Fairvote.org is currently undergoing an upgrade, and some features may not be working as usual. We apologize for any inconvenience, and expect to be back at full capacity soon.

Presidential Tracker: New Evidence of our Shrinking Battleground

by Hüseyin Koyuncu, Katie P. Kelly, Presidential Tracker // Published January 30, 2012
Obama waving from plane

Since FairVote's last presidential tracker update in December, President Barack Obama's travels have followed the standard rule of prioritizing the swing states. Indeed, just like his predecessor George Bush as he prepared for re-election, the president's destinations and the nature of his visits followed the same trends that we've seen in the past: battlegrounds and fundraising.

According to the Washington Post's POTUS Tracker, since the first of December, Barack Obama has officially visited 11 states and held a total of 17 events, excluding his personal trip to Hawaii over the holidays. Of the 12 most likely battleground states for the 2012 election, the President visited eight of them in the past 2 months alone.

As indicated in the chart below, events in the New Year are similarly shaping up to be a complimentary mixture of fundraising and swing state public events. During his trips to New York and Illinois, both typically strong blue states, the President held a total of seven events, all of which were for fundraising. And, battlegrounds are gaining momentum, as expected. Last week, the president completed a 3-day battleground tour to Nevada, Colorado, Iowa, and Michigan, with an additional visit to one state that is unlikely to be a real battleground: Arizona.

This is what his 2012 is shaping up like so far:

    States

 Type of Event(s)

 No. of Events

State Status

   Ohio

  Public & Private

    2

Battleground

   Illinois

  Fundraising

    3

Safe Democrat

   Florida

  Public

    1

Battleground

   New York

  Fundraising

    4

Safe Democrat

   Iowa

  Public

    1

Battleground

   Arizona

  Public

    1

Leaning Republican

   Nevada

  Public

    1

Battleground

  Colorado

  Public

    1

Battleground

   Michigan

   Public

    1

Battleground

As discussed in previous tracker updates, visits to these so-called "battleground" states (and safe states for fundraising) meet a strategic need in a candidates bid to get elected to the office of the president. Typically, the President takes a public tour or delivers remarks in battleground states. Yet, it is also common to travel frequently to certain safe states that can lend a helping hand in the fundraising department. President Obama regularly held events in New York and California over the past year - both of which top the list for most events held in 2011 and are famous for many big campaign donors.

This focus on swing states is a direct result of the winner-take-all system of our Electoral College. Once the nomination is decided - which it effectively is for Obama, as he avoided a primary challenger - presidential candidates have every incentive to focus all of their campaign-related attention on a dwindling number of swing states. This leads to many being excluded from the national conversation. Indeed, there is no real need for the President to be concerned with "safe states" under such a system (other than for fundraising purposes). It is the incentives created by the system.

When Obama had different incentives, he campaigned differently, of course. In his hard-fought race for the Democratic nomination in 2008, he visited nearly every state. But in his three years as president, he still has yet to travel to nine states - a direct result of our indefensible way of electing presidents.

To wrap up the past year, in 2011, 61% of the country received 100% of the attention and event visits from the president, but more than half of those states are considered "battleground". Although fundraising in safely democratic states was high on the agenda during the past year - a combined 52 events - public events in battleground states totaled a hefty 49. 

As you can see from the map below, 20 states in total never had one event in all of 2011-including the nine that have never received a visit since he took office in 2009. 15 other states across the nation still had three or fewer visits. Iowa, New Hampshire and Minnesota are the only "battleground" states to have less than four events in 2011. In fact, of the 12 battlegrounds for this election, 11 of them each had three or more events in the past year.

Data on President Barack Obama's travels is obtained from the Washington Post's POTUS Tracker

2011 Year-end Summary