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The Swing States of America

Released October 9, 2008

Contact: Laura Kirshner, Presidential Election Reform Program 301 270 4616

As the presidential campaigns enter their final four weeks, it is clear that, just as in the 2004 presidential campaign, they are focusing their attention solely on a declining number of battleground states. The non-partisan organization FairVote is maintaining a daily tracker of visits to states by the four major party nominees since September 5, the first day after the Republican national convention. This data will be used to follow up FairVote's groundbreaking 2006 report Presidential Election Inequality about our nation's shrinking battleground in presidential elections.

FairVote's executive director Rob Richie commented on FairVote's findings: "What we are seeing is a division of the country into the have's and have-not's when it comes to presidential elections. This division has a stark impact on which eligible American voters participate and on which issues the major parties highlight in the final weeks of our one national election."

The top ten states receiving the most campaign attention are strikingly similar to the top ten states in 2004, while a total of 29 states have not received even a token visit by a candidate. Following is a list of the states receiving the most visits by the major party nominees for president and vice-president.

Most visited
states in 2008   % of visits
1. Michigan--12.4%
2. Ohio--10.3%
3. Pennsylvania--9.3%
4. Colorado--8.3%
5. Virginia--8.3%
6. Missouri--7.2%
7. Florida--6.2%
8. Wisconsin--6.2%
9. New York--5.2%
10. New Mexico--4.1%

Most visited
states in 2004   % of visits
1. Florida--21%
2. Ohio--16%
3. Iowa--13%
4. Wisconsin--11%
5. Pennsylvania--8%
6. Michigan--7%
7. Minnesota--5%
8. Colorado--3%
9. Nevada--2%
10. New Mexico--2%

The seven states appearing on both lists are Michigan, Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, New Mexico and Colorado--all among the nation's dozen closest battlegrounds in 2004 and likely to be so again in 2008. The three states from the 2004 list that are not on this year's list are Iowa, Minnesota and Nevada--all considered battlegrounds. Michigan tops the 2008 list, but recently was abandoned as a target by John McCain's campaign and is unlikely to receive attention in the campaign's final weeks. New York's inclusion in the top 10 this year is solely a byproduct of major international meeting that had nothing to do with efforts by the candidates to tilt the balance in the state. Aside from the New York, the only two new states are Virginia and Missouri.                                                                                

Perhaps the bigger story is that so many states are not even close to making top-ten lists when it comes to campaign attention. The vast majority of states are "safe" states. The battle for votes in these states never takes place, since candidates take their electoral votes for granted. As a result, these states receive no campaign attention and no visits from candidates. Voters in these states are effectively disenfranchised by their lack of power, and this inequality has serious consequences. The candidates design their campaigns to appeal to voters in battleground states, and they address only those issues that concern those voters. Voters in other states may have drastically different needs and concerns, but a winning campaign strategy prevents candidates from taking up these issues.

For several election cycles, the states considered to be battleground states in a 50-50 elections have been largely the same. Election after election, most voters are still left out of the campaign spotlight while a handful of swing-state voters get all the candidates' attention. The impact of this disparity can be measured by voter participation. In 2004, eligible voters under 30 living in one of the 10 closest battleground states were more than a third more likely to participate than were voters in the rest of the nation.

Swing states also benefit from the massive amounts of money they receive from campaigns. Since the beginning of last year, Barack Obama has spent over $24 million in Pennsylvania, over $14 million in Ohio, and over $16 million in Florida. Similarly, John McCain has spent over $28 million in those three states. The vast majority of states have received less than $1 million in campaign advertisements, with six states receiving nil from Obama and 16 states receiving nothing from McCain. John McCain has spent a measly $180 on campaign advertisements in his home state of Arizona!

FairVote has posted its full candidate trackers at http://fairvote.org/president, where visitors also can download a copy of Presidential Elections Inequality. We will continue to collect data on campaign visits up until Election Day to see how the focus of each campaign changes. We expect the number of states receiving campaign visits to shrink even further as the campaigns progress. Just as the candidates are cutting back on their visits to Michigan, we expect them to do the same to free up resources for a steadily shrinking pool of swing states. The only states that will receive the final campaign visits will be the ones split most closely down the middle.

We will issue weekly updates of our candidate tracker, supplemented by data on campaign financing.  We also will plan to release an updated version of our Presidential Elections Inequality report soon after the election that will allow us to anticipate what states are likely to be battleground states in 2012 Our report will include a detailed analysis of campaign attention based on visits, spending, and advertisements in each state by each of the two major party campaigns and their independent backers.

For a complete listing of the four major party candidate visits to all 50 states, visit http://fairvote.org/president/tracker.