The Undecided Voter Revealed
We asked America’s undecided voters to explain themselves. They gave us an earful.
This exercise was refreshing and faith restoring. That isn't a knock against partisans. They care about the country enough to donate their time and energy to the cause. That makes them a necessary treasure to democracy. I spend a lot of time with partisans at rallies listening to their worries and hopes. But in the digital world, partisans are often full of certainties, snap judgments, and insults. The passion overwhelms illumination. These correspondents are undecided—or "still deciding," as one put it in an effort to lessen the stigma—because they weigh the duty so heavily. More important, they all have a quality that has all but disappeared in this election: They pause long enough to hear the other side’s arguments. Not once in these emails did a voter write about one of the candidates’ supposed gaffes. They are the perfect combination: skeptical and thoughtful. They don't trust politicians, the press, or pundits, but they treat the ideas of all of those players seriously enough to formulate an opinion of their own. If only the politicians trying to get their vote behaved the same way.
Undecided Voters in Their Own Words
Matt from North Carolina:
I am a 24-year-old undecided voter. Rather, I am a constantly-deciding voter: I woke up yesterday thinking I would vote for the president, and today I'm leaning towards Gov. Romney. I realize the problem is that I can't have my cake and eat it too. I agree with Obama on a lot of domestic and foreign policy, but I'm unconvinced that his fiscal policies are working. With Romney, I feel the opposite. I think he could get the economy turned around, but I'm afraid of what may become of the social issues I care about. As an NSF-supported chemistry graduate student, the future of basic research funding is very important to me and whether it's true or not, the general mindset of my (vocal) peers is that Democrats are better for science. So I feel like I'm trying to choose between things I want as an individual (Obama's social policies and being "good for science") and things that I think could be good for the country as a whole (Romney's economic policies). If I vote for Romney, am I turning my back on my own scientific future, my gay friends, the poor, the environment, etc.? If I vote for Obama, am I being shortsighted and selfish? I'm definitely going to vote, I'm just not sure yet who it will be for.
Amy in New Hampshire:
I'm finishing my dissertation right now, so I really shouldn't be writing to you, but knowing I am so in the minority is interesting and maybe worth sharing some data on.
Rather than being "undecided," I would describe myself as "deciding." Active, not passive. Gerund, not past tense. In other words, don't talk down to me, all you decided voters! Plus, I live in a swing state (New Hampshire), so I guess I'm a "deciding" voter in that sense, too.
Adore privilege of voting, total highlight every four years. Used to be more partisan. Have voted almost entirely Democratic since age 18. Really happy when Obama won. That was an easy choice—who would vote for the McCain ticket after certain, um, choices were made? This one is harder.
I'm thinking in terms of the long view and what's best for the U.S. on a variety of levels as it develops in a sea of factors no one has fully foreseen or can foresee. The multiplicity, complexity, and acknowledgement of the limited nature of human foresight are all key.
Neither guy is a complete package, but at their best: Obama is dutiful, earnest, idealistic, inteligent. Romney is efficient, sharp, conservative, center leaning. Both are good sets of qualities at specific historical moments. Which can leverage this moment in U.S. history best? I don't know, and I think the majority of voters who think they know actually don't (and can't). It's just hubris and excessive partisanship that makes us think we can know without waiting, watching, weighing, and fully considering. There is major damage to be done by voting in the wrong guy, and I want to be totally open to seeing which points will become most critical to national and global health in the next four years.
Linda in Ohio:
I hope I am not too late… I was, until Monday night, an undecided woman voter from Ohio. Of course, I am being courted by both parties and therefore feel that I could actually have an impact on the election. I must say I find some of the articles I've read questioning how anyone could still be undecided at this point just slightly offensive. Well, I'll tell you. I was undecided because I wanted to know more about the candidates and their plans for going forward before making a decision. I wanted to hear the debates. I consider myself a socially liberal fiscally conservative Republican, and maybe more of an independent. I voted for Obama in 2008, much to the surprise of my family and some of my friends, but certainly not all. I was enthusiastic about his election, but 4 years later feel he has not lived up to the "hope and change" he professed, and he has not been successful in working with Republicans to get things done. I don't hold him responsible for the current state of the economy. I know it’s not in his control, but I am concerned with his plans, or lack thereof, for growth going forward. He seems stuck. I also don't like his class warfare approach on taxes.
