The 16 Percent

Like many a candidate before him, Mitt Romney is getting on a bus and driving from one place to another to campaign. For some inexplicable reason, this is supposed to be more down-to-earth and folksy than driving in a car or flying. I don't know if that's because in their public transportation form buses are lower-cost forms of travel than planes, cars, or trains, but if so that doesn't make a lot of sense, given that like all candidates Romney will be riding on a luxurious, tricked-out bus, and not just hopping on a Greyhound (now that would be something). Anyhow, Romney's little sojourn has been christened the "Believe in America: Every Town Counts" tour. So, will the tour be going to every town? Not exactly:

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney on Monday announced a five-day bus tour through six battleground states, beginning with New Hampshire on Friday. The likely Republican nominee will meet with families and business owners in small towns in New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa and Michigan, where he will focus on what he calls President Obama's failed economic policies.

What if your town happens to be located in Oklahoma? Or California? Or New York, or Idaho, or Delaware? Aren't you part of "every town"? Nope—for the next five months, Mitt Romney couldn't care less about you, and neither could Barack Obama.

Sure, you've heard these cranky complaints about the distorting effect the electoral college has on campaigns before. But it never hurts to remind ourselves just how insane this system is, where if you live in a state that is closely divided between Democrats and Republicans, the presidential campaigns spend an extraordinary amount of time figuring out who you are and what you want them to say, while if you live in a state that is not closely divided, you and your neighbors get ignored. And as the race goes on, the number of places the candidates will be campaigning in will probably go down.

Chicago mayor and former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel recently said the presidential race could come down to as few as five states, and he could well be right. It's happened many times before that in the race's final weeks, one campaign's internal polling tells it that a state they had thought would be competitive is actually slipping away, and they pull their resources out. That will probably happen this time, too. Perhaps the Obama campaign will decide it doesn't have much chance to win North Carolina after all, or the Romney campaign will give up on Nevada. Depending on who you ask, there are anywhere from seven to fifteen or so swing states, but the only ones that that are absolutely, positively guaranteed to be contested by both campaigns all the way to election day are probably Ohio, Florida, Colorado, Virginia, and Iowa. You could even see one or two of those slipping out of the toss-up column.

But let's take the seven swingiest swing states, the ones that most forecasters rate as toss-ups at the moment. Those are Florida, Ohio, Virginia, Colorado, Iowa, Nevada, and New Hampshire. They make up 85 of the 538 electoral votes. Using 2011 census estimates, their combined population is just under 51 million, or 16.3 percent of the total population of the country. That means that five out of six of us doesn't live in one of the key swing states, so we're essentially non-participants in this election. "Every town counts" my ass.

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