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Dawidziak: In polls, the suburbs are a battleground

The demographics and political makeup of Nassau and

The demographics and political makeup of Nassau and Suffolk Counties look much like the critical war zones in states around the country. Photo Credit: Nancy Ohania/Tribune Media Service

Alas for that huge blue metropolis to our west. If not for New York City, Long Island would be a key swing area in this year's presidential elections. The demographics and political makeup of Nassau and Suffolk counties look much like the critical political battlegrounds around the country.

Indeed, it is the up-for-grabs suburbs that make swing states swing. Why? Because rural areas vote predominantly Republican and urban areas vote overwhelmingly Democratic. That leaves the suburban communities to make the difference.

It's why mostly rural states with no major cities can be counted on to go red every four years. Historically, that's quite a turnaround for the Democrats. The party that traces its roots to Thomas Jefferson used to pride itself as being the voice of agrarian interests. Imagine how upset Jefferson would be to see his chosen people staunchly voting Republican now.

The Democrats aren't alone in losing a core voting group. The Republicans were once the party of Abraham Lincoln and emancipation. After the Civil War and into the 20th century, it was the Republicans who could count on the African-American vote. But as more African-Americans moved to the cities and the Republicans sided more with corporations and management, the door was opened for the Democrats. Franklin D. Roosevelt barged through, and the African-American and urban vote has swung blue ever since.

While the dynamics that now paint states red or blue were developing, the suburban neighborhoods of the country were growing. By and large, these communities have evolved to become areas with mixed political ideology. It isn't that swing voters don't live in cities or rural areas, there's just a heavier concentration of them in the suburbs. They make up more of a majority in these neighborhoods.

So it will be the suburban areas in the 10 or so battleground states that are targeted by the campaigns this year. But the suburbs in our state and in Illinois are considered irrelevant in presidential politics; the sheer number of blue votes in New York City and Chicago cancels them out. New York City has already spoken for the state's 27 electoral votes.

Soccer moms, Walmart shoppers and small-business owners will decide the election in November, just not those in Nassau and Suffolk. It will be the suburbs of Cleveland, Cincinnati and Denver that will get the most attention from Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.

But take heart, Long Island: We're not going to be completely ignored by the national parties, congressional committees or, unfortunately, the super PACs.

For one thing, we have a very hot congressional race in the Tim Bishop-Randy Altschuler rematch in New York's 1st District. In fact, this race was so close two years ago that it was the last congressional contest decided in the entire country. The historical dynamic that has made so few states competitive presidentially is also true of congressional districts. Add in gerrymandering -- the political manipulation of electoral boundaries to favor one party -- and of the 435 seats in the House of Representatives, far fewer than 100 are truly competitive in any given election. Again, suburban seats are usually the most susceptible to swinging -- and this one is being rated as one of the top races to watch in the country by pundits.

Lastly, Long Island's demographic and political resemblance to the key swing areas in the country hasn't been lost on national campaign analysts. Polling data on Long Island will be scrutinized very carefully. It is probable that as Long Island goes, so will go the White House.

Michael Dawidziak is a political consultant and pollster.