Election Night Swing State Cheat Sheet


If you want to know what states a candidate is worried about carrying, just follow his campaign trail.

Republican Mitt Romney appeared in three different events across Virginia on Thursday, and stopped in Wisconsin, Ohio and Massachusetts on Friday. President Barack Obama visited Wisconsin Thursday, held two events in Ohio on Friday and will head to Virginia over the weekend.

With Election Day just around the corner, the race for the White House is going to come down to just a handful of states—or maybe even a handful of counties.

“We could see a similar situation to 2000 in that we just won’t know the clear winner,” said Michael Berry, assistant professor of political science at the University of Colorado, Denver. “If it’s as close as we are all predicting and certain states are so close and every ballot will make a difference, it will take a long time to count every ballot and it wouldn’t surprise me if we don’t know the next president on election night.”

It’s been a long campaign season filled with endless TV and radio ads and political mudslinging. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, this race has been the most expensive in history, at $6 billion, beating 2008’s spending by $700 million.

Here’s a snapshot of the key states that remain a toss up on the electoral map.


The Buckeye state has served a pivotal role in past presidential elections, with winning results often coming down to a few percentages points. No Republican candidate has been able to win the White House without carrying the state since 1900.

“We have a tradition of going with the winner most of the time,” says Grant Neeley, associate professor of political science at the University of Dayton. “We are a state that is hard to explain to people. We have a great mix of all types of voters; we encompass both very urban areas and very rural areas with a lot of suburbs in between.”

Both parties recognize the importance of Ohio and have increased their campaign stops and advertising blitzes in the last few weeks. According to the National Journal, the Obama campaign has dropped $72,762,477 on advertising in the state with Romney’s team spending $43,198,708.

It will be hard for Romney to gain the 270 votes needed to win the election without taking Ohio, but he has made up significant ground in the state over the last few weeks.

Obama kept his ground game in the state by retaining campaign offices in the state and his organizational infrastructure, says Neeley, while Romney has been playing a game of catch up, and has significantly closed the gap.

Number of Electoral Votes:  18

Voting Anomalies: The state has a high provisional ballot rate, which could delay results given the tightness of the race.

“I don’t know if we are going to have a winner on election night -- we may very well wait a while to get a true read on which way Ohio went,” says Neeley. “It’s a simple fact that we are going to have a lot of provisional ballots… more provisional ballots than the gap and the spread in the election and it will take some time to count them.”

According to Neeley, the secretary of state sent out an “unprecedented” amount of provisional ballots this year and they   aren’t counted until at least 10 days after election night. So if the presidency comes down to the state’s electoral votes, there could be a delay for officials to evaluate the validity of each provisional ballot.

Previous Results:  In the last five presidential elections, the state has gone blue three times. In 2008 it went to Obama with a 4.6 percentage point margin of victory. In 2004 and 2000, George W. Bush carried the state with 2.1 and 3.5 points wins against his Democratic challengers.

New Hampshire 

President Obama has visited the Granite State six times this year, while the governor launched his bid for the Oval Office on a farm in Stratham.

“New Hampshire is bellwether is a swing state with a Democratic lean to it,” explains Dante Scala, professor of political science at the  University of New Hampshire. “It probably represents President Obama’s last line of defense -- if he loses the entire south, including Florida and Virginia, and Ohio, there is still a last path for him to win the 270, and it goes through states like New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Nevada, states with a small Democratic lean to them.”

Recent polls show Romney having a slight advantage in the state, where he has made eight campaign stops since April. Experts say Romney could have a home state advantage since he served as governor of neighbor state Massachusetts from 2003 to 2007. On the other hand, the state has many females on the ballot for governor and Congressional seats which could draw more females to the voting booth, and could tilt the favor toward the president, Scala adds.

Number of Electoral Votes:  4

Voting Anomalies:  New Hampshire holds the first primary in the presidential election, becoming the unofficial start to the campaign season.

Previous Results: The state has bounced between the two parties since 1992 and in the last five presidential elections the state has gone blue four times. In 2008 it went to Obama, 2004 for Gore and 2000 for George W. Bush.


Florida offers more electoral votes than any other swing state and both campaigns have spent significant time and money in the Sunshine State. In fact, according to some reports, it was the most visited state from either the candidates or a surrogate in September.

Because of the state’s high percentage of seniors, both campaigns have touted the benefits of their Medicare plans to garner the coveted voting group. The I-4 corridor, which connects Tampa and Orlando, is also a hotspot for each candidate since close to 43% of the voters live in the area.

