What is a swing state and what will be the swing states in 2024? Generally speaking a swing state is a term used to describe one that is rather evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans and/or the ones experts believe could “go either way” (i.e. swing) in presidential elections. Terms like battleground states, toss-up states, and purple states essentially refer to the same concept.
Swing states are not always the same in each presidential election because demographics change, and people migrate elsewhere in the country. Who the candidates are and/or the positions they take on issues can also dictate the states that will be the most competitive in a given election cycle.
It is essentially the winner-take-all system used by 48 states that heightens the importance of swing states. The candidate that wins the most popular votes in a state, no matter the margin, is awarded all of that state’s electoral votes. In other words, there are no points, or in this case electors, for second or third place. Getting to 270 electoral votes, which is one half of the 538 total available nationwide plus one, secures a presidential victory.
The implications of this system are twofold. First, third parties cease to play a meaningful role other than as a spoiler. Second, each side, Democrat and Republican, essentially cedes certain states to their opponents. But why do that? Simple. It is unlikely a Republican presidential candidate could win a majority in New York or California. It is a similar situation for a Democrat in Texas and South Carolina. Thus no campaign wants to waste valuable resources in a fruitless effort.
What about 2024? While the old adage, normally applied to investments, of “past performance is no guarantee of future results” can apply to politics, we can still look to recent history in making significant predictions. Consider that in the last four presidential elections that the Democrat candidate won the same 20 states in all four. The Republican candidate also won the same 20 states in all four. There you have it then. There are 10 swing states, where at least once the “other guy” won. They are Arizona, Georgia, North Carolina, Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Ohio, and Florida.
But not so fast, as we can drill down further than 10 to see where the real competition may lie in 2024. Indiana can be written off as a fluke, or one-off, as Barack Obama won it in 2008 by just 1%, the first Democrat to do so in 44 years and the last. The state is reliably red, and Joe Biden is likely to spend no time campaigning there.
The other nine are truly competitive. The three most competitive states saw a victory for both a Democrat and a Republican exactly twice in the last four elections— Iowa, Ohio, and Florida. It should come as no surprise, then, that headlines in the last few days highlighted coveted key endorsements from Iowa’s governor to Ron DeSantis and Florida’s junior senator to Donald Trump.
Peering further into the 2024 crystal ball, we have polling data from the New York Times-Siena College poll of 3,662 registered voters in six states from Oct. 22 to Nov. 3. Trump is up over Biden by six points in Georgia, five points in both Arizona and Michigan, and four points in Pennsylvania. Only in swing state Wisconsin does Biden hold a two point lead over Trump. Interestingly, Trump leads Biden by 10 points in Nevada, which is not considered a swing state. Joe Biden won all six of these states in 2020.
The very release of this poll is sending shockwaves in major Democrat circles, prompting David Axelrod, Obama’s former adviser, to publicly state this on November 5th about Biden remaining on the ticket: “What he needs to decide is whether that is wise; whether it’s in HIS best interest or the country’s?”
A final thought on swing states 2024: if you live in one of the 10 swing states not colored blue or red on the map here, expect to see a lot of both the Democrat and Republican presidential candidates after each is formally nominated and announced at their respective party’s convention next summer. Note, until then, it’s a race for delegates to get that nomination. Note, not a single state’s primary or caucus has actually been held yet. First up—swing state Iowa on January 15, 2024.
Jeff Szymanski holds a master’s degree in political science and works in political communications for AMAC, a senior benefits organization with 2.2 million members. He previously worked for the Rhode Island state legislature and taught high school social studies for 15 years.