The All-American Rejects’ “Swing Swing” seems particularly fitting for the title of a column about potential swing voters in the November election. The song is about abandonment and the hope of carrying on with a new love. The name of the band describes how many voters feel, and the title of the song describes what many voters will be doing.
Swing voters typically straddle the fence on their decisions, so politicians focus on their interests with the hope of effectively pulling large numbers of voters to their side. Since Bill Clinton’s victory in the 1992 election and his widespread appeal among “campus kids,” many presidential nominees have followed suit and late night talk show appearances have almost become a mandatory stop on the campaign trail. Between 1992 and 1996, suburban, conservative, wage-earning “soccer moms” shifted dramatically toward the Democratic Party, and both parties made dramatic shifts in response, catering campaigns, conventions, speeches, and legislation towards the working class mother. More recently, many credit George W. Bush’s victory in 2000 to his conservative values and a visible sweep of the South.
Lots of buzzwords have already been batted around for the November election, and each seems to hold some potential influence. “NASCAR dads” are typically rural, working class men who have historically voted as Democrats but are making a mass exodus to the GOP. “Security moms” are the next generation of soccer moms, though now they are primarily looking to protect their families from terrorism. “Freestyle evangelicals” hold Bush’s conservative values in high regard. The Jewish vote is expected to swing right in favor of Bush’s defense of Israel. These groups, and many others, are looking for changes, and Bush and John Kerry are rallying to curry their favor.
Two-thirds of the U.S. electorate is registered to a party, and this is a vested interest that will be too difficult to break easily. One-third of voters are pretty seriously committed Democrats, one-third equally committed Republicans, and the remainder don’t have strong party ties. A fact relevant to that last third is that a voter with few ties to one party has no qualms with holding the party in power responsible for everything. In our unified government, in which the Senate, House of Representatives, and Oval Office are all controlled by the same party, a voter will blame the Republican Party for whatever they feel has gone wrong. The Republican Party will try to focus attention on its perceivable successes with terrorism and the military, while the Democratic Party will be trying to focus attention on the perceivable failures of the Republicans such as the economy and health care.
While the primary topic of discussion itself has yet to be decided, Bush and Kerry are set to make it a loud one. Bush has broken his own records for fundraising and currently has over $187 million in his war chest. Kerry, who is smashing records for his own party, has raised over $104 million for his campaign. These totals don’t include soft money contributions that pay for indirect endorsements. To put these numbers in perspective, by the end of the 2000 Bush spent a total of $185 million and Gore spent $120 million. The numbers for 2004 are huge, and it’s only April.
Can a candidate really buy an election? It’s nice to think that isn’t possible, but the truth is $187 million can buy a lot of publicity. That much publicity could steer the conversations towards issues safer for the louder party.
Can mere words convince a large number of undecided voters to endorse a candidate? For the truly undecided: yes. For the swing voter groups discussed earlier: no. These people have strong beliefs and know what they want. For example, no amount of conversation will convince the freestyle evangelicals to endorse a candidate that is in favor of civil unions to homosexual couples.
What conversation can do is motivate voters to the polls. The 2000 election and its record-breaking fundraising saw an increase in voter turnout among election years to 51.3 percent, while the general trend has been an overall decline in turnout among the voting population. The mysticism of the swing voter is all in turnout. If one candidate can motivate people who ideologically support him in the issues to physically support him in the polls, he can carry the election. If Bush successfully uses his financial clout to control discussion, and can effectively motivate his supporters to the polls, it won’t be voters saying “I’ll find someone new,” but Kerry singing Ben Folds Five’s “Song for the Dumped.”