Pandering to Undecided Voters... Bleh

by: Matt Stoller

Wed Oct 08, 2008 at 11:21

Atrios writes.

Let's face it, just about anyone who is an undecided voter at this point is... well, not especially bright. Some are genuinely stupid, and some may be smart people who just don't think paying attention to current events is a valuable use of their time. Obviously from the perspective of predicting election outcomes it's useful to know what these people are thinking. However, it's not clear why handing a debate over to 80 of them and letting them write the questions (chosen by Brokaw, of course) is supposed to enlighten the rest of us.

That's all true, and let me echo that.  Pandering to undecided voters makes the assumption that decided voters are irrelevant.  And we're not.  Here are some choices a decided voter can make, depending on how a candidate behaves.

  • Change one's mind from one candidate to another
  • Change one's mind from voting for a candidate to not voting
  • Get enthused about a candidate such that you tell your friends and family to vote for him/her
  • Get discouraged about a candidate such that you stop telling your friends and family to vote for him/her
  • Volunteer for a candidate
  • Give money to a candidate
  • Decide to vote for every candidate on that party's ticket
  • Decide to split your vote between the Presidential candidate of one party and lower ticket candidates of the other party
  • Hold a fundraiser for a candidate
  • Write to a candidate's campaign to express interest in an issue or answer
  • Contact the media about a candidate
  • Make media about a candidate or issue
  • And on and on and on....
Matt Stoller :: Pandering to Undecided Voters... Bleh
Pandering to undecided voters (who incidentally may not be undecided - we humans are notoriously bad at understanding how we make decisions) leaves out the most interested and passionate people in our political system, those who think about civic engagement in multiple ways aside from just voting.  It assumes there is no way that anyone could change their vote.  And it assumes that the Presidential election is the only way that voters engage in the political system.

And that's just a argument for why decided voters are relevant and should be part of an electoral strategy.  There are also plenty of reasons to think that undecided voters ask ridiculous questions that aren't relevant for the rest of us, but that's a different question.

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I see this group as "undecided" (4.00 / 1)
"Change one's mind from voting for a candidate to not voting "

As well as this one, "Change one's mind from one candidate to another".

Can one be "decided" if you're still changing your mind?

"It sounds wrong...
     ...but its right."

They're not undecided. (4.00 / 1)
Undecided: gee, who'll I vote for?
Decided: hell, I know who I'm votin' for.
Decided, a week later: damn, now I don' know no more.

We can't define someone as "decided" until after the election.  Anyone can change his or her mind after having already made a decision.  Can one be "decided" if one is still changing one's mind?  No.  But we don't know whether one is still changing one's mind until one actually changes it!  There are NO decided voters if you use that definition (except for those who have already voted)!

Who are you planning on voting for?  I'm guessing Obama.  I'm sure you could still change your mind, though.  Are you undecided?  No, no way.  Admittedly, it would probably be nearly impossible to change your mind about this.  Nearly impossible, but not actually impossible.  See?

[ Parent ]
I consider myself "undecided" because I don't know (0.00 / 0)
Whether the fear of a McCain/Palin administration is enough to get me to vote for Obama/Biden, or whether I will lodge a protest vote for an Alternative Candidate.

I haven't heard anything that remotely resembles "pandering" to my position from either candidate.  

"It sounds wrong...
     ...but its right."

[ Parent ]
They shouldn't have to pander to you (0.00 / 0)
You should go check out their policy positions and campaign trail statements and decide what you like best. Also, think about whether the last 8 years of Republican White House rule has been good or bad for the country.

[ Parent ]
That goes for everyone, not just the "undecideds" (0.00 / 0)
and, your condescenion continues as you seem to think that I haven't researched the candidates. I have.  In fact, it is the policy (and other) positions of Senator Obama that have given me pause. He didn't push for impeachment, he caved on FISA, he chose a yes on AUMF guy as his running mate, he actively lobbied the CBC to support the bailout.

"It sounds wrong...
     ...but its right."

[ Parent ]
bad logic (0.00 / 0)
Ronald Reagan was an FDR Democrat before later becoming a Goldwater Republican. People can make decisions about political affiliation and yet change their minds.

Undecided voters are those 6% of people who are either too dumb, too uninformed or too confused to decide who they like better. Those who are "decided" have actually made a choice, but they aren't locked in until they actually vote. In other words, they are "decided" but persuadable.

