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A swing vote is a vote that is seen as potentially going to any of a number of candidates in an election, or, in a two-party system, may go to either of the two dominant political parties. Such votes are usually sought after in elections, since they can play a big role in determining the outcome.
A swing voter or floating voter is a voter who may not be affiliated with a particular political party (Independent) or who will vote across party lines. In American politics, many centrists, liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats are considered "swing voters" since their voting patterns cannot be predicted with certainty.
While the swing voter is ostensibly the target of most political activity during elections, in countries without compulsory voting the political parties know that the shift from one party to another is dependent only to a limited extent on swing voters. Another, arguably larger factor is the success of one party in comparison to another in getting out its core support. In a two-party system, those who become disillusioned with their favored party are more likely to vote third-party or abstain than cross over.
However, in the 24 countries with compulsory voting, voter turnout is often already very close to 100%, so if the major parties are roughly balanced in popularity, swing voters can have a marked influence on the outcome.
Smaller groups with voting powers, such as chambers of parliament and supreme courts, can also have swing voters. Due to these groups' smaller size, an individual swing voter can hold more power. (For example, on a court of seven judges, of which three are committed to each side of a case, the seventh judge may be seen as single-handedly deciding the case.)
Profile of a swing voter
In an election, there are "certain" or "lock" votes - voters who are solidly behind or partisan to a particular candidate and will not consider changing their minds whatever the opposition says.
Swing voters are undecided about how they will vote. They are sometimes referred to as undecideds, undecided voters, or floating voter.
In the United States, they may be dissatisfied Republicans or Democrats who are open to the idea of voting for other parties, or they could be people who have never had a strong affiliation with any political party, and will vote depending on certain things that influence them - e.g. healthcare, benefits, election campaign etc.
Some, but not all, swing voters are considered to be "low-information voters."
Because the votes of swing voters are considered to be "up for grabs", candidates direct a fair proportion of campaign effort towards them, although they must also be concerned with voter turnout among their political base. There is a perception that swing voters are primarily motivated by self-interest rather than values or ideology, and so are particularly susceptible to pork barreling.
If a constituency contains a large proportion of swing voters it is often called a marginal seat and extensive campaign resources are poured into it.
The impact of swing voters
Swing voters occasionally play a huge part in elections. First-time voters and swing voters are usually credited for helping Jesse Ventura win the Minnesota gubernatorial election in 1998. Swing voters who support third-party candidates take potential votes away from the major candidates. Ventura was a third-party candidate; his opponents were seen as two weak major-party candidates, and this situation created many more swing voters than usual. This resulted in Ventura, the third-party candidate, winning the election.
Examples of swing voters
Common examples of swing voters include "Reagan Democrats" (Democrats who voted for Republican Ronald Reagan in the 1980s) and "Clinton Conservatives" (Republicans who voted for Bill Clinton). In her 2012 book The Swing Vote, Linda Killian divides the American swing vote into 4 factions: NPR Republicans, America First Democrats, the Facebook Generation, and Starbucks Moms and Dads. On the Supreme Court of the United States, Associate Justices Potter Stewart and Anthony Kennedy have been described as swing votes between the two factions of the court. In the United Kingdom, the "Essex man", "Worcester woman" and "Holby City woman" are examples of personifications of swing voters.
- Analysis of Swing Voting by Philip Dalton (ISBN 1-57273-655-0)
- The Swing Vote: The Untapped Power of Independents by Linda Killian (ISBN 978-0312581770)