One of the enduring oddities of the American political landscape remains the electoral college, the antiquated system that makes selective states disproportionately important to the election process of our Commander-in-Chief.
Do you live in one of the 12 swing states seen as integral to victory in this year's presidential election cycle? If so, expect a flood of political ads, battling voter registration drives, and campaign visits in the coming months. A new USA Today/Gallup poll out this week has President Obama and Governor Romney in a statistical tie in these states.
For the most part, these are the same reoccurring characters on the electoral map. Whereas most the of the country falls predictably in various shades of red and blue, these will more than likely remain gray and uncertain until results begin rolling in on Election Night.
Here are the states where real electoral contests will take place:
IVN's list of swing states to watch differs slightly from many mainstream outlets due to the inclusion of Arizona. The party affiliation of the state's electorate puts Arizona in a unique situation.
The home state of former presidential candidate and Republican Senator John McCain has seen an explosion of growth in the numbers of independent voters since 2008. Over 200,000 more voters are now registered as independent compared to 2008, making a full third of the state's voters unaffiliated with a political party.
For this and other reasons, Arizona is quite possibly at the top of the Obama campaign wish list. The President has a chance to "steal" this border state, which has leaned Republican and only voted for a Democratic presidential candidate once since President Truman. An April poll by Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute of Public Policy found President Obama faring better with independents in the state, but slightly trailing Gov. Romney overall.
But there is work still to be done in the state: 18% of those polled were still undecided.
Nevada was a key battleground state in 2008 and will remain so in 2012. A January Gallup poll showed the President's approval rating statewide took a dive in 2011, to 41.3%. It is a figure particularly critical for the sitting president and as such, President Obama stopped by Reno on Friday. He will likely return multiple times throughout the campaign.
President George W. Bush beat both Vice President Al Gore and Senator John Kerry in the state in 2000 and 2004, respectively.
Nevada has been one of the slowest states to recover during this recession. The housing market was particularly hit hard over the years and has been resistant to economic stimulus efforts. In an election expected to come down to economic concerns, keep an eye out in this state for messages aimed at garnering support for their economic leadership from both candidates.
President Obama's extensive ground game is no more apparent this election cycle than in Colorado. The grassroots strategy seen largely responsible for propelling him to an impressive electoral vote victory in 2008, Obama for America is looking to replicate this year and as such, is focused intensely on local efforts in Colorado.
The Denver Post reported earlier this year on the onslaught of television ads and Super PAC money flowing into the state ahead of the election season. Crossroads GPS, a conservative outfit with Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie as advisers, has already spent $1 million on television ads as of February.
Hispanics make up 20% of the population in Colorado, which will help President Obama. The Mormon population in Colorado, which borders Utah, is considerable, which will help Gov. Romney. Appealing to independents will likely be the tipping point in Colorado.
New Mexico is President Obama's to lose. A large contingent of the voting population are members of groups notoriously supportive of the President: young voters, women and Hispanics. The President beat Sen. John McCain here in 2008 by 15 points.
It doesn't mean this state will be ignored. It is still possible New Mexico will come into play, given the approval ratings of the popular Republican Governor Susana Martinez and recent gains Gov. Romney has made recently in the state. Unfortunately, Public Policy Polling numbers show that even adding Gov. Martinez to the Republican ticket as vice president does not close in on President Obama's current lead.
If the economy continues to improve, President Obama should hold onto the state.
President Obama won Iowa in 2008 by 146,000 votes. When Republicans descended on the state for the Iowa Caucuses earlier this year, they probably quickly noticed the presence of Obama for America. President Obama's reelection campaign actually spent more money in the state during this time than any one Republican.
Iowans have a slightly better standing in the economy, ranking as fifth-best in the United States in terms of unemployment. The question will be if current trends towards improvement continue, stall or worsen.
Independent voters in Iowa make up 40% of the electorate, larger than both registered Republicans and Democrats. This is a critical mass of people both Gov. Romney and President Obama will have to woo.
Missouri looks on track to go red this November. More than likely, its role as a swing state will be more so as important to electoral math. Gov. Romney will aim to take Missouri along with a strategic amount of other swing states in an attempt to reach the magic number: 270.
The state has impressive historical accuracy at picking the ultimate election winner, but of the two times Missourians got it wrong, one was 2008. Sen. John McCain barely squeaked out a win over President Obama by less than 4,000 votes.
