Swing State Voters Rule: Why Every Vote Doesn’t Count the Same

Think about Election Day! Voters of all different ages, ethnicities, religions, and incomes come together to voice their opinions. So, regardless of differences people might have, everyone has equal say, right? Actually, no.

Not every vote is created equally, and the greatest factor on how much your vote truly matters is simply where you live.

In reality, swing states have a lot more say in who becomes America’s next president than states that reliably vote blue or red, year in and year out.

Hamline University Professor of Political Science Dalton Shaultz says, “There are only about 10 swing states – states that could flip between a Republican or Democratic presidential candidate – that really determine the outcome of the election in terms of getting a candidate to 270 electoral votes.”

What about the rest of us? Shaultz says, “In 40 states, Democrats or Republicans can get enough votes that there is no realistic chance the opposing party can win that state’s electoral votes.”

That means that in those consistently red or blue states, voters literally have less influence than voters in swing states. Adam McCann of WalletHub, a personal finance company, shows this by factoring in win probabilities from fivethirtyeight.com and electors per adult population for each state. His work demonstrates the sometimes vast difference in impact between voters in swing states in presidential elections and those in ‘spectator states.’

For example, McCann calculated a vote in Ohio (a swing state) has 107 times the weight of a vote in California (a Democratic spectator state). And, a voter in Florida (a swing state) has 40 times more juice than one in Oklahoma (a Republican spectator state).

So, it’s no wonder both Trump and Biden spent so much of their campaign budgets and time in the battleground swing states; voters in these states are more consequential than voters in others.

Saul Anuzis, President of the 60 Plus Association, a conservative advocacy group for seniors, says, “We don’t so much elect the President of the United States as we do the president of the battleground states.”

What really highlights this reality of differing voter influences is that, since 1992, Republicans have won the White House three times — and twice did so while losing the popular vote. George W. Bush in 2000 and Donald Trump in 2016 both won the Presidency in the Electoral College in part by capturing key swing states by very narrow margins.

This may help explain the finding from our NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll from December 2019: 73% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents said it was a “good idea” to get rid of the Electoral College. Conversely 78% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents said that was a “bad idea”.

But, getting rid of the Electoral College is no easy task. NPR’s Miles Parks maps out the steps to make this happen: “Fully overhauling the way the president is selected would take a Constitutional amendment, which would require the votes of two-thirds of the U.S. House of Representatives, two-thirds of the Senate, and three-fourths of the states”.

And what are the odds of those things happening in this political era?

This post was written by Marist Poll “College 2 Career” intern Thomas Muratore.