Insight: For most voters, presidential campaign is distant

Sun Nov 4, 2012 1:24am EDT
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By Andy Sullivan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - This year's presidential election could be among the closest in U.S. history, as President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney are locked in a virtual dead heat. For a growing number of voters, however, it will not be much of a contest at all.

Roughly 22 percent of the U.S. population lives in the nine politically divided states that are likely to determine the outcome of Tuesday's election - and that have been the focus of the candidates' campaign stops and advertising.

That has left four-fifths of Americans effectively on the sidelines, the highest proportion in more than century.

It's a reflection of how Americans elect their president not by popular vote, but through a state-by-state process known as the Electoral College. The winner of each state typically is awarded that state's electoral votes, with 270 electoral votes needed to clinch the White House.

Over the past four decades, presidential elections have played out on a shrinking battlefield, as political parties have become more ideologically unified and Americans increasingly have moved to communities where their neighbors share their political views, analysts say.

As a result, most states can be taken off the table - as either particularly friendly to a candidate, or not - before a presidential campaign even begins.

With the South and the Plains states firmly in the Republican column and the Northeast and West Coast solidly Democratic, elections since 2000 have come down to a few states that, for one reason or another, remain politically diverse and up for grabs.

This year, Obama and Romney focused the bulk of their television advertising and ground-level campaigning on nine states: Nevada (6 electoral votes), Colorado (9), Iowa (6), Wisconsin (10), Ohio (18), New Hampshire (4), Virginia (13), North Carolina (15) and Florida (29). Romney has made a late bid for Pennsylvania and its 20 electoral votes, but polls there have shown Obama with a consistent lead.   Continued...

U.S. Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney (L) and U.S. President Barack Obama answer a question at the same time during the second U.S. presidential campaign debate in Hempstead, New York, October 16, 2012. REUTERS/Jim Young