In U.S. politics, a battleground state is a state where the political race between a Republican and Democrat, usually presidential candidates, is extremely close. Due to the way that presidential elections are run in the United States, the popular vote is not as important as the the individual tally of the states. This allows campaigns to pursue a state-by-state strategy in order to win an election, which makes those states where the race is close very important.
Traditionally, states that have voted for Republicans have been marked in red, and those that have voted Democrat are marked in blue. A battleground state is often referred to as a purple state: a mixture of red and blue.
Further, with the state-by-state emphasis on presidential elections, any state where there are voters are closely divided between candidates is critical. Every state is given a certain number of votes in the electoral college, based on its population. It takes 270 electoral votes to win a presidential election. Due to the fact that most states devote all their electoral votes toward the winning candidate, no matter how close the vote is, every state that seems like it might go either way has the ability to make a difference in an extremely close election.
Determining whether a state is a battleground state is usually done through political polling. This polling will show, in general terms, how competitive a potential state may be between two candidates. If a state is within the margin of error in the polling, or if it has demonstrated wide swings between candidates, then it may be declared a battleground.
This designation is more beneficial for the media and the general public than the campaigns. Each campaign knows what it needs to be successful and will put together a strategy based on states the campaign feels it can win. This will be determined through past history, geographical considerations, and its own internal polling numbers. As such, the campaigns will already have identified those states identified as battlegrounds.
The campaigns will target all battleground states through a number of different strategies. First, media buys, such as television, radio, and newspaper ads will be a huge part of any plan. Direct mailings and campaign staff will also be centered on those states. In addition, each candidate will likely make more personal visits to the state in an effort to get free media coverage and reach as many voters as possible on a personal level.