Study: Swing voters are a myth and seeking the center kills a campaign

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The prototypical campaign advice: move to the center to campaign to attract swing voters. Then do what you want when you’re in office.

But according to a new study, this doesn’t work — at least not for Democrats.

Lynn Vavrek blogged for the New York Times on what we can glean from polling and experience. She concludes: “There just aren’t that many swing voters,” and “There are relatively few voters who cross back and forth between the parties during a campaign or even between elections.”

To illustrate this, Vavrek looks at the 2010 elections and finds that voters didn’t abandon Democrats for Republicans. Rather, left-leaning voters just stayed home.

Contrary to the visual descriptive of the term, polling data suggests that “independent” voters aren’t in the middle between Democrats and Republicans. More realistically, many independents are to the left of Democrats or to the right of Republicans.

Florida’s District 13 special election in March provides some backup for this theory. Here we had David Jolly, who ran “the furthest right a GOP candidate had run” in Pinellas in 60 years, up against Alex Sink, who ran a centrist, moderate campaign that hit on all the right waste-cutting messages you’d think would attract the voter at the “center.”

Sink’s approach made logical sense — but didn’t work. Turnout in precincts that Romney won in 2012 was substantially higher (58 percent) than in precincts that Obama won (49%). This implies that Sink’s loss was based on her failure to turn out Democratic voters.

Political consultants will continue to tell candidates in “swing” districts to fight for those “swing votes”.  But if most of the swinging happens on the far edges of a party’s base, well … that’s a new game. And sadly, in more ways than not, a disheartening one.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.