Skip to main content

What Is a Swing State? Why Independent Voters Rule

Swing states are the states that are likely to determine the results of the 2012 election.

What is meant by a swing state? A swing state is a state that is almost evenly divided between how many voters usually vote Republican and how many voters usually vote Democrat.

People who do not vote, or more importantly, people who are not even registered to vote, are not usually considered in making the determination of whether or not a state is considered a swing state. To put it bluntly, if you do not vote, you do not count.

Why does it matter if the electorate (voters) is almost evenly divided between Conservative and Liberal -- Republican and Democrat, in a state? It matters because the vote will be so close to 50/50, that the outcome is subject to how well either candidate is able to sway the Independent voters in that state.

That is correct. The Independent voters are the voters who the candidates will be wooing in the swing states, because they do not vote for the same Party in every election. Both candidates will be doing their best to determine who is an Independent (no party preference or affiliation) and they will be going after that person’s vote more than any other.

Swing Map 2016  The Swing map for 2016 has not changed from four years ago. The Swing map for 2016 has not changed from four years ago.

Independent Voters Rule In a Swing State

It is the Independent voters in swing states who will decide which presidential candidate will win the election in their state. Independents are voters who are not loyal to either the Republican or the Democratic Party. Their votes can, and do often change parties from one election to another.

There are very few truly Independent voters. Only a few hundred voters can make the difference in a swing state with a huge overall population and determine the outcome of the presidential election in that state.

It becomes a matter of candidates convincing the Independent voters in a swing state that they have the best plan for running our country. Candidates unwaveringly seek out Independent voters and try to persuade them to their own views in a swing state, because they know these are the people who will decide who gets all of that state’s electoral votes.

A true Independent does not make a habit of voting for either political party on a regular basis. If you are a person who mostly votes for Republicans, then you are a Republican whether or not you are a card-carrying member of the Republican Party. Likewise if you mostly vote Democratic, you are for all intents and purposes a Democrat.

Republican and Democratic Stronghold States

With many states where the majority of the electorate is clearly Conservative or clearly liberal, it is relatively easy to determine which candidate will win that state’s electoral votes. There could be a surprise upset, but it does not happen very often.

Pollsters will be working their hardest in the swing states prior to the election in an effort to determine as best possible which way that state is likely to lean. However, the “science,” if you can call it science, is a long way from perfect in most cases, and they may just have to wait until all the votes are counted – which is not always so easy either! Remember the hand counting of ballots and the hanging chads in Florida a few years ago?

If you ever wonder why Democratic candidates all but never visit Texas to campaign here, it is because Texas is approximately 67% Conservative, give or take a little. Candidates will not waste their limited time and money on a state that is not likely to go their way.

By the same token, Republicans all but never visit Massachusetts, because it is generally considered a waste of their limited time and money to do so. Sometimes California receives a visit from a Republican candidate, but it is not at the top of their list of places to spend their campaign funds.

It is also true, that candidates spend very little time in states where they expect to have a slam-dunk. That is because there is no need to persuade voters to their viewpoint because the majority of voters are loyal to their party already. Romney is not likely to spend a lot of time in Texas, since Texas is already in his corner. Obama is not likely to spend much time in Massachusetts, because that state is already in his corner.

Candidates may make a couple of quick stops in states where they are already the favorite candidate in order to shore up the votes and prevent their ‘base’ from feeling neglected and unappreciated, but most of their time, candidates will be in the swing states.

A candidates “base” is the block of voters that always vote for the party he is representing. The majority of Texas voters always vote Republican, so Romney is counting on, and expecting the majority of Texas voters to vote for him.

The final overall vote tally in ‘red’ or ‘blue’ states, believe it or not, is usually pretty predictable -- but not so in swing states. Swing states are where both candidates are likely to spend most of their time and money hoping to sway that 1-3% of voters, mostly Independents, in that state who will determine the outcome of the election in that state. If you live in a swing state, prepare yourself for nonstop television and radio political advertisements, as the election gets closer.

With a 50/50 division, or very nearly so, between Republicans and Democrats, the results could go either way. Just 1% of the vote could determine the outcome of the election in that state. In other words, the results of the vote could swing in favor of Obama, or it could swing in favor of Romney, and will most likely by a very slim margin either way it ends up going.

