The Edmond Sun

Opinion

October 15, 2012

What the undecided voters want

LOS ANGELES — What do undecided voters want from presidential candidates, anyway? Not much. Just clearer answers, a sense of firm leadership — and a credible promise that the next four years will bring more bipartisan cooperation than the last four.

“I’ll vote for the person that gives me the most clarity,” Calvin Smith, 70, a retired high school teacher in Columbus, Ohio, said last week. “I’ve heard enough visions. I want concrete, step-by-step instructions.”

In a polarized election year, the dwindling ranks of undecided voters have become objects of wonderment and even ridicule. Polls report that only about 6 percent of the nation’s likely voters are still on the fence; another 12 percent or so have tentatively settled on a candidate but say they still might change their minds.

Some, like Smith, have been paying close attention all year, have watched the debates and know the candidates’ positions well. Smith says he’s a moderate — “a fiscal conservative and a social liberal” — who’s dissatisfied with both presidential candidates. He wishes President Obama hadn’t presided over so much growth in the federal deficit, but he wishes Mitt Romney weren’t so conservative on social issues such as abortion and contraception.

“It’s a quandary,” he said cheerfully.

But he does plan to vote, and he thinks he knows how he’ll make up his mind. “In the end, it’s going to be who wins the next two debates,” he said.

Smith was one of 12 Ohio voters who spent an evening last week talking about the election in a focus group sponsored by the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center. A focus group isn’t a poll; it’s a discussion led by a public opinion scholar — in this case, Peter D. Hart, a leading Democratic pollster. The goal is to go beyond the two-dimensional questions that polls ask and get a sense of how voters weigh all the factors — emotional as well as analytical — in their choice.

The session was held in Columbus because it’s a swing city in an important swing state. The group included six men and six women, six who voted for Obama in 2008 and six who voted for his Republican opponent, Sen. John McCain. They weren’t all “pure undecideds” — five said they leaned tentatively toward Obama, four toward Romney. Only three were completely on the fence.

But they shared some basic views: The country is in trouble, the economy isn’t recovering fast enough, and neither presidential candidate has shown that he has the ability to turn things around.

For most of these voters, Obama has been a disappointment, but Romney hasn’t convinced them that he understands middle-class concerns.

“Obama, I think, hasn’t done what he said he was going to do,” said Jeff Malesky, 54, a computer systems manager. “And Romney, we don’t know what he’s going to do.”

Romney had impressed many of them with his performance in the first presidential debate Oct. 3 (the discussion took place before Thursday’s vice presidential debate).

“(Romney) came out like a man who wanted the job with passion,” said Terry Grenier, 64, an advertising copywriter who had been leaning toward Obama. “It made me feel a whole lot differently about him. ... I thought, ‘Damn! I’m going to be listening with a different ear than I did before.”

If the choice were based on economics alone, Romney might have taken the night. About half of the participants said they thought Romney was more capable of fixing the economy, and about half said the two candidates were equally able — but no one argued that Obama had the advantage on the issue.

Why didn’t that decide their votes? “The presidency is more than just the economy,” replied Jessica Hall, 35, a homemaker.

A jumble of other issues were on their minds as well. Obama’s health-care plan guarantees insurance to people with pre-existing conditions; if Romney repealed Obamacare, would the guarantee go away? Obama’s had four years of on-the-job training; maybe four years wasn’t enough time to give any president a chance to succeed, especially in an economic crisis.

And then there was the matter of Romney’s wealth and his seemingly distant personality, factors that came up again and again during the two-hour conversation. “I don’t think he’s relatable at all,” Hall said. When Hart asked the participants to say what family member the candidates reminded them of, Obama drew a variety of choices: father, uncle, brother-in-law. Romney, they said, seemed more like a stepfather.

Which one seems like the stronger leader? The answer seemed to be: neither. Obama’s backbone, Grenier said, seemed made of “willow.” Romney’s backbone? “Unknown,” Smith replied.

Hart, who has presided over thousands of such sessions with voters since 1971, said the session helped clarify the presidential race — at least in Ohio, where polls suggest Obama is clinging to a narrow lead.

“The economy is the central issue, but it isn’t transformative for Romney,” Hart said. “They’re skeptical that either candidate can fix it.”

With only a little more than three weeks remaining in the campaign, the race remains too close to call. Many of those voters will be watching the two remaining debates between Obama and Romney. The conventional wisdom still holds that televised debates have only a marginal effect on a presidential election.

But this year, with the electorate so closely divided, even a marginal effect could be decisive.

DOYLE McMANUS is a columnist for The Los Angeles Times. Readers may send him email at doyle.mcmanus@latimes.com. This column is distributed by MCT Information Services.

