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Election 2012: The Power of the Swing State

One of 12 states could determine the winner of the 2012 presidential election

By Jacob Schroeder | October 22 , 2012

With the 2012 presidential election approaching, focus has again turned to swing states.

Some states are considered safe for one candidate or the other. For example, most people agree that President Barack Obama will win California and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney will win Texas. But there are some states — called swing states — across the country that could go either way.

"A swing state is a state that is electorally competitive," says Gary Malecha, a political science professor and the Chair of the Department of Political Science at the University of Portland. "It is a state where the parties are very evenly matched when it comes to voting for their candidates."

There are about a dozen swing states that can determine the winner of the 2012 presidential election. Also known as battleground states, swing states this year include Colorado, Florida, Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Wisconsin, New Mexico, North Carolina, and Michigan.

"Swing states are really where the election will be decided," Malecha says. "In the upcoming election, these states will receive most of the attention from the candidates. They will spend a lot of time there and that will increase as we move to the final weeks of the campaign."

As a result, both parties will spend more money in these states as well.

You might be wondering, why are these states so important? It comes down to what's called the Electoral College. The Electoral College is actually how Presidents are elected. Each state has a unique number of electoral votes, based on how large its population is. So California, which has a very large population, has 55 electoral votes. But North Dakota, which has fewer people, only has three electoral votes. In order to be elected President, a candidate must win at least 270 electoral votes.

This all might sound weird. Here's how it works: States vote, just like individual citizens. But states vote based on how their citizens vote. So let's say you live in Florida. If the majority of voters in Florida vote for Candidate A, then Candidate A wins that state, which means the state commits its electoral votes — or votes for — Candidate A.

So with swing states, the candidates are really battling for those states' electoral votes. And the swing states with the most electoral votes — like Florida, Ohio, and Colorado — are where Obama and Romney are focusing most of their attention.

"A presidential candidate will tailor his campaign to get the greatest number of Electoral College votes," says Greg Leo, Chief of Staff of the Oregon Republican Party. "They will focus on swing states where they will do the most good." Since this is a vital stage of the election, both parties are expected to campaign heavily in these undecided states.

Winning swing states is extremely important for the presidential candidates, but it is also invaluable to the voters inhabiting these states. "Each individual vote counts," says Leo. "Swing states can be decided by only a few votes, so everybody matters."

Read more about the swing states that could determine the winner of the 2012 presidential election in the 2012 Swing States Special Report.


Scholastic News Kid Reporters are on the campaign trail! Keep up with latest election news on the Election 2012 website.


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About the Author

Jacob Schroeder is a member of the Scholastic Kids Press Corps,

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