What are ‘swing voters’ and how important are they in the USA? (Short essay)

Also known as ‘floating voters’ in the UK and ‘independent’ in the USA, swing voters are de-aligned and lack strong party identification, and their votes cannot be predicted or taken for granted. They are targeted in campaigns and can be crucial in deciding elections, especially in swing states. Approximately 30% of voters describe themselves as independent, although most ‘lean’ towards one party or another.

Swing states (also known as battleground states) are the states that can be won or lost by either candidate unlike ‘safe states’.  Candidates focus their campaigns in these states with constant advertising and frequent visits. The result of a presidential election is decided principally in the swing states. A large number of states will almost always vote for the Democratic candidate – Massachusetts, New York, California and Illinois for example. Other states are nowadays solidly Republican – Texas, Georgia, Kansas and South Carolina, for example. However, there are a number of swing states, such as Missouri, Ohio and Florida, which will vote for the Democratic candidate in one election and the Republican one in the next. Missouri voted for the winner of every presidential election in the 20th century, except in 1956 and Ohio has now voted for the winner in the last 12 presidential elections, stretching all the way back to 1964.

‘Swing voters’ are voters who have no allegiance to any political party and whose unpredictable decisions can swing the outcome of a presidential election. Elections are often said to be decided by so-called ‘independent voters’. For example, in 2008 swing voters made up 29% of the electorate and gave Barack Obama an 8-percentage point advantage.

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