The Swing Voter in American Politics

The Swing Voter in American Politics

WILLIAM G. MAYER editor
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 151
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7864/j.ctt6wpdsm
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  • Book Info
    The Swing Voter in American Politics
    Book Description:

    The "swing voter" occupies a cherished place in American political lore. Candidates court swing voters, consultants target them, and pundits speculate constantly on which way they will lean. But nobody has adequately defined them as a group. What exactly is a swing voter? No one really seems to know. The Swing Voter in American Politics fills this conceptual gap. The book brings political scientists and pollsters together to answer four basic questions: What is a swing voter? How can analysts use survey data to identify swing voters? How do swing voters differ -if at all -from the rest of the electorate? And what role do swing voters play in determining the outcomes of contemporary elections? Drawing on a wide range of sources, including American National Election Studies Data, Gallup polls, Pew Center surveys, and the National Annenberg Election Survey, the contributors track swing voters across six decades and in national and local elections. The result is an unprecedented picture of this key political group, just in time for the 2008 campaigns. Contributors include James E. Campbell (University of Buffalo), April Clark (Pew Research Center for the People & the Press), Adam Clymer (Annenberg Public Policy Center, University of Pennsylvania), Michael Dimock (Pew Research Center for the People & the Press), Juliana Menasce Horowitz (Pew Research Center for the People & the Press), Jeffrey M. Jones (Gallup Organization), Daron R. Shaw (University of Texas-Austin), Jeffrey M. Stonecash (Syracuse University), Ken Winneg (Annenberg Public Policy Center, University of Pennsylvania).

    eISBN: 978-0-8157-5532-6
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. one What Exactly Is a Swing Voter? Definition and Measurement
    (pp. 1-31)
    William G. Mayer

    When journalists, commentators, and political strategists talk about elections, few terms come up more frequently thanswing voter. Every election cycle, there are literally hundreds of articles that speculate or make confident assertions about who the swing voters are, what they want, what the campaigns are or should be doing to attract them, and how they will finally cast their ballots. For all its popularity among reporters and practitioners, however, the concept of the swing voter has been almost entirely ignored by academic analysts of voting and elections. As far as I can determine, there is not a single journal...

  5. two Swing Voters in the Gallup Poll, 1944 to 2004
    (pp. 32-57)
    Jeffrey M. Jones

    George Gallup was a pioneer in the field of public opinion research. He made his reputation by using a probability-based sample of the American public to correctly predict that Franklin Roosevelt would win the 1936 election. Gallup met the challenge he issued to theLiterary Digestpoll, which had to that point gained wide acclaim for its massive though non-probability-based samples, with which it had correctly called the 1916 through 1932 elections. TheLiterary Digestpoll incorrectly predicted that Alf Landon would win in 1936 by a landslide. Gallup’s success in 1936 paved the way for modern polling.

    Not only...

  6. three Campaign Dynamics and the Swing Vote in the 2004 Election
    (pp. 58-74)
    Michael Dimock, April Clark and Juliana Menasce Horowitz

    On November 2, 2004, over 122 million voters—60.3 percent of the American adult population—cast ballots for president after a long and tightly contested campaign.¹ How much that campaign mattered, however, depends on which voters one looks at. A nationwide survey conducted in the days after the election found that 61 percent of voters said they had made up their minds about whom to vote for before the parties had even held their nominating conventions in the summer, and well before the campaigns began in earnest.² Who, then, is the target of all the advertising, campaign speeches, organized debates,...

  7. four Swing Voting and U.S. Presidential Elections
    (pp. 75-101)
    Daron R. Shaw

    As American national elections have become more competitive, political consultants and the news media have shifted their attention away from reliable partisans and toward voters whose preferences might be influenced by the campaign. As a result, every election since 1990 has seen one or more groups proffered up as a “swing” group whose vote decision will determine the election. Reagan Democrats, Latinos, soccer moms, NASCAR dads, Catholics, and rural voters have all had their day in the sun. Similarly, small groups of swing voters are interviewed and probed on national television by consultants such as Frank Luntz or reporters such...

  8. five Swing Voters in Subnational Campaigns
    (pp. 102-111)
    Jeffrey M. Stonecash

    This chapter takes up a question raised by William Mayer in chapter 1: Does the concept of a swing voter apply to nonpresidential elections? As the reader may already have noticed, all of the data and analyses in chapters 1, 2, 3, and 4 are based on presidential elections; the same is true of chapters 6 and 7. In focusing on presidential elections, these authors are faithfully reflecting popular usage of the termswing voter. For example, all of the media stories about swing voters that Mayer cites in his chapter are stories about the presidential campaign.¹

    Yet as interesting...

  9. six Swing Voters? Hah! The Not Very ʺPersuadablesʺ and the Not Really ʺUndecidedsʺ in 2004
    (pp. 112-117)
    Adam Clymer and Ken Winneg

    Rarely if ever has the adage about “dancing with them that brung you” made more sense than in 2004. When the Bush and Kerry campaigns put most of their efforts into playing to their base voters, rather than trying to convert the uncommitted or the weak supporters of the other candidate, they knew what they were doing.

    And when pollsters like us kept looking for something that would change an election that looked close all the way, we were—like stereotypical old generals—fighting a past war. This was not the traditional model, where candidates win nominations by playing to...

  10. seven Do Swing Voters Swing Elections?
    (pp. 118-132)
    James E. Campbell

    American presidential electoral politics are shaped to a great degree by two qualities: their competitiveness and their partisanship. American presidential politics are about as competitive as politics get. Even landslide presidential elections rarely reach a 60-40 split of the two-party vote, and most presidential elections are decided in the 55-to-45-percent range. American politics in general are also very partisan, and they have become more so in recent decades. Among those survey respondents who said that they voted (reported voters) in the 2004 election, about 40 percent identified strongly with either the Democratic or Republican parties and another 55 percent indicated...

  11. eight Conclusion: The State of the Discussion
    (pp. 133-142)
    William G. Mayer and Ruy Teixeira

    The first word on a subject is never the last word. The conference on swing voters that took place at Northeastern University in mid-2006 was not organized with the intention of achieving or imposing an early and premature consensus. On the contrary, we deliberately tried to invite a diverse array of participants, united only by the fact that they had done research (or, in some cases, could be persuaded to do research) on swing voters. In this final chapter, then, we want to sum up the state of the discussion: What things do the contributors to this volume appear to...

  12. Contributors
    (pp. 143-144)
  13. Index
    (pp. 145-152)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 153-153)