Washington - President Barack Obama - with the help of a slowly
improving US economy - is gaining ground in many of the 14 states where
the presidential contest with Republican Mitt Romney hangs in the
Recent polls have shown Obama gaining an edge over
Romney in several so-called swing states. Voters in those states do not
reliably support the candidate of either the Republican or Democratic
Their importance derives not only from their
unpredictability but also from the US presidential election process,
which depends on the electoral college and not the popular vote.
2000, for example, Democrat and former Vice President Al Gore won the
most popular votes nationwide, but former President George W Bush won
the presidency because he rolled up more electoral college votes.
race finally was decided by the US Supreme Court in a hugely
controversial ruling that votes in Florida, which initially showed Bush
as winner, would not be recounted statewide.
That gave Bush all of Florida's 27 electors and the presidency.
electoral college is a product of the earliest years of American
history and was put in place to protect the interests of
It was a compromise among the founding
fathers, who wrote the US Constitution. Some wanted the president chosen
by Congress, others wanted the popular vote to determine the election.
the compromise, the electoral college grants the presidential candidate
who wins the popular vote in each state the number of electors
allocated to that state.
Each state has one elector for each
member of the House of Representatives. The number of House members is
allocated according to population, with the smallest-population states
having only one representative.
But each state, regardless of
population, has two senators and, therefore, two electors in the
college. Thus, small-population states are granted fewer electors but
have proportional power according to population.
are 438 members of the House and 100 Senators, a total of 538 electors.
The winning presidential candidate must accumulate 270 electors - half
plus one - to win the White House.
Uptick in tourism
presidential election, thus, amounts to 51 - the number of US states
plus Washington, DC - individual winner-take-all elections.
swing states are Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota,
Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania,
Virginia and Wisconsin. Current polling shows Obama leading in eight,
Romney in three and three with new polling unavailable.
unemployment rate, a key measure of economic recovery, has dropped more
sharply in several swing states than in the nation as a whole. A
resurgence in manufacturing is helping the economy - and Obama's chances
- in the industrial Midwestern states of Ohio and Michigan.
And Arizona, Nevada and Florida, where unemployment remains high, are getting some relief from an uptick in tourism.
Great Recession of 2007-2009 hit several swing states particularly
hard. Unemployment peaked at 14.2% in Michigan, where the auto industry
It also hit double digits in Arizona, Nevada and
Florida, which were at the centre of the housing bust, and in North
Carolina, which lost jobs in textile and furniture plants.
2010, the economic misery helped Republicans retake control of the
House and gain seats in the Senate. But the Republicans cannot count on a
repeat when voters return to the polls - with much more at stake - on 6
After an agonisingly slow recovery, several swing-state economies are finally accelerating:
The job market is improving in Michigan and Ohio. In Michigan,
unemployment fell to 8.5% in March from 10.5% in March 2011. And in
Ohio, it dropped to 7.5% from 8.8% over the same period, putting it well
below the national average of 8.2%.
A Fox News poll released on Friday showed Obama leading Romney 45% to 39% among registered voters in Ohio.
blue-collar workers in Ohio and Michigan credit the federal bailout of
General Motors and Chrysler for saving tens of thousands of auto
industry jobs. Romney opposed the auto bailout.
- In Florida,
unemployment tumbled to 9% in March from 10.7% a year earlier. That was
more than twice the nationwide drop of 0.7 percentage point (from 8.9%
to 8.2%) over the same period. A rise in tourism is helping.
Even Nevada, a focal point of the real estate collapse, has seen some
improvement: Unemployment dropped to 12% in March from 13.6% a year
- Unemployment is down over the past year in the 10
other states the Associated Press identifies as swing states: Arizona,
Colorado, Iowa, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina,
Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin.
But things can change
swiftly and the economic recovery remains fragile. A month before the
most recent polling, for instance, Obama was running behind or
neck-and-neck with Romney in battleground states.
A jobs recovery fizzled in mid-2011, so there is no guarantee the unemployment rate will continue to fall this year.
Romney was quick to pounce after the government said job creation
plunged in March after three strong months of growth. Romney called the
numbers "weak and very troubling.... Millions of Americans are paying a
high price for President Obama's economic policies."
gasoline prices, up 60 cents this year to a national average $3.88 a
gallon, could also turn voters against Obama. Still, prices have dropped
over the past two weeks, and analysts say they could fall further.