What Does a Swing Voter Look Like?

With an extremely polarized political environment, it’s hard to believe anyone would be a swing voter – an individual who voted for one party in a certain election then another party in the next election.

In the 2016 election, more counties switched from Obama to Trump than from Romney to Clinton in 2012. If you look at the map in the linked article, you can see how hard that Obama-to-Trump switch was in the Rust Belt, delivering Donald Trump the presidency in 2016.

Then in 2018, the suburbs came alive to send Democratic candidates to Congress. According to an article by The Atlantic, white suburban counties moved D+5.3. Counties that shifted from Obama to Trump in 2016 moved more Democratic by 4pts in 2018. Areas dependent on manufacturing that were decidedly pro-Trump moved D+3.6

So, yeah, swing voters exist.

After the 2018 elections, we conducted a post-mortem survey for a client in the districts lost within a traditionally red state that has a growing urban population. Out of the 400+ voters surveyed, we identified 24% as “likely swing/swung Republicans” and true independents.

On the whole, this swing group was much more female (+13) than the 2018 voting population as a whole. There was not much difference among age distribution. Their political ideology was significantly more moderate (+16).

Then earlier this year, we did another survey in nearly the same geography. The gender difference on swing voters was less noticeable, meaning more males were moving into the swing voter category. Among this voter group, there was a drastic difference within income grouping – swing voters were wealthier and more educated.

The Kaiser Family Foundation recently completed a study and found that 30% of voters could be considered swing voters. The study synopsis stated: “Who are swing voters? They’re younger, more moderate, and less engaged on national politics. At least a quarter say they didn’t vote in ’16 or ’18.”

As reported by The Washington Post, a Michigan State political scientist recently completed a research study called “Polarization and the Decline of the American Floating Voter”. He claims only 6% of voters are true swing voters.

Regardless of the percentage, what’s going to be true in 2020 more than ever is how the final voter composition looks like compared to the registered population. Based on registration efforts in places like Georgia and Texas, Democrats are gaining a significant lead at the top of the voter funnel – getting someone on the rolls.

To win in 2020, Republicans are going to need a surge in base turnout – which only Trump can drive – and a Democratic presidential nominee who turns off moderate suburban voters. In this scenario true swing voters swing back to Republicans.