Battleground and Swing States

by Abigail Pfeiffer

Grand Canyon University


These maps show the amount of attention given by the campaigns of George W. Bush and John Kerry during the final four weeks of the 2004 election. At left, each waving hand represents a visit from a presidential or vice-presidential candidate during the final four weeks. At right, each dollar sign represents one million dollars spent on TV advertising by the campaigns during the same time period.

The Election of 2004 proved a rule of presidential elections: it is not necessarily the most populous states which determine the winner, but instead, the so-called “battleground” or “swing” states.  In 2004, eleven states came to be considered as battlegrounds, states in which the electoral votes were decided by less than a five point margin. These states were Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.1 Of these eleven battleground states, only four of them rank among the ten states with the most electoral votes. These included Florida with (27 electoral votes), Pennsylvania (21), Ohio (20), and Michigan (17).2 This demonstrates how a state with a smaller amount of electoral votes can fall into the category of battleground state. The smaller states electoral votes are crucial in very close elections, and the Election of 2004 proved to be close. There were only thirty-five electoral that separated George W. Bush and John Kerry, and the smaller battleground states had forty-eight electoral votes between them.

The total number of electoral votes available in the 2004 election was 538 votes. To win, the candidate needed a simple majority, which equaled 270 votes.  Bush received a total of 286 electoral votes, giving him more than the required 270 votes to secure reelection. Kerry received a total of 251 electoral votes.

A close inspection of voting in key battleground states yields important information for anyone studying the 2004 election.  Bush won Florida and Ohio, which awarded him forty-seven electoral votes, while Kerry won Michigan and Pennsylvania, which awarded him thirty-eight electoral votes. The total electoral votes from Florida and Ohio (states with two of the closest races in the popular vote) thus became crucial.  If Kerry had won those two states, rather than Bush, then he would have won the election.

In such close elections, sometimes allegations of voter fraud are raised. For example, in the Election of 2000, the votes from Florida were hotly contested. The Election of 2004 was not immune to accusations of voter fraud. The Chicago Tribune reported in December 2004, that “widespread flaws in the integrity of voter rolls” had been found in six states: Florida, Iowa, Ohio, Michigan, Minnesota, and New Mexico. In these six states, more than 181,000 deceased citizens had been listed on the voter rolls. This sort of problem would have turned heads regardless of the state in which it occurred.  However, it stood out in 2004, because all of the reported problems occurred in swing states. Florida had the highest amount of voters that were also listed in the Social Security database for death claims, 64,889. Michigan trailed close behind with 50,051. Deceased citizens also appeared on voting ballots in Iowa, Minnesota, and Ohio, all of which were swing states in the Election of 2004. However, Ohio also experienced another voting problem: 90,000 Ohioan voters cast ballots that did not contain a valid presidential choice. There are several explanations including the voter decided not to choose a candidate, mechanical error, or accidental voting for more than one candidate. Additionally, there were complaints that revolved around Ohio’s use of the punch card voting machines.  These machines were the ones involved in Florida during the controversy surrounding the Election of 2000.3

Of all the swing states, Ohio clearly claimed most of the spotlight in 2004.  In addition to the problems with voting machines, members of both parties accused one another of using voter suppression tactics to discourage the opposite party’s voters from going to the polls.  These allegations were usually resolved quickly. However, the election did in fact come down to the results from Ohio, making Ohio the key battleground state of the entire election. On election night, November 2, the unofficial voting count placed Bush as the victor, before all the votes were tabulated.4 After one hundred percent of voting precincts declared their numbers, Bush received a total of 62,040,606 votes while Kerry received a total of 59,028,109 votes.5 Throughout the evening, both Republicans and Democrats kept a watchful eye on the swing states, particularly on the results that came out of Ohio. The controversy surrounding the Election of 2000, coupled with the voting irregularities in the major swing states, including Ohio, created tension between Republicans and Democrats as the live results were reported.

The next day, Kerry conceded the state of Ohio to Bush, and Bush won reelection because of the twenty electoral votes from Ohio. By conceding the state of Ohio and the election, instead of insisting on lengthy recounts, Kerry avoided what could have been another drawn out election battle that was seen in the Election of 2000. If Kerry had won Ohio, and its 20 electoral votes, then he would have received 271 electoral votes, giving him the presidency with just a one vote margin.

1US Election Atlas, 2004 Presidential General Election Data – National.  Accessed May 20, 2014.

2CBS News, 2004. 2004 ELECTION: BATTLEGROUND STATES, 03%20battleground.pdf, accessed 27 May 2014.

3Geoff Dougherty, Chicago Tribune. December 4, 2004.

4Dennis Kucinich, Common Dreams. November 10, 2004.

5Barrett, CNN, Bush Carries Electoral College After Delay.