Swing vote

Swing vote

Swing vote is a term used to describe a vote that may go 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.

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 or undecided voters, but floating voter is now the more common term used for this kind of voter.

In the United States, they may be dissatisfied Republicans or Democrats who are open-minded 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 might be people who have never exercised their right to vote before, such as those just reaching voting age.

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.

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). United States Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy is considered a "swing vote" on the court due to his moderate political leanings.


*Analysis of Swing Voting by Philip Dalton (ISBN 1-57273-655-0)

ee also

*Swing (politics)
*Swing state

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