President Obama won Ohio in 2008 by 621,000 votes. However, the state proved to be Sen. John Kerry's Achilles heel in 2004. For this year's election cycle, it's looking like one of the top four important states to win.
Ohio joins Florida and Pennsylvania as three swing states where voters in a recent Quinnipiac University poll say the country remains in a recession. This is integral for an election expected to revolve around economic concerns. It also does spell trouble for President Obama given that 61% of respondents in a new Gallup poll out this week show confidence in Gov. Romney to do a good job handling the economy in the coming four years.
The gender gap currently exists in Ohio, like the rest of the United States, where President Obama is polling double digits ahead of Gov. Romney with women. Gov. Romney, on the other hand, holds a 10-point lead with men.
Quinnipiac researchers hypothesize that one of the reasons Ohio continues to give a slim winning edge to Democrats due to the unpopularity of Republican Gov. John Kasich.
As the Lehigh Valley's Morning Call reports, Pennsylvania has yet to emerge as a definitive battleground in this current election cycle. They say both campaigns have focused on Ohio and Florida, among others, but largely skipped over Pennsylvania--especially in terms of early television ad buys. Politico also lists Pennsylvania, along with New Mexico, North Carolina and Wisconsin as "soft swing states".
Despite these distinctions, anyone not living in the select few states seen as "in play" considers Pennsylvania, by comparison, an important election puzzle piece. Bottom line: President Obama needs a win in Pennsylvania (more specifically, their 20 electoral college votes) to hold on to the presidency.
A situation on election night where Pennsylvania swings Republican could be a bad omen. No Democrat has won the presidency without Pennsylvania since Harry Truman in 1948.
Virginia is considered by Real Clear Politics one of the main five swing states this election season. It is no longer a safe Republican pick-up state, and it is no coincidence that President Obama chose a Virginia university this week as one of the launch points of his official campaign. He won the state by 6 points in 2008.
This time around, Virginians have a popular Republican governor in Bob McDonnell, considered by many to be a viable prospect to join a Gov. Romney ticket as Vice President. Disappointingly, recent Public Policy Polling shows even with a boost from Gov. McDonnelll, Romney continues to trail President Obama.
The President also does especially well with younger voters in the state, but that is not surprising. It should be obvious that his campaign's strategy in Virginia closely resembles that in North Carolina, which is to draw out votes and support in more populated areas that skew younger and more moderate to carry the state.
But the election is still far off and opinions can change dramatically.
President Obama narrowly won North Carolina in 2008 with margin of victory of 34,000 votes. He'll look this year to capitalize on strong support in collegiate regions of the state in an effort to draw margins closer with votes he is predicted to lose elsewhere in the state.
It is unclear how the politics of gay marriage brought to a head this week as a result of North Carolina primary elections will translate for the presidential campaign. Some are predicting gay marriage to dominate and decide races similar to in 2004, others say it will make less of an impact.
After the large and electoral vote laden swing states of Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania, the Democratic National Committee has spent the most money, or $976,000, in North Carolina.
The Democratic Party will host their National Convention in North Carolina.
Current polling puts Florida in the too-close-to-call zone, if the election were to be held today. This is uncomfortable for both the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates given the mess in 2000.
Gender gaps in the state are also much closer and within margins of error. In March the president had a 51% approve rating, down to 46% today.
In terms of political viewpoints or issues galvanizing the electorate there, it appears health care reform could be a liability. In Florida, 51% of voters support the Supreme Court overturning key provisions in the 2010 healthcare reform law.
The Republican Party will host their National Convention in Florida.
Also an important factor in presidential primary elections, New Hampshire is looking like a state Democrats aggressively want to see in President Obama's win column. The Boston Globe analyzed Democratic National Committee disbursements and found the party to be pouring the most money per electoral vote in New Hampshire.
New Hampshire is the epitome of a swing state, regularly switching allegiances from Republicans to Democrats each election cycle. For the Republican Party, however, it is difficult to imagine a situation this year where Virginia and North Carolina swing blue, and New Hampshire goes red.
Do you live in a swing state? What are your thoughts on the race and heighten focus on your state? Do you live in a "safe" Democratic or Republican stronghold? Do you feel you still have a say, or marginalized?
Stay with IVN throughout the presidential election for updates on the breakdown of electoral college votes and the ever-changing realities of national campaigns.