As few as 500 votes, out of all the millions cast, could determine the outcome in a swing state! Who said a single vote does not matter? In a swing state, every vote matters.

Scroll to Continue

Statisticians or Political Analysts

Both candidates and all of the major television networks, and others who want to know the second an outcome is known in the election, will have what boils down to statisticians on their payroll.

Statisticians, or political analysts, are people who work with statistics and make “scientific” predictions based on the numbers from exit polls, recent surveys of registered voters, and voter turnout, as to who is likely to win particular states. Most of their efforts in this endeavor are obviously focused on swing states.

Depending on phone surveys just prior to the election, voter turnout, and exit polls, political analysts will often know who has won the election long before people on our West Coast finish voting. The election will reach a point when a few thousand, or even a few hundred thousand votes, will make no difference in the outcome.

Out of courtesy, most of the networks will keep it to themselves until all the polls are closed out west. While they are waiting to inform the public, they will all consult with each other to make sure they have all determined the same outcome in order to avoid announcing the wrong outcome. That is because the vast majority of votes already cast have reached a total so huge that the small percentage of votes still not cast cannot make any difference even if all of them voted for one candidate.

States in yellow are considered swing states again in 2016.  States outlined in red are expected to go Republican - states outlined in blue are expected to go Democratic, in the November 2016 presidential election.  NE should be red.

States in yellow are considered swing states again in 2016. States outlined in red are expected to go Republican - states outlined in blue are expected to go Democratic, in the November 2016 presidential election. NE should be red.

There are 10 states considered to be Swing States in the 2012 Election – This list may change as the Election gets closer

In alphabetical order:





New Hampshire

North Carolina





The swing state of Ohio has been in the winning circle for the last 6 elections. It has become the must win state for presidential candidates, especially Republican candidates. President Obama carried Ohio in the last election. It may be interesting to see what happens this year. It is still early and a lot of things could change before Election Day in November. However, most political analysts will tell you, the way Ohio goes, so goes the country.

This video explains the dynamics of swing states but the states used for demonstration are not necessarily swing states in 2016

© 2012 C E Clark


C E Clark (author) from North Texas on June 12, 2018:

Peggy Woods, thank you for commenting on this article. I am a political junkie and keep up pretty well with all that is going on. With this fiasco in the White House, it isn't easy to keep up with 3-4 disasters happening daily. There are 19 indictments last I counted and there will be more.

I don't have a lot of faith in all the postering of the last couple of days either. N. Korea's Kim lies as often and well as our president, so you might think they would work well together, but I think Chairman Kim has even more reason to lie now that he's been given all he wants just for showing up.

I really hope something good comes out of it and would be thrilled to credit Trump if it does, but I don't believe Trump will do any better than his predecessors, and all have had agreements with N. Korea back to Jimmy Carter. N. Korea ignored the agreements they made with all of those former presidents. Something tells me Kim will take even more satisfaction in defying Trump than he and his father did with all the others.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on June 09, 2018:

The swing states certainly made a difference in the last U.S. Presidential election. We are now finding out that Russia purposely targeted them on purpose to effect the outcome that they desired. Many indictments have already been issued. Stay tuned for more to come!

C E Clark (author) from North Texas on August 11, 2016:

Colorfulone, thank you for commenting on this article, and for sharing it. Yes it is especially important during a presidential election. Another article I have written that is even more important during a presidential election is this one:

How Does the Electoral College Work? Which States Have the Most Electoral Votes? How Electors Are Chosen

Susie Lehto from Minnesota on August 03, 2016:

This is very an informative hub, as usual. Since it is an election year, people need to see this if they do not understand what a swing state is, and get involved. Shared!

C E Clark (author) from North Texas on May 09, 2016:

Paul Kuehn, thank you for sharing this article again. I updated this article in February and the swing states have not changed. It takes a long time for that sort of thing to change.

Texas is expected to turn purple sometime in the next 5-10 years. Some people are saying it already is, but I'm leary of that. Purple is of course the color of a swing state, about half red and half blue. Demographics don't change quickly as a rule.

