Romney Tracker: Swing states, fundraising states and who else?

by Jared Gay // Published June 6, 2012

We are tracking Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama's public events campaign season to see what their travel behavior reveals about our voting rules. See past posts about President Obama's travels during this presidency, our correspondent map and our 2008 analysis at the end of that year's campaign. This post focuses on Mitt Romney's events since April 24, 2012.

Mitt Romney wasted no time getting down to business following his triumphant Republican nomination victory speech in April. In the month since his speech, his 42 campaign related events have taught us something about the impact of our current Electoral College rules: in a presidential election, a few states matter and most states don't. With Romney clinching the GOP nomination in the Texas primary last Tuesday, things are only going to speed up.

Swing states and Fundraising states

FairVote's post-2008 election analysis suggested the number of true swing states had declined in that election, contrary to conventional wisdom. We were right. At this point in the cycle, the number of states widely seen as swing states in 2012 is at most ten (as a consensus from Sabato, Rove and The Washington Post), which are the basis for our grouping of states.

They are the following: Nevada, Colorado, Iowa, Ohio, Virginia, New Hampshire, Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Minnesota. Not coincidentally, Barack Obama's re-election campaign chose to air a new ad critical of Romney's record as governor of Massachusetts in nine of those states.

It probably isn't a surprise to learn that 18 of Romney's 24 non-fundraising campaign events were held in these 10 swing states and that 18 other events have been held as fundraisers. He divided the six remaining campaign events between states where he was already holding fundraising events, a news appearance, a visit to the District of Columbia, and a visit to his home state Michigan (which remains on the swing state list of a few analysts).

A Washington Post analysis on campaign spending shows a similar pattern. The analysis summarizes the spending as follows, "In the month since the 2012 presidential contest narrowed to two candidates, President Obama, Mitt Romney and their supporters spent roughly $30 million on TV ads, mostly in the major battleground states." An NBC report last week showed that fully five of the six media markets with the heaviest recent ad buys from the campaign were in just two states: Virginia and North Carolina.

One month into general election campaigning and half a year out from the actual election, not only have certain states been identified as targets, they've been treated as such.

And why shouldn't candidates treat swing states as targets?

Both President Obama and Mitt Romney are strongly incentivized by states' current winner-take-all voting rules to hone in on the few voters in the few states with the power to swing the election their way. Campaigning in states where they are comfortably ahead or hopelessly behind won't have any impact on their share of Electoral College votes, and those are the votes they need to win.

It's not the campaign's fault - it's the rules we have in place. When it comes down to it, the only states that receive serious attention from candidates are the ones that can offer funds or votes. The rest of the states, which make up the majority of Americans, are left orphaned and voiceless.

To restore the voices of these voters, we have helped develop and promote the National Popular Vote Plan. This state-based reform will work within the current rules of the Electoral College to bring equal voting power to every vote of every American citizen and ensure the victory of the candidate with the most popular votes in all fifty states and the District of Columbia.

Keep a close eye on the presidential tracker through campaign season as it continues to show the narrow focus the Electoral College encourages in presidential elections. We update it regularly and show our results in an easy-to-use map.