Romney campaigned in the state this week and Bill Clinton filled in for the president Monday at an event as he returned to Washington, D.C., to oversee Hurricane Sandy preparations and relief.

Number of Electoral Votes: 29

Voting Anomalies: Florida gained two electoral votes for the 2012, 2016, and 2020 presidential elections.

Florida’s election system was thrown into the spotlight in 2000 in the Bush vs. Gore election that became a cliffhanger over hanging chads. The Bush-Cheney ticket won the electoral vote and the Gore-Lieberman ticket took the popular vote—the first time a president won the presidency without taking the popular vote since 1888.

Gore demanded a recount in Florida, but the election was finally settled by a 5-4 Supreme Court decision giving the election to Bush.

Previous Results: In the last five elections, Republicans have won the state three times. In 2008, Obama won by 3 percentage points and in 2004 George W. Bush won by 5. In the 2000 Bush vs. Gore election, Bush won by just a few hundred votes.


Obama was the first Democrat to win the state since 1964 in 2008, and it looks like the state is going to play a crucial role this election cycle as well.

Both candidates are hitting the state hard leading up to the election. First Lady Michelle Obama made an appearance Friday and the president and Clinton will hold events Saturday. Romney held a rally Thursday, and his running mate Paul Ryan will hold events over the weekend.

Number of Electoral Votes: 13

Voting Anomalies: After a hotly-contested battle, the state implemented a new voter ID law this year that requires residents to show identification before casting a vote. Valid proof includes government-issued IDs such as a driver’s license, as well as other documents like a current utility bill that includes a name and address, a state voter card or a concealed-handgun permit. Voters without valid proof will be able to cast a provisional ballot.

Previous Results: The Commonwealth has gone red four of the last five election cycles with Obama taking the state in 2008 with a 6.3-point margin of victory.


Residents’ migration out of rural areas to cities has shifted the state from dependently red to a battleground state. Close to 80% of the state’s population now lives in cities and the surrounding areas, and voters are evenly split between the two parties—making the independent voters the focus of both campaigns.

“Residents are more in tune with the presidential race this season because we don’t have a senate or governor’s race and there aren’t as many ballot measures,” says Berry.

While the state only has three measures on the ballot this year, there is a big one: legalizing marijuana, which according to Berry has rallied the youth vote and could potentially help Obama.

Obama won the state in 2008 54%-45% over opponent McCain after it went Republican eight of the last nine presidential elections.

Recent polls show the race at a tie and that a few thousands votes could swing the state.

Number of Electoral Votes: 9

Voting Anomalies: Early voting started in the state more than a week ago and early reports show 1.1 million out of 3.5 million voters have already cast their choice.

“Colorado is third in the nation with early voting, close to 70% of the electorate will have voted before election day either through early voting centers or mail-in ballots so that means we see more frequent visits from candidates early in the campaign,” explains Berry.

Berry also says the state has 16 names on the ballot for president, including space for a write-in candidate. “We have no shortage of choices, but given the nature of this election and that we know how important our vote is, I expect people to stick to the two parties.”

Previous Results: In the last five presidential elections, the state has gone red three times. In 2008 Obama carried the state.


Obama plans to end his campaign in the The Hawkeye State on Monday with a rally in Des Moines. On Wednesday, Clinton, who carried the state in 1992 and 1996, campaigned for the president. Romney was lagging in the state over the summer, but his performance in the first presidential debate on Oct. 16 reignited enthusiasm in the state for the governor.

Recent poll numbers show Obama with a lead in the state, getting a strong boost in early voting and women. The president solidly won the state by almost 10 percentage points in 2008.

Number of Electoral Votes: 6

Voting Anomalies:  Iowa issued a new rule that states ballots being returned by mail must be postmarked no later than Monday, Nov. 5, which could delay accurate results.

Previous Results: In the last five presidential elections, the state has gone blue with the exception of 2004, when George W. Bush carried the state by a slim 0.7% margin of victory.


Not normally a swing state, both campaigns say this state’s race is close. Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan, who represents the state in the House of Representatives, as his running mate has given some momentum to the ticket’s popularity in the state. Obama carried the Badger State by 14 percentage points in 2008.

Number of Electoral Votes: 10

Voting Anomalies: The state’s legislature passed strict new photo ID laws in 2011, which was ultimately declared unconstitutional in 2012 and no identification is necessary on Election Day.

Previous Results:  In the last five presidential elections the Democratic Party has taken the state. In 2008, Obama scored 56% of the vote over McCain’s 42%.