Texas is expected to be blue in 20 years or so because our Hispanic population is growing by leaps and bounds. Currently it's at about 48-49%.

Paul Richard Kuehn from Udorn City, Thailand on May 05, 2016:

It is only fitting that I revisit this excellent hub in this 2016 election year. Now that Donald Trump is the presumptive GOP Presidential nominee, it will be interesting to see which are the swing states in 2016. I am sharing this hub with HP followers and on Facebook.

C E Clark (author) from North Texas on March 02, 2016:

Kathleen Cochran, thank you for reading this article and for sharing your thoughts!

C E Clark (author) from North Texas on March 01, 2016:

Paul Kuehn, thank you for reading and commenting on this article, also for sharing, etc. What I've read recently suggests WI would become a blue state if it weren't purple. I don't know many Dems in WI, so I'm not so sure it would be blue. For now, it's still firmly in the swing state column. Thanks again for your thoughts!

Kathleen Cochran from Atlanta, Georgia on February 28, 2016:

I find it absolutely wonderful that in our country the folks who haven't already made up their mind based on their party loyalty are the folks who ultimately determine who becomes president. I only wish those folks could run for congress.

Paul Richard Kuehn from Udorn City, Thailand on February 27, 2016:

Au fait, Thank you for a very educational hub which certainly applies to the 2016 elections. I can certainly understand why Wisconsin has been a swing state considering that the vote is usually divided between the liberals in the bigger cities and the conservatives in the rural areas. It will be interesting to see what kind of agriculture policy the Republicans have before we list Wisconsin as a swing state again in 2016. I am sharing this with HP followers and on Facebook.

C E Clark (author) from North Texas on March 10, 2015:

Peggy W., thank you for your observation and for the share and G+. So long as there is an Electoral College there will be swing states.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on March 08, 2015:

Things are already heating up in Iowa and other swing states with some of the hopeful presidential candidates already testing the waters and trying to connect with voters as well as raise money to fund their runs for office. This is a good evergreen hub! Will share once again and G+ it as well.

C E Clark (author) from North Texas on July 17, 2014:

Thank you Peggy W for pinning and sharing this article! Yes, some votes are more valuable than others and if people know that maybe they will be more inclined to get to the polls.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on July 15, 2014:

People living in the U.S. should really understand this and know why their votes count. Will share this again and this time pin it to Awesome Hubpages.

C E Clark (author) from North Texas on June 04, 2014:

Peggy W, thank you for tweeting and pinning this article!

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on May 30, 2014:

This good hub of yours should be getting more attention. Going to give it a tweet and also pin it to the Awesome HubPages board.

C E Clark (author) from North Texas on January 02, 2014:

Thank you Deborah-Diane for sharing your thoughts on this article. It's true that if people don't understand how the election process works, change is not likely to happen. If one continues to do the same thing and expect different results . . . It really is important to know how things work in order to use them to one's own benefit. Politicians and political parties do that all the time -- use the process and the ignorance (meaning uninformed, not stupid) of voters to their own benefit.

For some reason, voters only see the surface of the process and don't bother to dig down into it. Nothing is as it appears, but most people can't be convinced of that and so they continue to go by what is obvious or what seems logical. Politics, like the law, is not always logical. One can't solve a problem if they don't fully understand what the problem is and if they don't understand the process for making changes.

Deborah-Diane from Orange County, California on December 31, 2013:

Now that the election process is about to kick off again, I plan to share your articles from time to time. People need to know this information so they understand the election process better. We're about to have one of those crazy years again!

C E Clark (author) from North Texas on October 06, 2013:

Thank you Deborah-Diane for sharing this article!

Deborah-Diane from Orange County, California on September 29, 2013:

Since next year is a mid-term election year, I thought I would share this again so people can understand what is going to be happening during the election. I will probably share it again next summer, a couple of months before the election. I have always believed that it is important to have an educated electorate.

C E Clark (author) from North Texas on August 05, 2013:

Thank you Deborah-Diane for reading and commenting on this hub and especially for sharing.

Swing states have their most importance in presidential elections because of the Electoral College process of electing the president. Independent voters in swing states are the people who actually elect the president. You have to understand how the Electoral College works to understand why swing states matter and why your vote may not count if you don't live in a swing state.

