As we discussed in class, political scientists have estimated that only 7% of voters are genuinely undecided between the two candidates. (Source) The presidential debates can be critical times in the campaign to sway the undecided voter. From my personal experience as an undecided voter, the debate this past Wednesday did not sway me to vote for either candidate.
Blair shared with us in class the following study that was done on Wednesday with undecided voters. The Denver Post gathered a panel of 15 undecided voters –ages ranging from 20s-60s and employment status including those who are unemployed, underemployed, and happily employed. The overarching theme among these participants was that almost all of them were dissatisfied with both candidates. They were all given a handheld device where they could indicate whether they approved or disapproved of what the candidates were speaking about throughout the debate. They found that Romney’s score tended to fall when he critiqued the President. Overall, most of the 15 believed that Romney won the debate. (Source) As we discussed on Thursday it was very clear that Romney performed better during the debate and essentially “won.” CBS also conducted a poll of undecided voters and these voters also believed Romney won the debate. (Source)
My question is what does “winning the debate” mean for the turnout of the election? The panel in Denver may have agreed on the winner, but most are still undecided when it comes to casting their vote. I too believe that Romney won the debate, but I still don’t know who I am voting for on November 6th.
I looked into several research studies conducted to determine the effects of the debate on voter behavior. Most of what I found was research conducted on all voters, not just undecided voters. I read a study by D. Sunshine Hillygus and Simon Jackman that looked at the difference in voters’ opinion after the party conventions and the presidential debates in the 2000 Presidential Election. They organized their findings in to tables where they showed what percentage of Bush supporters became undecided or Gore supporters and vice versa after the conventions and then after the debates. What I found most interesting was that after the debate 21.4% of undecideds became Bush supporters and 21.1% of undecideds became Gore supporters but the majority remained undecided. (Source)
Why do the debates not have a stronger effect on these undecided voters? It is the one time during the campaign process where the two candidates can go head to head on policy issues. I would think that this information would be very important to voter decisions yet it is not. For me, I have a hard time believing what is said during the debates is actually true. It all sounds great, but what does it actually mean for the future of our country. My feelings were mirrored by other undecided voters who were interviewed in this news story.
Why do we question so much of what is discussed during these debates? One of my reasons was as a result of watching the fact checking going on via twitter and in the news coverage post debate. I also know that this is a performance for the voters and the candidates are framing statistics in the best light for their campaign. I think that most undecided voters remain undecided after the debate because they realize there is a level of acting going on. As we discussed in class when we read the Didion piece, there is a level of understanding within the public that campaigns are staged and acted by the political players. Maybe this understanding leaves voters skeptical after the debates.