Why do Election 2012 swing states matter? 5 resources to explain.

Candidates spend disproportionate time and money campaigning in them, the media flock to cover them, and the most polling data and election news come from places like Florida, Ohio, and Iowa. 

But what makes a swing state "swing?" And how many votes do these powerhouse states actually get? Can a candidate win the election without winning Florida and Ohio? D.C. Decoder has compiled a list of news organizations and groups with the most in-depth data and analysis on swing states.

These five sources tally the votes in any number of scenarios, highlight important demographics and issues that define swing state voters, and tackle the swing states county by county.

Larry Downing/Reuters
Supporters hold signs to welcome US President Barack Obama at a campaign event at the Palm Beach County Convention Center in Florida September 9.

1. The New York Times

Tony Dejak/AP/File
This January file photo shows a woman voting at the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections in Cleveland as early voting began in Ohio's March presidential primary.

One of the best resources on The New York Times is its electoral map feature, which emphasizes the swing states.

The feature takes readers through eight interactive steps, beginning with a map of the US that shows the influence of each state relative to its number of electoral votes. States like Florida, California, Texas, and New York, which have more electoral votes, appear larger than they normally would on a regular geographic map.

Below the map are descriptions of each state, its political leaning, and a description of why the swing states are important. 

Readers may have seen maps like these before, but the Times takes it a step further. They walk users through seven voting scenarios showing strategies the candidates could employ, and the states they would need to take to win.  

For example, it shows that Obama could win even if he lost Florida, Indiana, North Carolina, Ohio, and Virginia, and that Romney could win by focusing on the Southern and Western states.

The feature even allows readers to make up their own scenarios, dragging the states between the two candidates.

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