In Our View: Swing Voters Hold Sway

Many in Clark County’s electorate willingto weigh views of all parties’ candidates

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This being a year that is divisible by four, there will be no shortage of analysis of what makes voters tick.The major parties are striving to get their messages out, working to promote their candidates, and — more often than we care to admit — striving to demonize their opponents.

Of course, there are some overriding truisms that will play a role as election season draws near -- “it’s the economy, stupid” — but that won’t prevent debate over the vagaries of attracting voters and turning an election. As an article by Stevie Mathieu in Monday’s edition of The Columbian spells out, Clark County is rife with areas in which the electorate is open to messages from both sides of the political divide.

An analysis by The Columbian revealed 75 Clark County voting precincts in which a majority of voters picked Democrat Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election but sided with Republican Jaime Herrera Beutler in the 2010 congressional election. That represents 39 percent of the county’s 194 precincts.

Obama and Herrera Beutler don’t often occupy similar realms on the political spectrum, which would seem to make such voting outcomes rather incongruous.

Until you consider another truism of American politics. While this analysis is simplistic, there is some evidence to suggest that, in many areas, one-third of the electorate will vote Democrat and one-third will vote Republican and the remaining third is the group that will decide a given election.

To the cynical observer of modern politics, this theory might seem outdated. The landscape these days typically is dotted by unwavering partisanship, which in our opinion is damaging to the political process. Giving due consideration to opposing viewpoints is considered by many to be anachronistic these days, an era in which strident adherence to one political philosophy is regarded as some sort of virtue.

But in many localized areas the swing voters still hold sway. According to Mathieu’s article, Clark County’s swing districts are concentrated in Hazel Dell, Vancouver’s West Minnehaha neighborhood, east of Interstate 205, chunks of Camas and Washougal, and neighborhoods hugging the western side of I-205 just north of Highway 500.

Of course, there’s no telling which issues will motivate voters to get out to the polls and make their voices heard. Nationally, Obama’s message of “Hope and Change” resonated with voters. In 2010, the rise of the Tea Party and its anti-tax message helped influence the midterm elections.

Of course, election analysis always is a matter of hindsight being 20/20. It’s easy to look at the results and say, “This is what happened”; it’s quite another task to say, “This is what will happen.” For all of the pre-election polling, there often is no way to predict the mind-set of voters or what will draw the masses to the polls.

This is one of the beauties of the American political system. Candidates are rewarded for an ability to connect with voters enough to make them care about the message, rewarded for an ability to resonate with the electorate.

That is what gives power to the notion of the swing voter. While public opinion is that the major parties have moved away from the center of the political spectrum in an effort to solidify and energize their base constituency, power still resides in hands of those willing to consider messages from both sides.