It makes sense that campaigns and media put a special emphasis on ‘swing’ states: the results will be close, and voter turnout will directly effect the results of the race. In solidly blue or red states – such as New York or Texas, respectively, it’s pretty obvious who is going to win the presidential race there. As someone who has only lived in swing states – Virginia and now North Carolina – I never understood the dynamic of what it is like in other states, because I have always witnessed the spirit of competition in democracy at all levels of election. In my experiences, getting out the vote for the swing presidential candidate also meant getting out the vote for gubernatorial, congressional, and municipal elections as well. Although the majority of the enthusiasm has always remained at the higher levels of office, getting out the vote applied to everything on that incredibly long ballot.
As the first presidential election in which I personally can vote, I found it particularly interesting to see how this all works. Everywhere I go, I see campaign ads – literally EVERYWHERE. TV, YouTube, Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram, even through personalized text messages from coordinated campaign staff – if you can think of a communication platform, I can pretty much guarantee you that I have seen a political ad on it while in North Carolina and Virginia over the last few months. Although a bit creepy at times, the ads eventually become normal, and you forget about them.
Campaigns spend an absurd amount of money on swing states with the implied message that voting because of the geographical location in which I reside makes my vote more special than anyone else’s. From a campaign perspective, it’s valid. The more people voting in favor in less-secure states, the better your changes. It’s simple strategy. What I had never considered, however, is what kind of mindset it puts citizens in who do not live in these swing places.
My friend group in high school was very politically aware, and talking to them over various breaks from college has given me nuggets of insight into voting dynamics in places perceived to be less important. One friend, a very liberal democrat going to college in Massachusetts, refuses to change her voting registration because her vote would be “worthless” in a place where her party will likely win. Another of my friends goes to college out in California, and changed their voting registration to California for the election.
When in San Francisco this past weekend, I saw a jaw-dropping amount of campaign signs everywhere I looked. Like truly, an INSANE amount of campaign signs. What was unique, however, is that the signs were not for candidates, but rather various referendums and propositions that will be on the ballot in November. I found this to be an eye-opening observation, because I personally had not really thought about the true significance of those propositions on the ballot, because they often get lost in the dust behind candidates in swing states. As a an area of California in which the ticket would be solidly blue through and through, hearing that swing states are more important may be the deterrence that keeps you from the ballot box.
This is really unfortunate, however, because those referendums will likely have a greater impact on your personal life than who wins the presidency. Although a lot of people have an eschatological perspective on this election cycle, the U.S. democracy will continue through this upcoming presidential administration, regardless of who sits in the Oval Office. There needs to be a greater focus on these state/municipal propositions in all cycles, instead of simply boiling down a multi-page ballot into one office.