In a neck-and-neck presidential race, every swing vote counts
Hawaii is in play! That was the news from electoral vote watchdogs earlier this week - news that could be as stale as yesterday's Krispy Kremes by now, with almost hourly poll updates pushing the red and blue numbers back and forth. Thanks to the likely photo finish, swingers haven't been so hot since the '70s. The definition of "swing state" has been stretched enough to encompass as many as 21 this election, as states thought to be locked into one column or the other poll numbers close to the country's overall statistical dead heat. That's why the island state's four votes, thought to belong to Kerry, are of such interest to pundits who previously thought Hawaii was a Club Med resort.
Last week, the LA Times finally addressed a Democratic fantasy and surveyed newly registered voters and cell-phone-only individuals. Left-of-center pundits were fond of pointing out that traditional polling services don't survey folks who haven't voted before and who don't have that hallmark of conservatism - a land line. As expected, these groups favored Kerry by double-digit margins; but analysts were quick to remind us that there's a reason Gallup doesn't knock on "virgin voters" doors: Like the Latino vote that was supposed to propel Tony Sanchez into office, the first-time vote doesn't always turn up at the ballot box. In fact the comparison goes deeper than that - "virgin voters," touted as one of 2004's potential swing votes, don't pull levers (or punch holes, or whatever) in lockstep, either.
Living in the state of Charlie Gonzalez and Henry Bonilla makes me a little jaded about the idea of monolithic swing voting blocks to begin with, and with good cause. As ABCNews.com gleefully pointed out last winter, the "soccer mom" vote of 1996 never scored for either team. Post-election analysis revealed that the 6 percent of voters who fit the profile couldn't be distinguished from female voters overall. Take that, soccer moms. What's so special about your Land's End turtlenecks and your mini-vans? Not so much, apparently.
In 2000, it was "waitress moms," although I seem to recall a catchier name for the "non-union non-college-educated single working mothers" who were going to tell the president to take their order for a change. They never punched in. Perhaps they were too busy trying to cover the electric bill or asking the mechanic if he was sure she couldn't get another 500 miles out of those brake pads. As a single mother myself, I can say that this election represents a clear choice up and down the ballot, but whether we'll turn out in force for affordable quality daycare, equal pay, and access to healthcare depends on whether we're also ... "security moms."
Instead the campaigns are now focusing their efforts on the moving swing states target. Over the weekend, Bush and Kerry both made appearances in Florida, which analysts agree Bush must win, before jetting off to Colorado and New Hampshire, respectively. Yes, New Hampshire is itty-bitty, but its four electoral votes sure would help the Kerry-Edwards team. Bush, for his part, is spending some time shoring up Colorado (nine votes, which could split if the electoral reform referendum passes), whose Republican resolve is flagging recently due to a popular (Latino) Senatorial candidate. Bush also needs Ohio in this neck-and-neck contest, although Kerry, with populous states such as New York (31 solid votes) and California (55 votes, shaky but likely), can get by without it.
Nevada's five votes are now thought to be potentially in play, too, and one reason points up an interesting aspect of this race: If the name Nevada sounds familiar, it's because it's home to Yucca Mountain, where President Bush has promised to store all of the nation's nuclear waste despite some geological concerns. Because the presidential race is so tight, the candidates are paying attention to detailed local issues like they never have before. Southtown Neighbors for a Grocery Store (SNAGS) could be the new swing vote.
You laugh, but it wouldn't be hard to outperform the much-vaunted "NASCAR dads." Inspired by ABCNews.com's number-crunching, CBSNews.com figured out that the demographic first articulated by Democratic consultant Celinda Lake in 2002 as "blue-collar fathers between 35 and 55 ... culturally conservative but very populist," accounted for a whopping 2 percent of the 2000 vote, and they voted overwhelmingly Republican. Not likely to swing unless given a hard push (and by god, if Bush's economic record can't do it, I don't know what can, outside of a promise to wipe affirmative action off the books). What's far more striking is ABCNews.com's finding that "married middle- and lower-income white men account for a single-digit share of the national population." (Emphasis added.) So are the "angry white males" who drove the Republican revolution of 1996 still mad?
The swing voters who have a track record of swaying elections (Reagan, George H.W., and Clinton are all in their debt) are folks we hear relatively little about: Independents (actual, registered Independents who have voted for candidates of both major parties, and maybe even the odd Libertarian) and white Catholics. Depending on whom you ask, white Catholic women. Belief in the Pope erodes belief in God quietly over time, like an underground river on limestone, making Catholics much more likely to be swingers.
By Elaine Wolff