If you live in a Red or Blue state (not a swing state also called Purple states) being an Independent voter is meaningless to candidates. My state Texas is a Red state and there's no reason for any presidential candidate to come here to campaign. Generally they don't waste their time or their money which is precious because it must get them through an entire presidential campaign that seems to get longer every time.

This state is going Republican no matter what and by a wide margin. For every 30 Democratic votes there are 3 Independent votes and 67 Republican votes, generally speaking. That has been the division of votes for at least 20 years and won't change overnight. Democratic votes and Independent votes in this state are a waste of time. They have no chance.

No candidate is going to worry about what Independent voters in Texas think or how they will vote or if they will vote. That's because their votes will be drowned along with the more numerous Democratic votes among the Republican votes because their margin is so huge.

Since Texas's going for the Republican candidate is a forgone conclusion, there is no reason to spend precious campaign funds or time trying to convince people in TX to vote for them. The Republicans already have the Texas Electoral votes in the presidential election. It's a forgone conclusion for many years to come that Republicans will win the presidential race in Texas.

However, as our Hispanic population grows, Texas could become a Purple state (a swing state) within the next 10-15 years. Hispanics and African Americans tend to vote Democratic. For now however, the Republicans have Texas all sewn up just like the Democrats have New York state all sewn up.

As far as statewide elections, it's really gerrymandering that will make the difference. People who don't understand why the same people get elected every time need to understand gerrymandering. The Electoral College plays no part in statewide elections and so being a swing state in statewide elections is irrelevant. Independent voters might make a difference, but it really depends on the district lines (gerrymandering).

Here in Texas, statewide elections give Republicans an even wider margin than the presidential elections do. Here, Republicans usually win state elections with a margin of 80-90% or more. A non-Republican candidate has a very slim chance, and in at least 2/3 of districts has no chance in TX.

Deborah-Diane from Orange County, California on August 03, 2013:

This is very interesting because, believe it or not, in only seven or eight more months we will be in full swing with the mid-term Congressional races, as well as lots of state and local elections. As a registered independent, I vote Republican in some elections (since I live in very Republican Orange County, California) and I vote Democratic in other elections (since I live in the very Democratic state of California). Every candidate gets my full attention based on their overall policies, as well as ethical and moral standards, rather than their political party. I love being an independent! I feel that candidates can never take my vote for granted!! Americans need to know more about the electoral process if they want their votes to matter. This will be shared! :)

C E Clark (author) from North Texas on June 16, 2013:

Thank you Peggy W for pinning this hub! Agree with what you say.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on June 16, 2013:

Going to add this hub to my Pinterest board titled Do you know this? I am sure that many people do not realize the significance of swing states.

C E Clark (author) from North Texas on December 30, 2012:

Thank you Peggy W for reading, commenting, and especially for sharing this hub! You are so right. In some states the winner of the presidential race is a foregone conclusion -- not across the country, but in that particular state. Even when that is the case, it pays to go to the polls to vote for the local and statewide elections, referendums, and other measures being put before the voters.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on December 29, 2012:

Even though the results of the last election are over, people who do not understand the concept of swing states should find this interesting. Yes...every vote counts in swing states...but since there are other things on the ballots, like school board elections, judges, amendments (in some cases) and not just who is running for President or the legislature...people should always take their responsibility of citizenship seriously and go to the polls and vote. It is sad that so many people do not exercise that right. Up, useful, interesting and will share.

C E Clark (author) from North Texas on October 01, 2012:

Thank you for your comment Shyron. I think the best solution as I have said before, is to do away with the Electoral College because with our new technology it really isn't useful anymore. Every person's vote should count and with the Electoral College that isn't the case right now.

Shyron E Shenko from Texas on September 29, 2012:

I hope the independent voters who are part of the 47% Romney says he does not care about, will think long and hard about what he will do TO them, if he is elected, because he will not do anything FOR them. Or, the rest of the country who are not filthy rich to aide him in his DESIRE FOR POWER AND HIS LUST FOR MONEY.

C E Clark (author) from North Texas on September 26, 2012:

Thank you for stopping by John Merrill. Glad my map is helpful. Agree that things seem to be going Obama's way at the moment, but things can change quickly so everyone needs to save their over confidence or apathy -- which ever applies to them, for after the election.

