Go to HHH home page.
Smart Politics
 


Swing States, Battleground States, or Purple States?

Bookmark and Share

What is the preferred nomenclature in the broadcast media when discussing the competitive states that are up for grabs in the 2012 presidential election?

northcarolinaseal10.jpgNorth Carolina. Virginia. Florida. Ohio. Wisconsin.

Everyone following the 2012 presidential race knows these are some of the key states without a runaway frontrunner that both Mitt Romney and Barack Obama would like to carry to help ensure a White House win this November.

But how do journalists talk about these important states?

And what terms do they prefer to use in their coverage?

A Smart Politics review of broadcast media transcripts of ABC, CBS, CNN, FOX, MSNBC, NBC, and NPR from January through July 2012 finds that "swing state" is narrowly the preferred term across the medium to describe the hotly contested presidential states this cycle with "battleground state" a close second and "purple state" and "toss-up state" trailing far behind.

Overall, the term "swing state" has been used in 1,154 broadcast reports on the 2012 presidential race this year - a slight preference to "battleground state" which was utilized in 1,092 reports.

"Swing state" was the term of choice for five of the networks under analysis: CBS, FOX, MSNBC, NBC, and NPR.

"Battleground state," meanwhile, was used more frequently by CNN and ABC.

MSNBC preferred "swing state" at a 1.8 to 1 ratio over battleground state with NPR at 1.7 to 1, CBS at 1.4 to 1, and FOX and NBC at 1.2 to 1.

ABC preferred "battleground state" over "swing state" by a 2.5 to 1 ratio with CNN doing so at a 1.3 to 1 ratio.

The broadcast media has used "swing state" and "battleground state" in campaign reporting for several decades now.

For example, during ABC News' election night coverage of Ronald Reagan versus Jimmy Carter in November 1980, correspondent Sander Vanocur reported:

"Connecticut may also provide some clues to how Catholic, blue-collar workers have voted. The state has the third largest percentage of Catholic voters in the country, and that blue-collar vote is crucial in a battleground state like Ohio, which Carter won in 1976 by only 11,000 votes." (November 4, 1980)

In the 1986 midterms, ABC's Sam Donaldson analyzed President Reagan's midterm congressional losses:

"But in 11 of the 15 states the voters rejected the President's candidate and in the six critical swing states decided 51 to 49 or less, the Republicans lost all six." (November 5, 1986)

But for those who aren't hip to swing, or find the warlike metaphor 'battleground' a bit overdramatic, there are two less popular alternatives that the media sometimes dishes out: "purple state" and "toss-up state."

"Purple state" has appeared in 46 reports by the broadcast media so far this year.

For example, MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry spoke of the strategy behind Barack Obama's travel schedule as follows:

"That`s how President Obama spent Thursday and Friday of this week, road tripping across the Rust Belt. He was trying to convince the perennial purple states of Ohio and Pennsylvania to wear a blue dress to the big dance come November." - July 8, 2012

And CNN's Dana Bash attempted to explain Wisconsin's schizophrenic electorate by supporting both Republican Governor Scott Walker and the Democratic president:

"President Obama is pretty far ahead of Mitt Romney, 51 percent to 44 percent. So why the discrepancy? I think first answer to that question is this is historically a purple state, Wisconsin. But in the presidential races, it has gone Democratic, as you and I were talking about yesterday, since Ronald Reagan, since 1984."

When it comes to color schemes, the broadcast media is much more likely to speak of blue and red states than purple, even though purples states determine election outcomes.

"Red state" was utilized in 219 broadcast media reports this year with "blue state" mentioned in 200 - both more than four times as frequently as "purple state."

This is partially explained by the fact that purple state is a relatively recent term in political news coverage - coined some time after the media settled on blue and red as code for Democratic and Republican states more than a decade ago.

One of the early uses of "purple state" came during the 2004 presidential election.

