Political Animal


April 12, 2012 8:45 AM Swing Voters = Persuadables

By Ed Kilgore

At TNR today, my TDS (The Democratic Strategist) colleague Ruy Teixeira offers a useful reminder going into the general election that the term “swing voter” is not synonymous with “independent” or even with “undecided” voters. They are essentially persuadable voters whose probability to support a given candidate can be affected by messaging, external events, or even get-out-the-vote efforts. And they are all over the partisan and ideological spectrum:

Swing voters are least likely to be found among strong partisans (12 percent of this group); more likely to be found among independent leaners (27 percent) and weak partisans (28 percent); and most likely to be found among pure independents (40 percent). But since pure independents are such a small group, they wind up being just 13 percent of all swing voters, actually less than the number of strong partisans among swingers (18 percent). Another 28 percent of swing voters are independent leaners, and the largest group, 42 percent, are weak partisans. Thus the overwhelming majority (70 percent) of swing voters are weak or independent leaning partisans—the kind of voters whose probability of support for “their” candidate is more usefully thought of as being movable from 70 to 80 percent than from 45 to 55 percent.

The complicating variable, of course, involves the certain voters who move from one of two competing candidates to the other marginally reflect more “bang for the buck” than those whose decision wavers between voting and not voting at all, since persuading that particular swing voter adds one vote to column A while deducting one vote from column B. But in the end, a vote is a vote, and increasing the pool of voters by one often requires true persuasion. The most important thing to remember is that the tendency to think of the electorate as sharply divided between “base” and “swing” voters is often highly misleading. Aside from the certain voters whose preferences are unshakable, it’s all a matter of degree.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • SadOldVet on April 12, 2012 9:12 AM:

    What is a TDS?

  • DAY on April 12, 2012 9:15 AM:

    Well, I sure hope all those arcane percentages of "swing voters" can be turned into some sort of activity by Obama's Ground Game. All those offices in all those states, with all those telephones. All those youthful feet, shod in substantial shoe leather.

    Because I have a different name for 'swing' voters. I call them the Not Paying Attention Voters. (Who may not even vote!)

  • Danp on April 12, 2012 9:19 AM:

    In other words, swing voters are disinterested low-info voters, since it's hard to imagine an informed person not having a strong preference of one worldview or the other. In my experience, these people tend to be highly cynical of everything political, and highly susceptible to Republican spin. That said, the Republican party has jumped the shark this year.

  • j on April 12, 2012 9:32 AM:

    I am going to respectfully ask a question of this site which may or may not be ethical - we had a good friend of the site- C U N D gulag, I'm sure SadOldVet will remember.
    My question - gulag seems to have dropped out of the picture and I know he was experiencing a lot of trauma over the illness of his father.
    My ethical/unethical question is - I know the administrators of the site will have his email address, I was wondering if anyone could contact him and assure those of us who miss his wit, if he is alright?

    [It just so happens that I have his email address and I just sent him a note telling him he is missed and that all the commenters are sending him white light and good wishes. --Mod]

  • T2 on April 12, 2012 9:44 AM:

    The upcoming presidential election will be the most clearly defined choice in my memory. The GOP primary has set the playing field, and it is a radical ideology that now represents the GOP. The vote will not be for Romney vs. Obama, but rather a unusually clear choice of how this country is going to proceed. The upcoming Supreme Court ACA decision will put an exclamation point on this.
    As Day says: if anyone is calling themselves a "swing voter" or "independent", they are really not paying attention to the choice in front of them. I only hope the Democratic Party can, for once, make that case loud and clear.

  • sick-n-effn-tired. on April 12, 2012 9:45 AM:

    I concur with J We miss Cund gulag

  • Hedda Peraz on April 12, 2012 10:10 AM:

    I not only miss gulag, i don't know how much longer i can keep this up, without his help. . .

  • Diane Rodriguez on April 12, 2012 10:30 AM:

    Day nailed it. WTF is an "independent" voter. There isn't a lot of scholarship on this issue. The design of the survey determines what "independent" means. Most of the more scholarly, as opposed to partisan, writings view those "independents" as leaning substantially Republican.

    I will continue to beat my drum. Women and people of color will decide this election. The political sides are highly polarized, but the diminishment of women and people of color not only by the Republican nominee but by the Republican Governors and state houses will weigh heavily on the vote.

  • Geds on April 12, 2012 10:53 AM:

    I am going to respectfully ask a question of this site which may or may not be ethical - we had a good friend of the site- C U N D gulag, I'm sure SadOldVet will remember.
    My question - gulag seems to have dropped out of the picture and I know he was experiencing a lot of trauma over the illness of his father.

    He still hangs around over at Gin & Tacos. Seems to be alive and well. It's probably one of those internet things, wherein habits change or time constraints tighten up and yesterday's regular is today's, "Hey, whatever happened to that guy?"

  • MattF on April 12, 2012 11:04 AM:

    Mr. Gulag has also been seen lately at Balloon Juice.

    The 'persuadable' voter is, I think, a euphemism for the voter who can't make up his/her mind. This is a class of voters who rise, phoenix-like every four years-- we forget, but Presidential campaigns are generally decided by people who can't make up their minds; frustrating, but that's the way it is.

  • Rich on April 12, 2012 11:05 AM:

    Persuadable = clueless, i.e., people who didn't see a stark choice between kerry & Bush, Gore & Bush, Obama & McCain, etc.

  • exlibra on April 12, 2012 12:00 PM:

    "Swing" voters? Yeah, I've seen them. They swing by the polls on election day -- slightly high and exhaling wine fumes -- just as we're about to close the door for the night (or, sometimes, after). When told the voting is over for the day, they shrug, say "alrighty, then" and leave, none too dismayed.

  • TCinLA on April 12, 2012 12:20 PM:

    And as those Republican disinformation specialists over at Third Way have conclusively argued, we certainly won't be "persuading" any of these "persuadables" by using any actual Democratic principles and programs to do so.

  • Lance on April 12, 2012 12:58 PM:

    exlibra, I've missed your first gen Polish immigrant prespective.

    Did you see the map from the 2008 election that showed where Obama did better than Kerry, McCain did better than Bush?

    That swath of territory from Arkansas up through Pennsylvannia through the hills of north Alabama and West Virginia is EXACTLY who Obama should take away from Mitt Romney this time.

    They ought to be persuadable. They certainly don't get anything real from voting Republican.

  • Jalus on April 21, 2012 8:13 PM:

    I am a swing-voter.
    My informed decision
    is that both Republican
    and Democratic candidate
    will not change
    the most important issue
    facing our country ~
    the debt and the economy.

    I WILL vote in this election;
    but neither candidate
    has earned my vote.

    My *choose* is to
    send a message
    that we need
    a viable third party.