Thanks to sophisticated polling techniques, presidential elections in the US have narrowed their attention to not just the few so-called ‘swing states’, but to the handful of undecided voters in those states who can swing an election either way. They are the players while the rest of us have become spectators. So who are these undecided voters that so much attention is lavished over?
Political scientists Larry M. Bartels and Lynn Vavreck looked at 10 surveys conducted from May through July and aggregated them to get a total of 10,000 voters and found that 592 of them (about 5% of the weighted sample) were undecided. The rest split 51%-49% in favor of president Obama, which means that of the total sample, the split was 48.5%-46.5% in favor of Obama.
These 592 undecided voters differ from those who have made up their minds (or are at least leaning one way or the other) in some unsurprising ways. For example, they are rather less knowledgeable about politics, and much more likely to say they follow news and public affairs “only now and then” or “hardly at all.”
But while undecided about how they are going to vote in this particular election, these voters do have some degree of prior party affiliation.
Only about 30% of them classified themselves as pure independents, not leaning towards either party, while 7% were not sure of their party affiliation. About 40% of them tended Democratic while 23% tended Republican. We see that if the 40% go back into the Democratic fold, then Obama ekes out a win, so this is really the target group that Mitt Romney has to aim to win over.
Most of these Democratic-tending undecided voters don’t seem to have strong negative feelings about Obama personally or his performance in office, while 60% already have an unfavorable view of Romney. It is here that Romney’s choice of Paul Ryan may hurt him since that is unlikely to endear that ticket to this particular group.