In an Associated Press report from the early stages of the Democratic primaries, Frank Costanzo, director of Howard Dean's Arizona campaign spoke of the color status of the Grand Canyon State:

"I don't think it's a red or blue state. I think it's a purple state." (February 2, 2004)

An early broadcast use of "purple state" took place on NBC later that month when Katie Couric examined one of the grand prizes of the Electoral College vote - Florida:

"Everybody is talking about how key Florida is. Terry McCullough is saying it's clearly the number one prize. Republican strategists are describing it as ground zero. In this increasingly polarized country with blue states and red states, Florida really is a purple state, right?" (February 23, 2004)

For those seeking a more straight-forward approach to their news coverage, there is always the term "toss-up," although it was utilized in just 29 reports thus far in 2012.

"Republicans have to win that county to win Ohio. That gives you a sense of what the state looks like. How important is it? Let's go to the electoral map. It is right now one of our toss-up states." - Jon King, CNN, June 14, 2012

And on NPR:

"President Obama's announcement this week that he now supports gay marriage has sent political pundits into a frenzy of analysis and pontification. One key question: Does the president's decision help or hurt him with core democratic constituencies, especially African-Americans? In the election year toss-up state of North Carolina, for instance, black preachers led the charge for the recent amendment banning gay marriage." - Audie Cornish, May 11, 2012

But whatever term is used to describe these handful of highly competitive states, one thing is for certain - since they are of paramount importance to the candidates, a lot of green will be flowing into them, in the form of ad money across their airwaves.

Follow Smart Politics on Twitter.

Previous post: Texas GOP Senate Runoff Has 2nd Lowest Decline in Turnout from Primary Since 1950
Next post: Will the Real Battleground States Please Stand Up?

Leave a comment


Remains of the Data

Is There a Presidential Drag On Gubernatorial Elections?

Only five of the 20 presidents to serve since 1900 have seen their party win a majority of gubernatorial elections during their administrations, and only one since JFK.

Political Crumbs

Strike Three for Miller-Meeks

Iowa Republicans had a banner day on November 4th, picking up both a U.S. Senate seat and one U.S. House seat, but Mariannette Miller-Meeks' defeat in her third attempt to oust Democrat Dave Loebsack in the 2nd CD means the GOP will not have a monopoly on the state's congressional delegation in the 114th Congress. The loss by Miller-Meeks (following up her defeats in 2008 and 2010) means major party nominees who lost their first two Iowa U.S. House races are now 0 for 10 the third time around in Iowa history. Miller-Meeks joins Democrat William Leffingwell (1858, 1868, 1870), Democrat Anthony Van Wagenen (1894, 1912 (special), 1912), Democrat James Murtagh (1906, 1914, 1916), Democrat Clair Williams (1944, 1946, 1952), Democrat Steven Carter (1948, 1950, 1956), Republican Don Mahon (1966, 1968, 1970), Republican Tom Riley (1968, 1974, 1976), Democrat Eric Tabor (1986, 1988, 1990), and Democrat Bill Gluba (1982, 1988, 2004) on the Hawkeye State's Three Strikes list.


Larry Pressler Wins the Silver

Larry Pressler may have fallen short in his long-shot, underfunded, and understaffed bid to return to the nation's upper legislative chamber, but he did end up notching the best showing for a non-major party South Dakota U.S. Senate candidate in more than 90 years. Pressler won 17.1 percent of the vote which is the best showing for an independent or third party U.S. Senate candidate in the state since 1920 when non-partisan candidate Tom Ayres won 24.1 percent in a race won by Republican Peter Norbeck. Overall, Pressler's 17.1 percent is good for the second best mark for a non-major party candidate across the 35 U.S. Senate contests in South Dakota history. Independent and third party candidates have appeared on the South Dakota U.S. Senate ballot just 25 times over the last century and only three have reached double digits: Pressler in 2014 and Ayres in 1920 and 1924 (12.1 percent). Pressler's defeat means he won't become the oldest candidate elected to the chamber in South Dakota history nor notch the record for the longest gap in service in the direct election era.


more POLITICAL CRUMBS

Humphrey School Sites
CSPG
Humphrey New Media Hub

Issues />

<div id=
Abortion
Afghanistan
Budget and taxes
Campaign finances
Crime and punishment
Economy and jobs
Education
Energy
Environment
Foreign affairs
Gender
Health
Housing
Ideology
Immigration
Iraq
Media
Military
Partisanship
Race and ethnicity
Reapportionment
Redistricting
Religion
Sexuality
Sports
Terrorism
Third parties
Transportation
Voting