Our presidential elections, pundits sometimes remind us, are not national contests, but rather contests in 50 states and the District of Columbia. And since most states lean heavily to one party or the other these days, the only real contests are in a dozen or so target states.
Once upon a time, most states were in play. In the 1976 contest between Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter, 30 states with 396 electoral votes were carried by less than 10 percent of the votes. Three-quarters of voters lived in those states.
In 2008, the field of play was much smaller. The candidates’ percentage margins were less than 10 percent in only 15 states with 159 electoral votes. Less than one-third of voters lived in those states.
In 1976 all the eight largest states were carried by less than 10 percent. In 2008 only two, Florida and Ohio, were.