Election nights make for great ratings for news networks, especially when it is the presidential election night every four years. Every network brings their best and brightest analysts and commentators in front of the cameras and they spend the evening watching as the results come in state by state. They sit there for hours trying to interpret and decipher what the results in each state might mean over the course of the evening. However, for many of the states, the results are never really in doubt or that surprising. South Carolina is almost always going to go ‘red’ for the Republicans, and California is as ‘blue’ as it gets for the Democrats.
Not every state follows this pattern. Such states are sometimes called ‘purple’ states or ‘battleground’ states. The handful that can swing both ways are visited more often by campaigning candidates, and they also get flooded with advertising, often to the point of irritating local residents with high volumes of political content in the pages of their newspapers, in television and radio commercials, and even all over billboards and lawn signs. Missouri is one such state, often referred to as a bellwether, since it sometimes indicates how battleground states around the Midwest and indeed the nation might vote.
The reason this often happens is that politically Missouri is actually somewhat representative of the larger nation. The larger map of the United States has a lot of urbanized areas and concentrations of liberals and Democrats on the East and West Coasts, with a center that is far more rural, conservative, and Republican. Missouri resembles this because it has the metropolis of St. Louis to its eastern border and Kansas City on its western edge, with large swaths of the empty and agricultural country in between them.
One of CNN’s senior political correspondents, John King, likes to say things like ‘as goes Missouri, so goes the nation’ given that Missouri winds up more often than not voting for the presidential candidate that ultimately wins. The track record of the state is not perfect by any means, but history has shown in recent decades that the state is very accurate in terms of choosing the next occupant of the White House. When networks call Missouri for one candidate or another, there is often a feeling and expectation that remaining battleground bellwether purple states to the west will mostly break for the same candidate.