There is no missing the stand-up comedy that is the “Undecided” voter these days. Pundits roundly scorn the “undecideds” as a mixture of lame and downright unacceptable, with the unsufferable voting bloc being clowned on late night television by the likes of David Letterman, Saturday Night Live and Bill O’Reilly.
“Honest to God,” said an exasperated Letterman to O’Reilly on a recent airing of CBS’ Late Night, “after two years of this, who is undecided?”
“Well, I think you might want to ask Snooki about that,” was the FOX host’s quick retort, followed by a roar of audience laughter.
Much of the reason for the focus on “undecideds” could be a mainstream media hunt for exactly why the 2012 Presidential election is so close. Scurrying for an explanation, the political press corps and battalions of analysts surmise that it’s a stubborn batch of voters who are holding up the final counts. From swing states to post-debate focus groups, there go those “undecided” voters, still scratching their heads or “twiddling their thumbs,” as one Obama 2012 campaign aide put it.
It is possible that some of those undecided voters were once enthusiastic supporters of President Obama in 2008. But, many are wondering: Who are they and what’s taking them so long? Some observers state that it’s simply a group of voters afraid to make their views public. Others point to race as a factor, with one segment of the voting public not wanting to admit that they are not going to vote for a Black president again. According to the Washington Post, 55 percent of White voters believe challenger Republican Mitt Romney understands the economy better than Obama does.
Another Washington Post poll showed 9 percent of respondents possibly “changing their mind.” And in YouGov’s recent weekly poll, there’s a “Not Sure” gap of 3 percent. Another CBS News poll also shows a 5 percent bloc of undecided voters in critical battleground states such as Colorado, Wisconsin and Virginia.
While these are small numbers compared to the bulk of voters who have made up their minds already, the race is so close both campaigns are stressing as they hunt for final votes. Nowhere is this distress more obvious than among Democrats who see the undecideds as standing in the way.
Still, there are skeptics who believe the undecideds may not be all that undecided. Recently watching a post-debate survey group on CNN, Hiram College’s Jason Johnson called them “fake undecided voters” and argued there were signs that they had made up their mind.
“After the debate, 11 said they were now voting for Obama,” Johnson said. “About 5 said Romney and [another] 9 wanted to keep their vote private.”
To Johnson, something was amiss. “Translation: those 9 are Romney supporters, and always were,” he said. “They just don’t want to admit it on air because [Romney] got his butt kicked in the last debate.”
Others point to the fact that this election season could be one of the most toxic in recent history. A recent Gallup poll revealed a very small share of Republicans favored incumbent President Barack Obama — compared to 23 percent who liked Democratic President Bill Clinton during his 1996 re-election effort (thereby explaining the need for Obama strategists to constantly deploy Clinton on the campaign trail). But, more interesting is that Obama’s predecessor, President George W. Bush, actually enjoyed more Democratic support than the current Democratic President enjoys Republican support.
“Another key in determining Obama's electoral fate may be which side of the 50 percent approval mark independent voters wind up on,” observes Gallup’s Jeffrey Jones in the polling analysis. “They have been very near 50 percent approval in recent weeks.”
As a result, some observers opine that there could be a segment of voters who are simply unafraid to state publicly, even before family and friends, who they are going to vote for.
“Some may be reticent to reveal their true preferences,” said Emory University’s Andra Gillespie, who is conducting a set of studies on that very question.
Not helping the situation are media reports of employers, such as the billionaire Koch brothers and software magnate Arthur Allen, threatening to terminate employees if they vote for the incumbent. “If the US re-elects President Obama, our chances of staying independent are slim to none,” warned Allen in a company-wide email to employees that implied job loss. “I am already heavily involved in considering options that make our independence go away, and with that all of our lives would change forever.”
Others, however, assert that race is playing a major factor in the undecided equation, particularly as they watch women voters — who were once reliable Democratic and Obama voters — shift towards Romney. Some observers argue that this may be caused by a perception of female voters as monolithic, with polls only counting the perspectives of white women. This could be leading to an unusually rigid number of undecided voters.
“When pundits are talking about the behavior of female voters, they are usually speaking of white women,” notes Gillespie. “The differences in partisan vote preferences across gender lines is largely driven by white voters. In 2008, for example, there was a 5 point gender gap in support for Obama between white women and men — compared to a 1 point gap in support between Black women and men. There was a 4 point gap in support for Obama between Latinas and Latinos.”
Lawyer and Washington Times commentator Jeneba Ghatt disagrees with the notion that “Soccer Moms” or “Walmart Moms” is code for white women — to the exclusion of black women. “Anecdotally, I am a woman of color, from a middle class background, and many of my friends of color shop at Walmart and have their kids in soccer, little league baseball, or football,” counters Ghatt.
“While it does seem overly-generic to characterize all of us in one group, the fact remains that the issues concerning this bloc generally skew towards the same interests.”