Wild Cards: A Field Guide to the American Swing Voter


Pollsters, pundits, and activists have identified more than a dozen types of swing voter— that political creature known for its discerning (or is it indecisive?) approach to electoral politics. Below, a handy guide to some of these sought-after voters and how they may– or may not– tip the scales in November.
— Dave Gilson

Office-Park Dads
Who they are: Suburban married men working in the hi-tech and financial sectors
First spotted by: Democratic pollster Mark Penn, May 2002
What will lure them to the ballot box: Fiscally conservative talk on jobs, trade, and taxes
Unpredictable electoral behavior: Turned on by tax cuts, turned off by corporate scandals.

Security Moms
Who they are: Post-9/11 soccer moms. Often mate with Office-Park Dads.
First spotted by: Republican pollster David Winston, October 2001
What will lure them to the ballot box: Tough talk against terror— mini-nukes not minivans.
Unpredictable electoral behavior: Flocked to GOP in 2002 midterm elections, but may no longer trust Bush’s security cred.

Campus Kids
Who they are: 10 million college students. Offspring of Office-Park Dads and Security Moms.
First spotted by: Harvard University Institute on Politics, May 2003
What will lure them to the ballot box: Being wooed directly, even though many take political cues from mom and dad.
Unpredictable electoral behavior: Split between GOP and Dems. But less than one third voted in last election.

“Sex and the City” Voters
Who they are: Single, mostly young, women
First spotted by: Various observers
What will lure them to the ballot box: Focusing on issues, not faux-feminist fluff.
Unpredictable electoral behavior: Likely Kerry voters. But 22 million sat out 2000 and many remain unregistered.

NASCAR Dads
Who they are:Southern and Midwestern blue-collar white men
First spotted by:Democratic pollster Celinda Lake, June 2002
What will lure them to the ballot box: Culturally conservative populism
Unpredictable electoral behavior: Once Democratic stalwarts, now heavily pro-Bush. Can John Edwards throw them into reverse?

Golden Girls
Who they are: Retired white women
First spotted by: Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg, May 2004
What will lure them to the ballot box: Pills and bills—keep those drug benefits and Social Security checks coming.
Unpredictable electoral behavior: Currently split 50-50 between Bush and Kerry.

Wal-Mart Moms
Who they are: Suburban women in low-wage jobs. Previously known as Waitress Moms.
First spotted by: Stanley Greenberg and Celinda Lake, December 2003
What will lure them to the ballot box: Promises of better wages and benefits— anything to ease the financial squeeze.
Unpredictable electoral behavior: Went for Clinton in 2000, now up for grabs. Plus, does Wal-Mart allow employees to take time off to vote?

Corps Voters
Who they are: 2.6 million men and women in uniform and their families
First spotted by: Washington Monthly editor Benjamin Wallace-Wells, November 2003
What will lure them to the ballot box: Convince them you support the military more than the other guy
Unpredictable electoral behavior: Unclear whether they’ll mutiny against current commander-in-chief.

Freestyle Evangelicals
Who they are: 8 million politically moderate evangelical Christians
First spotted by: Beliefnet.com editor in chief Stephen Waldman and political scientist John Green, early 2003
What will lure them to the ballot box: Remembering that evangelicals care about issues other than family values
Unpredictable electoral behavior: Not solidly behind fellow evangelical Bush. But Kerry has yet to reach out to them.

Muslims and Arab Americans
Who they are: Muslim and Arab Americans in Michigan and other swing states
First spotted by: Arab American Institute/Zogby International poll,
January 2004
What will lure them to the ballot box: Anger over the post-9/11 civil liberties crackdown and Bush’s Middle East policy
Unpredictable electoral behavior: Backed Bush in 2000, but likely to defect to Dems in 2004. One-third are undecided.

Punk Voters
Who they are: Half a million young punk rockers with progressive leanings
First spotted by: Punkvoter.com founder “Fat Mike” Burkett, September 2003
What will lure them to the ballot box: The chance to head butt Bush and his “chaotic policies”
Unpredictable electoral behavior: May find a vote against chaos too ironic. And yes, there are conservative punks.

Schwing Voters
Who they are: 8 million Howard Stern fans
First spotted by: Salon.com correspondent Eric Boehlert, March 2004
What will lure them to the ballot box: The King of All Media’s crusade against Bush, the FCC, and Clear Channel
Unpredictable electoral behavior: Faced with tough drive-time choice between voting or tuning into Stern on November 2.

    Members like you

    Mother Jones is a nonprofit, and stories like this are made possible by readers like you. or to help fund independent journalism.