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Bipartisan Over-Attention to Battleground States

by Katherine Sicienski // Published July 11, 2011
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FairVote has recently blogged about the disproportionate attention that battleground states have received from President Barack Obama since his inauguration. But political calculation is thoroughly bipartisan. Witness how the Republican National Committee (RNC) is engaging in similar inequitable practices.

On July 7th, the RNC announced a series of twelve press conferences with state party leaders. Among the included states: North Carolina, Iowa, New Hampshire, Michigan, Colorado, Washington, Ohio, Missouri, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and New Mexico. In their communications blog announcing the event, the RNC states that the conferences will be held by, "Republican state parties in battleground states."

All of these states were carried by Obama in 2008 except for Missouri, which represented his most narrow defeat. But George Bush carried, Colorado, Iowa, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, New Hampshire, New Mexico and Indiana in 2000 and/or 2004, while Missouri, Michigan, and Pennsylvania have of historically been hard-fought battleground states. While not a battleground state in 2008 or 2004, its earlier history often labeled it a swing state - Republicans may have visions of once more making it competitive - or someone slipped up and substituted it for the glaringly missing battleground of Florida.

But more than half of the states, representing more than half of all Americans, are not on their list. That includes all of the 12 states that have gone Democratic in every election since 1992 and that were won by at least 10% by Al Gore in 2000 or John Kerry in 2004. Their list also doesn't include any of the safest Republican strongholds, like the 13 states that the GOP has carried since 1980. (See Neal Suidan's related blog.)

Both parties, and all candidates, place overwhelming emphasis and resources on the few swing states in order to win precious electoral votes. This is due to one simple reason: the current system of electoral vote allocation based on state popular votes.

If enough states adopt the National Popular Vote system, the inequities of presidential candidate attention would be eliminated. Each candidate would need to campaign in all states, as individual votes would matter no matter where they are cast . The entire country would be a battleground.