John Merrill on September 25, 2012:

Your map seems to be correct with the exception of Nebraska. I read your explanation for that in the comments above.

Seems like Obama is sweeping the swing states right now.

It's still early enough that Romney could turn it around, but right now it seems like he's trying to lose and it's working.

Excellent information here and the map is just what I was looking for.


C E Clark (author) from North Texas on July 13, 2012:

Thank you again R2-D2-2, for your comments. I know and if it wasn't so much trouble to figure out a way to do it, I would print the map and see if I could change Nebraska to red, but I'm afraid I might make it purple or something instead, which is still incorrect.

You're right about the Electoral College. By electing our officials by popular vote only, it would also give candidates a good reason to try to impress everyone instead of just a few Independent voters.

R2-D2-2 from USA on July 12, 2012:

From everything I've read, all those states you painted yellow are expected to be swing states. I'm a little surprised like your other commenters that anybody thinks Nebraska is blue. A good explanation of a swing state for anyone who might not know. It's true that Independents in the swing states are the ones who actually decide who the pres will be. We need to go to a better way of electing our officials. Now days there's no reason for an Electoral College. We just need a more accurate, dependable way of counting the popular votes.

C E Clark (author) from North Texas on July 11, 2012:

It's pretty hard to counter a 67% margine (give or take a point). With a winner take all Electoral College, the chance that Democrats will prevail in Texas doesn't exist. With the Electoral College still making decisions, only the votes of Independents in swing states really matter. They make the decision for all intents and purposes.

There was a time when the Electoral College made sense, but today with technology like we have, there is no reason not to go to a popular vote system so that everyone's vote would matter.

Thank you Shyron, for reading and commenting!

C E Clark (author) from North Texas on July 10, 2012:

Thank you again Deborah, for adding to the information here. I'm not sure of which states are truly swing states. I know your state of Iowa is one, along with Ohio and Wisconsin, but beyond that I'm pretty much in the dark.

As for NE, I don't think it's blue as portrayed on the map I consulted when the one included here was being made, but I hoped that whoever did make the map I consulted was more informed about which states were swing states this year than I am. I'm pretty familiar with which ones are red and which are blue, but the purple ones are more mysterious.

It seems odd to me that N.C. is a swing state also. I know they elect the occasional Democrat, but so does Texas, and you really have to look hard to find the half dozen or so here. No one would consider this state to be a swing state or make the mistake of painting it blue, I think.

I think some of these states are included in the list of swing states because Obama carried them in 2008, like NV and CO. I would have expected these states to be red, especially NV. Most conservatives, not all obviously, but most seem to live in more rural areas. I know when I lived in Northern CA. it was mostly conservative, yet the state overall is considered a blue state. Most Democrats seem to be in the urban areas.

Anyway, it will be interesting as time goes on to see which states do make the difference and if they will go the same way as in the last election. Since I don't have a TV I'm missing out on all of the hoopla that I imagine must be gaining momentum as we get closer to election day.

Deborah Neyens from Iowa on July 09, 2012:

Thanks for clarifying. I do remember now that Nebraska divides their electoral votes instead of being winner take all. Since I'm in a swing state (Iowa) we get more than our fair share of campaign visits. In fact, the President will be here tomorrow speaking just a few miles from where I live.

Shyron E Shenko from Texas on July 09, 2012:

Voting you up and interesting.

So much reading to do before November, and still my vote will not count, because I am in a red state.

C E Clark (author) from North Texas on July 09, 2012:

Thank you for your comment Deborah. I agree that NE is generally a solid red state.

I didn't make up the map on this hub according to my own opinion, this was shown on several maps on the Net. It seems that Obama won 1 electoral vote from NE in 2008 because he carried the district that includes Omaha, and NE is one of the 2 states that divides their electoral votes.

I do not know, but that may be the reason that some people feel it could be a swing state. Personally, I don't think it was or is, or will be any time soon.

Deborah Neyens from Iowa on July 09, 2012:

Interesting. I didn't know Nebraska was considered to be a blue state. I thought it was pretty firmly red.

Related Articles