1
Text Only
Opinion
  • Sheltons travel for better life for family

    Some time around 1865 a mixed-race African American couple, William and Mary Shelton, made their way from Mississippi to east Texas. Nothing is known for certain of their origins in he Magnolia state, or the circumstances under which they began their new lives in Texas.

    July 29, 2014

  • Film critic Turan produces book

    Kenneth Turan, who is the film critic for National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition,” has written a book “Not to be Missed, Fifty-Four Favorites from a Life Time of Film.” His list of movies span the gamut from the beginnings of filmmaking through the present day.
    There are some surprising omissions on his list. While he includes two films, “A Touch of Evil” and Chimes at Midnight” made by Orson Welles, and one, “The Third Man,” that Welles starred in but did not direct. He did not however, include “Citizen Kane,” that was the first movie Welles made, that is  often cited by both film critics and historians as a favorite film.

    July 28, 2014

  • Logan County’s disputed zone

    Watchers of “Star Trek” may recall the episode from the original series entitled, “Day of the Dove.” In this episode, Captain Kirk and his crew are forced by a series of circumstances into a confrontation with the Klingons. The conflict eventually resolves after Kirk realizes that the circumstances have been intentionally designed by an alien force which feeds off negative emotions, especially fear and anger. Kirk and his crew communicate this fact to the Klingons and the conflict subsides. No longer feeding upon confrontation, the alien force is weakened and successfully driven away.

    July 28, 2014

  • Russell leads in Sun poll

    Polling results of an unscientific poll at www.edmondsun.com show that Steve Russell, GOP candidate for the 5th District congressional seat, is in the lead with 57 percent of the vote ahead of the Aug. 26 runoff election. Thirty readers participated in the online poll.

    July 28, 2014

  • Healthier and Wealthier? Not in Oklahoma

    Increased copays, decreased coverage, diminished health care access, reduced provider budgets and increased frustration are all the outcomes of the Legislature’s 2014 health care funding decisions. Unlike some years in the past when a languishing state economy forced legislators into making cuts, the undesirable outcomes this year could easily have been avoided.

    July 26, 2014

  • Medicaid reform a necessity

    Historically, education spending by the state of Oklahoma has been the largest budget item. This is no longer the case. In recent years, the state of Oklahoma spends more on Medicaid (operated by the Oklahoma Health Care Authority) than common education and higher education combined, according to the state’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report.

    July 25, 2014

  • Remembering lessons from 1974

    This week marks the 40th anniversary of an important milestone in America’s constitutional history. On July 24, 1974, the Supreme Court voted 8-0 to order the Nixon White House to turn over audiotapes that would prove the president and his close aides were guilty of criminal violations. This ruling established with crystal clarity that the executive branch could not hide behind the shield of executive privilege to protect itself from the consequences of illegal behavior. It was a triumph for the continued vitality of our constitutional form of government.

    July 25, 2014

  • RedBlueAmerica: Is parenting being criminalized in America?

    Debra Harrell was arrested recently after the McDonald’s employee let her daughter spend the day playing in a nearby park while she worked her shift. The South Carolina woman says her daughter had a cell phone in case of danger, and critics say that children once were given the independence to spend a few unsupervised hours in a park.
    Is it a crime to parent “free-range” kids? Does Harrell deserve her problems? Joel Mathis and Ben Boychuk, the RedBlueAmerica columnists, debate the issue.

    July 24, 2014

  • Technology that will stimulate journalism’s future is now here

    To say technology has changed the newspaper media industry is understating the obvious. While much discussion focuses on how we read the news, technology is changing the way we report the news. The image of a reporter showing up to a scene with a pen and a pad is iconic but lost to the vestiges of time.
    I am asked frequently about the future of newspapers and, in particular, what does a successful future look like. For journalists, to be successful is to command multiple technologies and share news with readers in new and exciting ways.

    July 23, 2014

  • New Orleans features its own “Running of the Bulls”

    On July12, the streets of the Warehouse District of New Orleans were filled with thousands of young men who were seeking to avoid being hit with plastic bats wielded by women on roller skates as part of the annual “Running of the Bulls” that takes place in New Orleans.
    The event is based on the “Running of the Bulls” that occurs in Pamplona, Spain, that is  part of an annual occurrence in which a group of bulls rampage through the streets of Pamplona while men run from them to avoid being gored by their sharp horns. That event was introduced to the English-speaking world by Ernest Hemingway, who included scenes from it in his critically acclaimed 1926 novel “The Sun also Rises.”

    July 22, 2014

Poll

The runoff race for the 5th District congressional seat is set for Aug. 26. If the voting were today, which candidate would you support?

Al McAffrey
Tom Guild
Undecided
     View Results