How the Swing States Work

By: Ed Grabianowski & Patty Rasmussen  | 

Hitting the Trail

swing states
Presidential candidates tend to focus much of their campaigning on swing states. Here Democratic Presidential nominee Joe Biden campaigns in Pennsylvania during the coronavirus pandemic. SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images

Part of the beauty of swing states is that the information gives campaigns a better idea of where to deploy quickly diminishing financial resources. Obviously, a campaign is going to spend the most money in places where it will create the greatest impact. If a candidate knows he or she has little chance of flipping a state, the campaign is unlikely to spend much money on advertising there.

If a state was decided by a few thousand votes in the last election, it's easy to see why it's important to campaign in that state, but that's not the only reason why a candidate visits a state. Demographics play a big part as well. Candidates might need to speak to a key constituency that has a large population in that state. Or maybe they want to make a policy point at a particular location, like when President Donald Trump visited a major roads project in Atlanta to talk up transportation infrastructure. The strategy involved in a candidate's movements are multifaceted and usually calculated.


Campaigns do visit non-swing states, however, and the reason is simple: money. High-priced campaign events can raise millions of dollars, which can ultimately help pay for campaign advertising in other states.