It Sucks Being a Swinger

No matter how attractive you are (as a voter) if you’re not in one of 12 states, you may never see a Presidential candidate.

It Sucks Being a Swinger

Editors Note: Since launching the Lorem Ipsum, I've enjoyed being the only one with an opinion, and we never seem to disagree with us. However, this week, I invited a friend, Alison Dagnes, to contribute her thoughts on some of the dynamics we face in politics in light of the narrowly contested midterm elections. When I asked her to write a piece for the publication, she requested that I use Times New Roman, to which I said no, because I have to draw the line somewhere.

Alison is a Professor of Political Science at Shippensburg University. She's authored books on the topic and hosted countless watch parties on election day(s) although I get the impression she kicks everyone out before it reaches day five.


I Thought Being a Swinger Would Be More Fun

By: Alison Dagnes

You may not think of Pennsylvania as a hotbed for swingers, but here in my home state, we’re all into it. Or at least 60% of us are last I heard. It sounds hot, but it gets complicated during election season. Pennsylvania is not only politically divided but evenly split and so we are considered a “swing state,” which turns out to be suitably sexy only for a middle-aged political science professor slinging democracy for a living. This is to say: not so sexy, unless you like a nice pair of glasses drifting down on one's nose.

How disappointing.

And yet, at election time we swinging states are the most popular girls at the dance because there are so few states swinging. Most states are reliably Red or Blue, politically predictable, and electorally uninteresting which is why people ask me about Pennsylvania with a combination of confusion, prurient interest, and horror. I blame the Founders.

We have 50 states, five regions, and a dozen different ways to say “soda,” but thanks to the political system that the Founding Fathers created, America has only two political parties and the Electoral College, which put together forces us into a Red and Blue division that political scientists call “polarization.” We have grown so polarized in the past six years, we separate ourselves not just by our politics, but by the things we buy, the places we eat, and where we live. This is a problem, because we increasingly surround ourselves with people who look, act, and think just like us, and as a result, Americans have sorted ourselves into areas that are distinctly Red or conspicuously Blue. Check out the Electoral College maps from the last several decades, and you’ll begin to see some patterns.

The Southeast is a reliably Republican region, the Northeast dependably Democratic. The left coast is liberal, the Midwest is mostly conservative, and the Southwest seems to be having an identity crisis. There are, of course, exceptions to every rule, and in political science, we call these exceptions “battleground states,” because these are the states where presidential candidates battle for the Electoral College vote of a state that has an equal population of D’s and R’s. These are the states, like Pennsylvania, that swing back and forth from party to party. See? “Swing” states. It sounds like sexy fun to me!

What’s up with Pennsylvania? We have 9 million registered voters and Donald Trump won PA in 2016 by 44,292 votes and lost in 2020 by 81,660 votes, no matter what Rudy Giuliani said at the Four Seasons Total Landscape company. Pennsylvania is a state that James Carville once described as “Philadelphia on one side, Pittsburgh on the other, and Alabama in the middle,” meaning we have two major cities on either side of the state that are majorly Democratic, with a big swath of rural conservatism in between them. My congressional district is so Republican, we didn’t even have a Democrat run in this year’s midterm election. At the same time, my sister lives outside of Philadelphia and never sees a Trump sign until she comes to my house for Thanksgiving. Our statewide elections are, as Dan Rather would say, as tight as a tick which means every two years someone on NPR declares in somber tones: “all eyes are on Pennsylvania this election.” Oh please. When aren’t all eyes on us?

You’d think that out of 50 states, America would have a wide variety of battleground states and presidential candidates would rack up the frequent flier miles by traipsing around the country. Sad to say, that’s not the case. In fact, in the 2020 general election (those sweet three months in between Labor Day and Election Day when most normal people begin to pay attention to politics) there were campaign events in only 12 (!) states. Similar numbers went for ad spending: only six (!) states received the vast majority of the ad buys. That’s a great deal of interest paid to a select group of Americans, and this kind of concentrated notice can make some middle-aged professors toss their hair, check their nails, and feel good as hell.

And yet, as a resident of one of these hot, spicy swing states, I would like to go on the record and say that all of this attention comes with some drawbacks. Sure, we get visits from POTUS past and present who court my vote or campaign as surrogates for others, but the ad drops alone are enough to make someone want to cut the cord and turn it into a truss. Our recent U.S. Senate race was the nation’s most expensive with more than $300 million spent on ads for that election alone (we’re #1!). Do you have any idea how many ads that is? I became afraid to go to the bathroom because Mehmet Oz might be hiding in my toilet. I knew John Fetterman wasn’t in there – he certainly couldn’t fit.

And yes, the races are interesting to watch but there is such as thing as being too interesting. These close elections take up so much space in my brain, they’re all I think about. My daughter asked me what was for dinner last week and I told her I had to go onto the 538 website to find out. These close elections take up so much attention in the national media, they’re all anyone wants to talk about with me. I called my father to ask how he was feeling after a recent surgery, and he responded: “Who cares? Is Oz really going to win there?”

It’s nerve-wracking and I walk around with a jar of Tums in my bag at all times. It’s exhausting and it makes me cranky to think about politics all the time. By the time Election Day arrives, I start yelling at people who ask me for predictions: “WHO DO YOU THINK I AM, THE AMAZING CARNAC?” People stop inviting me to gatherings. It’s a problem.

So, while being an election swinger briefs well, in reality it would be nice to share the wealth of this political eroticism with a few more states. The bad news is that Americans continue our political polarization and separate ourselves so that the battleground states stay fighting. Even worse, the battles are going to last longer, and the way things are looking, my swinger status will no longer be an episodic problem. The campaigning will just continue forever in an endless loop. I just read that Donald Trump may be announcing his candidacy for president soon. Please pass the Tums.