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Presidential Tracker: Looking at the Structure

by Katie P. Kelly, Presidential Tracker // Published December 1, 2011
elephant vs donkey boxing

I update our ongoing report on President Barack Obama's travels on our POTUS tracker on a near-daily basis. Since my last presidential tracker analysis update on October 14th, the President has travelled to 10 states and held 41 separate events.

Over these past six weeks, a battleground state had a 50% chance of a visit, whereas a non-battleground had a 8% chance of a visit. In other words, of the 10 states that President Obama has travelled to since mid-October, seven of them are considered one of the 12 battlegrounds for the 2012 election and only three are among the 38  "non-battleground" states. 

White House attention to the states that matter in the 2012 elections has been noticed. This week the Wall Street Journal reported that President Obama's visit to Scranton, Pennsylvania on Wednesday marked the 56th event (according to their tally) in a battleground state since the beginning of this year.  This means that President Obama has surpassed both Clinton and Bush with official event visits to battleground states in the year before re-election.

The WSJ also reports that critics accuse the President of "intertwining campaigning and governing." But of course, as the Journal's story shows, this is nothing new - and only to be expected when you have electoral rules that make some voters so much more important than others.

Indeed, why are people critiquing the number of events in battleground states when we should be critiquing the fact that the events are in so-called battleground states in the first place? It is the rules of the current system that make this pattern of travel so likely.

And why aren't we asking what could happen in our country's Electoral College landscape that would lead to the problem becoming even more pronounced?

What FairVote's analysis shows clearly is that in every new presidential election over the past 20 years, the partisan divide in this country has been stronger  and the number of swing states, which traditionally garner all candidate attention, diminish. Because of these trends, general election candidates are forced to focus on only those "important" states that they have a potential of winning (should they campaign enough!) - hence the term, "battleground."

As discussed in my blog post earlier this fall on former U.S. Senator Arlen Specter's blunt statements about the value of being a battleground, this distinction inevitably affects White House attention. You can see it in the image below (as posted in the WSJ), Clinton, Bush, and Obama each gave significant attention to battleground states.

 

 

It should not be surprising that an electoral system that produces inequality in votes will produce inequality in attention. It should also not be surprising that visits to these battleground states by presidents and candidates have been increasing with each election. The structural system encourages it, political consultants promote it, and the emotional, partisan inferno that divides our country politically makes it a necessity.

Tracking the president's events and visits doesn't produce surprises considering the electoral system under which he operates, but it does provide insight into the inadequacies of our current structure -- affirming that the rules have a direct correlation on the outcomes.

A note on methodology: Our tracking data is based on the Washington Post POTUS Tracker, from which we gather information daily.  We categorize each specific event according to its purpose, therefore reflecting some difference in event numbers compared to the WSJ.

Download the NPV flyer that was made using the WSJ image! "Unless you live in one of a few states, your voice and vote just don't matter."

Below is a snapshot of each type of event in the 12 highlighted battleground states for the 2012 election year:

 

Battleground Events since January 2011

 

Public

Private

Fundraiser

Total Events

Colorado

2

0

2

4

Florida

4

0

7

11

Iowa

3

0

0

3

Michigan

4

1

0

5

Minnesota

3

0

0

3

Nevada

1

2

1

4

New Hampshire

1

0

0

1

North Carolina

6

1

0

7

Ohio

4

0

0

4

Pennsylvania

7

1

2

10

Virginia

10

0

0

10

Wisconsin

3

0

0

3

Total Events

48

5

12

65