Contact: Laura Kirshner, Presidential Election Reform Program
October 22, 2008 (301) 270-4616 [email protected]
*(Note: Information in this report is based on data from The Washington Post's 2008 Campaign Tracker. Visits and fundraisers documented in alternative news sources may not be included. As one example, Sen. Joe Biden's recent visit to Washington state was not included in the Washington Post data, so that visit is not included in our tracker. Any portion of a day spent in a state constitutes a visit to that state. Multiple events held in one state on the same day are considered a single visit. Consecutive days spent in a single state are considered multiple visits. Fundraisers, scheduled debates, and visits to candidates’ home states are excluded from the data in this report. Source: http://projects.washingtonpost.com/2008-presidential-candidates/tracker/)
[See our full Presidential Campaign series]
Because of the current Electoral College system, candidates generally ignore voters in states that show solid support for one candidate or the other. Because California is a given for Sen. Barack Obama, his campaign has no need to spend more time or money there, while Mississippi leans too far towards Republicans to be worth his time. Sen. John McCain campaign’s strategy is no different: it ignores McCain supporters in states like Utah and does not spare even a single visit or local ad to try to sway voters in firmly Democratic states like Massachusetts. Following is a review of the states drawing visits from major party candidates for president and vice-president in the past week.
State Campaign Visits (Oct. 22-28) Total Visits (Sept. 5 – Oct. 28)
Pennsylvania 7 23
Ohio 6 26
Virginia 5 18
Florida 4 22
North Carolina 4 11
Colorado 3 14
New Mexico 2 7
Iowa 2 6
Indiana 2 5
New Hampshire 1 8
Nevada 1 6
West Virginia 1 1
Missouri 1 12
Comprising only 19% of the U.S. population, the five leading states account for 52% of all campaign visits. Furthermore, 95% of all campaign visits have been to 14 states, 99% of visits to 17 states and 100% of visits are to only 19 states. The only consolation is that, likely due to Sen. Obama’s steady lead in recent weeks, the candidates are not quite as focused in their campaign activity as they were in 2004, when the five most-visited states received 74% of all campaign visits during the peak season of campaign.
According to the Washington Post data, a total of 31 states have not earned even a single visit from the candidates and their running mates. The unlucky 31 states vary in just about every quality, including size and region. The one thing that they all have in common is that they are all either Republican or Democratic “safe” states. Small states and large state fall into this category, as do states from every region of the U.S., from the Northeast to the Southwest.
Small States Largely Ignored
Opponents of a national popular vote for president have argued that the Electoral College protects the interests of voters in small states because it gives every state at least three electoral votes, regardless of state population. As a result of this rule, small states do have a higher number of electoral votes per capita, but other measures of potential voter influence demonstrate that they carry less “swing vote” power even when competitive. Consider that the 12 states and the District of Columbia with three or four electoral votes have a population comparable to Ohio, but have drawn a total of 16 visits (including five visits by Sen. Joe Biden and Governor Sarah Palin to their home states, fundraisers, and scheduled debates) while Ohio has drawn 26 visits. Distortions in ad spending are even starker.
Following are the top ten states receiving the most campaign visits since the conventions:
State # of Visits State # of Visits
1. Ohio 26 6. Michigan 12
2. Pennsylvania 23 7. Missouri 12
3. Florida 22 8. New York 12
4. Virginia 18 9. Wisconsin 11
5. Colorado 14 10. North Carolina 11
The Electoral College mode of electing our President has measurable consequences on fairness. 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. In addition, the campaigns pour millions of dollars into swing states to fund travel, events, field offices, local ad airtime, and countless robo-calls, among other things. Since the beginning of last year, Barack Obama has spent over $31 million in Pennsylvania, over $20 million in Ohio, and over $23 million in Florida. Similarly, John McCain has spent over $39 million in those three states.
[See FairVote’s Presidential Ad Spending tracker]
FairVote has posted its full candidate trackers at http://fairvote.org/tracker where visitors also can download a copy of Presidential Elections Inequality. We will continue to collect data on campaign visits until Election Day. We plan to release an updated version of our Presidential Elections Inequality report soon after the election that 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 backers.
FairVote (www.fairvote.org) is a non-profit, non-partisan organization that studies the impact of electoral rules and systems on turnout, representation and electoral competition.