Looking for some undecided voters

A lots of headlines say that Romney and Obama wants to win the undecided voters in the last seconds. But many pundits claim that there is almost zero undecided voters at this stage. Are the undecided voters still important?

Thomas Scotto, Reader in Government, University of Essex

Yes, in key swing states, the voters who remain undecided during the last days of the campaign who end up turning out will decide the next presdent.  Although at least 90% of American voters usually make up their minds on their presidential candidate of choice before the closing days of the campaign, the fact that so many states are in a statistical ‘dead heat’ or a ‘toss up’  means that these votes will be very important to the candidates.   The latest YouGov state-by-state polls show Obama’s lead at 2% or less in the important States of Virginia, Iowa, and Colorado.  Romney is holding small leads in Florida and North Carolina.  Slight shifts in voter preferences, or the ability of campaigns to bring more of their supporters out in these states will determine the election.

David Galbraith Education Programme Leader, University of Cumbria

My views relating to your questions are:

1. Opinion polls in America strongly suggest that this will be close run election, so both presidential candidates, knowing this, have had to strive for all available votes. A year ago Obama had a strong lead in the opinion polls so he could afford back then to be more complacent about chasing all available votes in all states.

2. Traditionally Democrats win presidential elections with high voter turn-outs and Obama knows this; so it’s a case of chasing votes from those who have decided but who may not be bothered to turn out and vote.

3. Since the late 1980’s one could argue that there haven’t been large ideological differences between candidates for the position of president with the result that there has been a degree of voter apathy in American elections but also this has increased the number of undecided – since they don’t see much choice. However, in my view, as this election campaign has progressed the differences between Obama and Romney have become more pronounced, especially over taxation and foreign policy, so one would expect that clear choices have become more available for voters than in other recent elections.

David Brockington, Lecturer in Politics & Social Science Methods, Plymouth Business School, University of Plymouth

It’s true – there are very few undecided voters remaining, even in the critical swing states like Virginia, Ohio, Florida, Iowa. What we know empirically is that those remaining undecided voters who do turn out to vote, they’ll break at a slightly greater rate for the incumbent President over the challenger, figure 55% to 45%.

If the polling data in the swing states is to be believed, with Obama currently ahead in Ohio and Iowa at +3%, and Virginia at +1.5%, with Romney leading only (among swing states) of Florida at 0.5%, the undecided voters would have to break at least 75% for Romney, closer to 90% for Romney, for undecided voters to move any of these states to Romney’s column.  That’s not going to happen.

If there is a surprise on Election day, meaning, for Romney to be elected President, the mass of polling data at both the state (where there have been over 900 polls conducted since June), the polling data would have to be systematically biased in favour of Obama by two to three percentage points.  It’s possible, of course, but a probability that Nate Silver, the electoral statistician at the New York Times, has estimated to only be about 15%.

Robert Busby, Senior Lecturer in Politics, Liverpool Hope University

There are undecided voters who will matter. The candidates really need not only to court those who have made up their minds – and of course there are many in that position – but also to get a final push on those who have either changed their minds (some will have done so in the wake of Hurricane Sandy) or who are literally undecided about who to vote for.

One other issue of note is turnout. Both camps need to mobilize the voter who is likely to stay at home, and this is where the election might be won or lost. Even in 2008 the turnout was only 59.7%, so there were a lot of voters who did not participate.

So the overall mandate is to mobilize the existing voting base, court those who will decide at the last minute and then try and get the no-show voter to participate. Even then turnout is not likely to be especially high. It might be in some of the swing states, but for many of the states with strong Republican or Democratic majorities it could be quite low.

George Conyne, Lecturer, University of Kent

With the polls suggesting President Obama has 48/49% of support and Gov. Romney having about 47/48% support, that leaves only about 4/5%  of the voters as “uncommitted” but, obviously, they are the critical voters for either candidate.  So, yes, the numbers are small and yes, they are critical.  I am not surprised that the numbers are so small- as the campaigns have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on the approximately ten “swing” states that will decide the election.  The speeches and the advertising have been so constant, (there are estimates that 40% of voters had had telephone calls in certain swing states) it would hard to imagine that anyone would not have an opinion, especially with voting well underway (early voting & absentee ballots)  and with only another 40 hours or so in which to vote- there will not be anything new or currently unknown for the voters to consider before ballots have to be cast.

Philip Davies, Professor, The Eccles Centre for American Studies, The British Library

There are certainly some undecided voters, and voters whose allegiance is weak and who may change their minds at the last minute.  Admittedly these are a very, very small proportion of the electorate, but when it looks as though the margin of victory/defeat in many of the closely fought states may also be very small, they begin to matter – even at the last minute.

That having been said, the important thing right now is not swinging voters, but getting those on your side out to vote.  For example, Obama has a clear lead among people who are registered to vote, BUT those who favour him are in groups of the population that are generally less likely to get to the polls (for example, poorer & younger groups in the electorate have a lower turnout, as do Hispanic voters – these are all groups that favour Obama).  So Obama needs to convert those people who favour him into people who will find the time and energy to go to the polls for him.  Romney has the advantage of support among grousp whose turnout rate is generally higher, but in such a tight race it would still be silly to be complacent – his campaign operation must do all it can to remind his supporters to get to the polling stations, and must particularly concentrate on any groups among traditional Republicans whose enthusiasm for Romney might be less than complete (for example it is said that some traditionally Republican evangelical christians are not wholly comfortable with the thought of a Mormon in the White House – and they may be tempted to stay at home tomorrow – the campaign machine will be deployed to persuade them to play their part in the vote).

John DrumbellProfessor, School of Government & International Affairs, Durham University

The race is on such a knife-edge that even a few ‘undecideds’ in key, swing states are worth fighting over. More important, of course, is the sheer scale of the turnout. It is generally assumed that Democrats benefit from a high turnout. The greater incidence of early voting in this election may indeed help Obama.


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