The “undecided voter”, “uncommitted voter”, “independent voter” are terms that have been thrown around throughout the entire campaign process, but what do they mean? CNN does a live polling of undecided voters during every debate. There are countless news articles interviewing these uncommitted voters and their viewpoints. But what is all the fuss about? Who are these “undecided voters” and why are they important?
When looking into this topic the first news stories that popped up were stories about the “Walmart Moms.” According to CNN, a bipartisan study is being conducted in Ohio over the past several years that analyzes a focus group of “Walmart Moms,” working mothers who have children under the age of 18 and have shopped at Walmart once or more in the past month. This study has found that these women have been the swing vote in the past. The article illustrated that this subset of voters are looking for a candidate who can understand their day to day struggles and find ways to help. They have issues with the amount of jobs that have been lost over the past four years with Obama in office but they are also concerned that Romney will not care about the 47%, a category they fall into. Is this an accurate snapshot of the undecided voter? I can say with 100% certainty that I’m not a working mom shopping at Walmart, yet I consider myself an undecided voter.
An article in the National Journal attempts to better understand the undecided voter in the 2012 election. Ronald Brownstein, the author, argues that if someone is undecided in an election year with an incumbent, that they must be disappointed in the current president. But more so this year than in prior, Brownstein has found that most undecided voters are dissatisfied with their choices in general. Therefore each campaign has a specific focus: Romney needs to convince voters to dismiss the incumbent while Obama focuses on disqualifying Romney. The author believes this may be one reason for the heavy concentration of negative ads on each side. The campaigns have been playing these roles, but still these undecided voters are lacking faith in both candidates. He also outlines this voter as citizens who “tend to be women lower educated a little younger, and they are not paying much attention right now.” To me, Brownstein is portraying a situation where many of these undecided will not vote at all. They might not be well educated on the candidates and have checked out because they don’t agree with either one. I find this to be an overgeneralization. I feel like I am undecided because I am over-informed about the issues and find myself agree with both candidates on different things, yet I am still planning on voting. I am not undecided because I am not paying attention or do not like either one.
Therefore, I think a clear distinction needs to be made between undecided voters and people who are likely to vote but are uncommitted to a candidate. In search of a definition of the “undecided voter” I could approve of, I discovered a journal article about the swing voter by William Mayer.
Mayer’s article focused on a group of the electorate that made up the swing vote in presidential elections. “The swing vote is a slightly broader concept: It includes not only those who are literally undecided but also those who have some current vote intention but are weakly committed to that choice.” He said this group was composed of independents, floating voters, and uncommitted voters. His research found that many registered independents have a leaning to a specific party. Approximately 7% of the voters are “true independents” and even some of those have hidden partisanship. According to Mayer only 40% of “true independents” contribute to the swing vote. Floating voters are those who switch parties between elections much like the “Walmart Moms” who have flip flopped between Obama and Romney throughout the campaign. The last group was the undecided voters – or those who are not sure of who they are voting for. Only 7% of voters were undecided leading up to the 2008 election. The article presented a lot of figures, but what does this mean for Presidential Elections. According to the below chart, the percentage of voters that compose the swing vote has been gradually decreasing since the 1970s. I find this interesting since we have discussed in class that the amount of people registering as independents has steadily increased since then. Those two facts seem to be contradictory, but I think it further supports the idea that most independents are “hidden partisans.” On another note, I found it interesting that election years where there was not an incumbent the percentage of swing voters was higher. Look at 1976, 1988 and 2000 in comparison to the other years. I think this further proves Brownstein’s argument that when there is an incumbent, voters have to feel much more disappointment in the past four years for them to be undecided.
What does all of this mean then? I think Mayer’s piece on swing voters offers many insights into who these people are and why they fall into that category. Now that we’ve defined them what do they mean to the larger election. Mayer found that the swing voters only matter in Presidential races that are close. But there is still a major piece missing. What is the significance of a swing voter without the context of a battleground state? The article fails to mention this but to me it seems that mathematically swing voters will not matter in a state that is red or blue. They could only sway the results in a state that could go either way. As the CNN article explained it, undecided voters in Ohio are the “battleground within the battleground.” Therefore I believe the definition of the swing voter should include the context of a battleground state.
It will be interesting to watch the affects of the last 4 weeks of campaigning on the swing voters. I am also looking forward to seeing how the campaigns affect my choice since I am considered part of the swing voters and we are still a battleground state.