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

AU Takes Action on Boko Haram, Defers on S. Sudan

African Union is moving forward with a request for a military force to stop the spread of Boko Haram insurgency in West Africa; Ban Ki-moon welcomes decision to form a five-nation force More

Mass Protests Held for 58 Killed in Pakistani Shi'ite Mosque Bombing

Thousands of Shi'ite Muslims took to the streets across Pakistan Saturday to protest a powerful bomb blast at a mosque in Sindh province during Friday prayers, killing dozens of people More

Williams Wins Australian Open with Straight-Set Victory over Sharapova

The win is Serena Williams' sixth in Australia, and her 19th overall Grand Slam title More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unresti
X
Heather Murdock
January 30, 2015 8:00 PM
Egypt plans to expand the Suez Canal, raising hopes that the end of its economic crisis may be in sight. But some analysts say they expect the project may cost too much and take too long to make life better for everyday Egyptians. VOA's Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unrest

Egypt plans to expand the Suez Canal, raising hopes that the end of its economic crisis may be in sight. But some analysts say they expect the project may cost too much and take too long to make life better for everyday Egyptians. VOA's Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Threat of Creeping Lava Has Hawaiians on Edge

Residents of the small town of Pahoa on the Big Island of Hawaii face an advancing threat from the Kilauea volcano. Local residents are keeping a watchful eye on creeping lava. Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Pro-Kremlin Youth Group Creatively Promotes 'Patriotic' Propaganda

As Russia's President Vladimir Putin faces international pressure over Ukraine and a failing economy, unofficial domestic groups are rallying to his support. One such youth organization, CET, or Network, uses creative multimedia to appeal to Russia's urban youth with patriotic propaganda. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Mobile Infrared Scanners May Help Homeowners Save Energy

Mobile photo scanners have been successfully employed for navigational purposes, such as Google Maps. Now, a group of scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology says the same technology could help homeowners better insulate their houses and save some money. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Filmmakers Produce Hand-Painted Documentary on Van Gogh

The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Issues or Ethnicity? Question Divides Nigeria

As Nigeria goes to the polls next month, many expect the two top presidential contenders to gain much of their support from constituencies organized along ethnic or religious lines. But are faith and regional blocs really what political power in Nigeria is about? Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Rock-Consuming Organisms Alter Views of Life Processes

Scientists thought they knew much about how life works, until a discovery more than two decades ago challenged conventional beliefs. Scientists found that there are organisms that breathe rocks. And it is only recently that the scientific community is accepting that there are organisms that could get energy out of rocks. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports.
Video

Video Paris Attacks Highlight Global Weapons Black Market

As law enforcement officials piece together how the Paris and Belgian terror cells carried out their recent attacks, questions are being asked about how they obtained military grade assault weapons - which are illegal in the European Union. As VOA's Jeff Swicord reports, experts say there is a very active worldwide black market for these weapons, and criminals and terrorists are buying.
Video

Video Activists Accuse China of Targeting Religious Freedom

The U.S.-based Chinese religious rights group ChinaAid says 2014 was the worst year for religious freedom in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. As Ye Fan reports, activists say Beijing has been tightening religious controls ever since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to office. Hu Wei narrates.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Former Sudan 'Lost Boy' Becomes Chess Master in NYC

In the mid-1980’s, thousands of Sudanese boys escaped the country's civil war by walking for weeks, then months and finally for more than a year, up to 1,500 kilometers across three countries. The so-called Lost Boys of the Sudan had little time for games. But one of them later mastered the game of chess, and now teaches it to children in the New York area. VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York has his story.
Video

Video NASA Monitors Earth’s Vital Signs From Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, is wrapping up its busiest 12-month period in more than a decade, with three missions launched in 2014 and two this month, one in early January and the fifth scheduled for January 29. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the instruments being lifted into orbit are focused on Earth’s vital life support systems and how they are responding to a warmer planet.

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

All About America

AppleAndroid