Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Myth of the Undecided Voter, and The Reality of the Decided Deciding Not to Vote [Voting 03]

For years, I've thought that there really were no undecided voters. Sure there are some people who are undecided, months, weeks, even days before the election, but the chances that they are, or have regularly been, voters are slim. Finally, in the last year or so, I've heard other people say or write that the numbers of truly undecided voters is minuscule and unlikely to affect outcomes even in the battleground states.

But even after the myth is busted, it is not the end of the story.

That's because the real problem for politicians (and democracy) is not voters who have trouble deciding, it's supporters whose support is only lukewarm. These are the people who are not particularly interested in politics or who are not especially informed or who do not identify with the ideals of their candidate. Or they may be people whose ultimate interest is in being able to say they voted for the winner. Whether or not they have voted often before, they do not view voting as a civic duty they must perform, dare I say, religiously.

What the politicians and journalists SHOULD think about is whether these people will decide to stay away from the polls on Election Day, or - for the increasing number of people who can vote early or by mail - will just never get around to voting. They may feel unappreciated. The candidates and the media are busy paying attention to the needles in the haystacks, also known as undecided voters, or the squeaky wheels, also known as the base, and not the elephants in the room, also known as lukewarm supporters.

This coming November 7, the top news story may not be what the undecided voters finally decided but instead who was counted on to vote but then couldn't be counted. The reason might be dirty tricks, corrupt voting machines, voter i.d. laws, hanging chads, or other systemic problems. But it also could be that the decided voters lost interest and decided that their vote would not matter.

If (when) that happens, it could affect not only the presidential election but also Congressional, state, and local races as well. People who lack the time or inclination to vote for President probably won’t vote at all.

That is the real evil of focusing on the undecided voter instead of the lukewarm voter: it could make the decided decide not to vote.

rev: extraneous 'who' deleted 11-14-2012
Series designation added to title 11-20-12

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