Depending on who you ask, the election is either extremely tight or a wash. With electoral roadmaps being drawn at a frenetic pace, the election, as it has for decades, appears to hinge on one state: Ohio.
Going back until at least 1972, the winner of Ohio has gone on to win the presidency in every single election. While the number of Electoral College votes that Ohio holds has steadily declined since that time, its importance as a swing state continues unabated.
There are a number of scenarios that could lead either candidate to the White House but the simple fact is that without Ohio, it is exceedingly difficult to come up with a viable road map. That is why ad spending in the rust-belt state has topped $190 million dollars.
And that spending has increasingly targeted more and more specific demographics. As Nate Silver, author of the fivethirtyeight blog explained, campaigns target a smaller and smaller chunk of the population based on whether they are undecided, the odds that they will get to the polls, and whether they will ultimately decide to vote for their candidate.
This year, perhaps more than others, has signaled the use of technology, statistics, and increasingly sophisticated and targeted advertisements to pinpoint the key group of voters that has the chance of determining the outcome of the election.
What is called the rational voter paradox by economists, a principle that states that any rational person would not spend the time and energy actually voting because the chance of their individual vote changing the outcome is essentially zero, seems less and less true depending on demographics. And this, in itself, is the problem with the Electoral College.
For millions of Americans, in fact the vast majority, our votes are taken as given and the fact that we might live in a particular state that is either solid red or solid blue, means that our vote is valued significantly less than those in Ohio, Florida, and Virginia. For them, the odds of making a difference are significantly higher and their votes have been courted with the unlimited campaign money that seems to sit in both campaign’s coffers.
In dollar terms, per capita spending in a place like Montana will never equal Ohio. The barrage of ads and increasingly advanced methods of targeting the minuscule portion of the population that now has the chance to make all the difference, is a troubling trend in the wrong direction. Instead of seeking to raise the level of debate, to engage people in new ways and to better understand the needs of Americans across the country. Our elections favor those who can target through media and campaigning, the swing voters in the swing states. It seems the most democratic state is one in which we are all swing voters.