Newspaper article

Electorate's Portion of 'Swing Voters' Reaches a New Low

Newspaper article

Electorate's Portion of 'Swing Voters' Reaches a New Low

Article excerpt

Writing for the Washington Post's Monkey Cage blog, political scientist John Sides highlights a finding about recent trends in voter participation that seemed both surprising and obvious when I read it. And it's possibly a big deal. It's this:

The portion of the electorate that can be classified as true "swing voters" has reached a new low and is possibly still falling.

A true swing voter (although the research on which Sides relies calls them "floating voters") turns out to vote in every presidential election but often switches from one party to the other. As recently as 1968, about 15 percent of regular voters voted for a candidate of the opposite party from the one they voted for in 1964. Over the last two elections, just 5 percent of voters switched parties in their presidential vote.

The likely reason for this decline seems obvious to me, and Sides alludes to it. The two major parties nowadays actually stand for something clearer than they used to, and are further apart from one another. Presumably, more voters have developed a core ideological feeling that makes it obvious for whom they will vote.

If this pattern continues and strengthens, it will change campaign strategies and the way outcomes are determined. When there were a lot of relatively moderate swing voters who were likely to determine the outcome of a presidential race, it incentivized the candidates, once they had wrapped up their own parties' nominations, to move closer to the ideological middle in hopes of winning the lion's share of those swing voters.

If there are fewer swing voters, candidates may focus more on ideological purity in hopes of firing up the party base for a big turnout.

New normal?

If the decrease in swing voting is the new normal (and I think it probably is), it strikes me as both healthy and dangerous. The healthy part is that candidates and parties can actually stand for something. …

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