I was undecided because although my enthusiasm for Obama had dwindled, I was uncomfortable with Mitt Romney and the Republican extremists. I wasn't convinced that he had a better plan to move the country and the economy forward and I could not support the social positions of the Republican party. For example, I am in favor of gay marriage, some abortion rights (rape/incest), and programs to help the needy. I don't like Paul Ryan; he is too extreme on social, tax, and economic policy.
The game changer for me was the first debate when a more mild, centrist, concession builder, get-it-done Mitt Romney showed up. He made his case strongly and President Obama did not. I was undecided until the last debate, because I wanted to hear and see more from the two candidates. I have thought long and hard on this. The ads and stump speeches don't convince me of anything other than how they are trying to paint their opponent so they can win. So after the final debate, this undecided voter from Ohio who voted for Obama in 2008 will be voting for Romney this year. I am still a bit uncertain of which Romney we are going to get, but I think he has great executive experience and makes a better case for growth and reducing our deficit and working together for a better America than Obama does.
Lauren in Ohio:
I'm an undecided, under-25, female voter in one of Ohio's biggest swing counties—and if any other man vied so hard for my affections as these two candidates I'd have filed a criminal harassment report by August. Seriously. Ohio voters have long gotten a quadrennial ego boost, but this year's has reached another level. The weird lines upon which the current parties have polarized is the single biggest factor in my indecision: I'm a good moderate with a terrible job, a crumbling community, taxes I would [like to] pay less of, and zero interest in the zany conservative social agenda. I want to vote for the character Mitt has played over the past several weeks—the Massachusetts moderate who wants to cut spending while limiting cuts to social programs and defense.
Unfortunately, there's no sign that that guy will show up on inauguration day if elected, or that his real plan meets those promises. I balk at the idea of a Republican president assisting Congressional right-wingers in limiting gay and women's rights and blocking environmental regulations my state should, in my opinion, impose. At the same time, I disagree with what I see as federal over-reach imposed by this administration; the stagnant economy and the president's priorities in foreign policy don't feel much like "moving forward" either. Perhaps I need to make a better list of my own priorities, but not all undecideds are mouth-breathers who just haven't been paying attention. Just please, both of you: we like you, but we don't LIKE like you.
Melinda in Iowa:
I am a moderate Democrat and I voted for Obama in the last election. I am an undecided voter.
I take my vote very seriously and have been going back and forth on whom I am going to vote for. The debates did not help, but I have started to research both candidates’ stance on various issues and feel confident I will come to a decision soon.
The reason I am undecided: I feel obligated in a way to vote for Obama. I am a Democrat, I live in Iowa where gay marriage is legal, and I am fortunate to be able to say I am happily and legally married to a woman and we are raising 2 children together. There is a sense of peer pressure from the gay community to support Obama due to his support of us. I don't like that pressure and my main concern right now is the economy. I feel Obama inherited a mess and is getting a lot of blame and he has not been given enough time to try and fix things. On the other hand, I also see a lot of handouts to people that take advantage of the system. I am concerned Obamacare will just take my money so I can pay for others. Now, I do believe many people deserve assistance, but I wish that there would be more investigation into who actually is getting assistance and I feel that Obama has not done enough in regards to this and once again, the middle class has to keep on working and keep on struggling.
I have been at my job 21 years, never a day without a job since I turned 16. I work for a major bank in the foreclosure department and I have seen so many people get assistance due to the real estate crash, not [always] a bad thing by any means. Although I know banks have to be held accountable for some of the problems, I also feel there have been so many chances given to people who don't take advantage of them and still they get away with not paying their mortgage. Again, as I stated before, some people need these options and deserve them; some just take advantage.
I don't think I can put all of my reasons as to why I am an undecided voter in writing, but I hope this helps you understand there really are people who are still undecided, most of whom are probably going to be the most educated voters when this is all said and done.