Ken Winneg, Ph.D. candidate and managing director of the National Annenberg Election Survey at the Annenberg Public Policy Center (APPC), and Adam Clymer, former reporter for The New York Times and a former political director with the APPC, contributed a chapter to a new book on swing voters' titled The Swing Voter in American Politics, William G. Mayer (ed.), Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press.
From the chapter: Rarely if ever has the adage about “dancing with them that brung you” made more sense than in 2004. When the Bush and Kerry campaigns put most of their efforts into playing to their base voters, rather than trying to convert the uncommitted or the weak supporters of the other candidate, they knew what they were doing. And when pollsters like us kept looking for something that would change an election that looked close all the way, we were—like stereotypical old generals—fighting a past war. This was not the traditional model, where candidates win nominations by playing to the left and the right and then win the general election by playing to the middle, where a decisive number of undecideds and weak supporters of the other candidate represent a valuable and winnable prize. Data from the National Annenberg Election Survey, a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, make it clear that 2004 was a singularly stable election, one where voters may have had their doubts but hardly ever surrendered to them. Indeed only 15 percent of voters said there was “ever a time” when they thought they would vote for the candidate other than the one they ultimately voted for.