctions Raise Price Worries, Hopes for Domestic Production

Russia retaliated against Western sanctions imposed for its actions in Ukraine by halting food imports from the West. The temporary import ban on food from Australia, the European Union, Norway and North America has Russian consumers concerned that they could face a sharp increase in food prices. But in an ironic twist, the restrictions aimed at the Kremlin have made Russia's domestic food producers hopeful this can boost their business. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Washington to Pyongyang: 'Shut This Evil System Down'

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is calling on North Korea to shut down prison camps and other human rights abuses following a United Nations Commission of Inquiry into "widespread and systematic human rights violations." VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid