Juggling the various groups of swing voters is central to political success. In the 2010 midterms, Democrats had their weakest performance among moderate suburbanites in two decades, lost working-class whites, and the Southern populists went Republican in places that had continual Democratic representation since Reconstruction.
This year, the challenge for both parties is to appeal to these contradictory groups, all the while minimizing challenges on their flanks.
The fiscally conservative, socially moderate voter. According to the media, this is the only sort of swing voter that exists. A reporter who went to a top-ranked East Coast college thinks of how his banker, businessman, or lawyer friends from school are going to vote, and the “fiscally conservative, socially moderate” label gets trotted out. Does this type of voter exist? Yes. Do they warrant the dominant share of attention given to swing voters? No. They’re but one type. While they can be found in certain crucial areas like suburban Philadelphia and Northern Virginia, most live in solidly blue states. This type of voter has more impact on the congressional level.
The socially conservative, fiscally moderate voter. There are two streams of thought for this type of voter: the Northern white working class and the Southern populists. The working-class whites are located in the Northeast and Midwest, and are heavily Catholic. They often decide elections. The Southern populists are culturally conservative, but do not share the faith in free market economics their better off Southern cousins possess. Both groups are, by heritage, Democrats, but often feel they have to break ranks to defend their values.
Republicans have had success winning over the Southern populists in the past decade — catering to these voters is partly why GOP performance has declined among suburban moderates — while the working-class whites were essential to Republican victories in 2010.
The far right and far left. The swing vote is usually thought to be in the middle of the electorate. Broadly speaking, this is true. But there are also voters at the edges of the electorate who are very open to supporting a third party or staying home altogether. Most famously, Ralph Nader stole enough far-left votes from Al Gore to swing the 2000 presidential election to George W. Bush.
How do people with viewpoints similar to Noam Chomsky or Pat Buchanan translate their beliefs into practical politics? Some are content to exert a leftward or rightward pull on their affiliated mainstream party. This isn’t a large group of voters, but it’s a volatile group that’s often overlooked by political strategists.
Ron Paul supporters. They’re a disparate group and it’s hard to figure out whom these voters would support in a match up between Obama and a conventional Republican — if they would vote at all. This is a new swing-voting group, which is not part of the political center, and whose future political trajectory is unpredictable.
Chris Palko works as an assistant media analyst at Smart Media Group, a Republican political media buying agency in Alexandria, Va. He is a graduate of American University and George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management.
A version of this post was also published on Smart Media Group’s blog, Smart Blog.