[ Parent ]
Bad Argument (4.00 / 1)
Perhaps calling people that haven't yet decided to pull the lever for your chosen candidate "Dumb", "uniformed", and "confused" is not the best way to attract them to your side.

"It sounds wrong...
     ...but its right."

[ Parent ]
OK, you just convinced me not to say... (0.00 / 0)
that "uncommitted" refers to deinstitutionalized mental patients - at least where they can hear me.

There is no such thing as a free market.

[ Parent ]
What's the opposite of "uncommitted" by your definition? (0.00 / 0)
I won't say it.

"It sounds wrong...
     ...but its right."

[ Parent ]
Many undecided voters are intelligent (4.00 / 6)
But they just don't have the time to get informed. Reading the paper at home is a luxury. And don't tell me about reading online, in a country where still nearly half of all Internet users still connect via dial-up telephone modems.

I have an Ivy League education, but have been criticized here for being uninformed - apparently because I haven't read every thread on the bailout.

I'm sorry, but I think Atrios's comment (and Matt's agreement) smacks of elitism. I'm glad we don't see this attitude from Senator Obama.

I would like to think that... (0.00 / 0)
undecideds are more intelligent than Republicans. But there are other factors that affect voting behavior besides intelligence. Many social, emotional, psychological factors come into play. (Some people are just dicks.) Republicans have been all about playing to these non-rational tendencies.

I do think that overall this post by Matt is brilliant. There is no reason to value the questions of undecided voters over others. Matt makes the case perfectly with his bullet points. It's one of those things that's just so obvious once it's been pointed out. It's so obvious that it didn't occur to me before.

[ Parent ]
Never Again (4.00 / 3)
No one ever need mention "stupid people" in a political discussion.  It serves no purpose other than offering the cheap comfort of self justification to someone who finds themselves on the losing side of an issue or campaign.  

Not one scintilla of insight or advantage is to be had by calling people stupid.  People who really believe that American voters are idiots - and I'm not talking about the author of the post here - shouldn't be involved in political activism in the first place, as it requires discipline, empathy and real concern for people's needs.      

[ Parent ]
Stupid is as stupid does... (0.00 / 0)
I think overall Americans are not stupid just mostly ignorant and I think a lot of 'undecideds' are also pig ignorant and love the attention. To me the problem is we are no longer a very educated society.

Activists need to not only educate people on policy so they don't fall into the identity traps that have been the cornerstones of our elections for at least a generation, but they also need to fight to make sure our citizens are educated in general.  My family has taught in public schools for two generations and the older members will tell you the resources available are lower each year, their colleagues often constitute the dregs of the college graduating population because the talented want to get paid a living wage, and students come in less and less motivated to be educated.  All these numbers have grown almost in direct proportion to the rise of the right-wing noise machine.  Our low tax, low community values, me first culture is killing the body politic.

If these people won't wake up and get themselves informed and only vote based on scare tactics, 30 second ads, and personalities of the candidates, they deserve to be called stupid.  The Spitball-undecideds of this country will be ignored because they are on the left fringe and probably care too much about policy and not enough about personalities to draw people to the boob-tube.

[ Parent ]
Thank you (I think) (0.00 / 0)

"It sounds wrong...
     ...but its right."

[ Parent ]
If I were more idealistic I'd be where you are... (4.00 / 1)
Still not sure if that is a compliment!

[ Parent ]
ignorance is an intended by-product of bush economy (4.00 / 3)
with more people working 2 jobs and struggling to get by, exercising your civic duties can often get lost in the shuffle.  this is a structural issue we should be thinking about, not something we should be complaining about.  

and i sympathize with the frustration of matt and atrios's comment.  undecided voters are extremely frustrating and many of the ones on the teevee are just narcissists who want the political world to cater to them and entertain them above all.  

also, don't forget that being "undecided" can be a result of the many "cross-pressures" (see: Lipset's Political Man, a seminal work in political science) that affect all of us, such as being a union memeber and evangelical, or living in the deep south and holding a PHD.  

Grasstops (0.00 / 0)
The tradeoff here is between having enthusiastic grasstops engaging in peer-to-peer persuasion efforts and apathetic Dem partisans bitching and moaning.  It's a tradeoff that Democratic candidates, particularly at the Presidential level, having given a shit about in a long time.  

Debates aren't the only event. (4.00 / 1)
A huge majority of people who go to big rallies are decided voters.  Ditto people who get candidate emails, watch youtube steams of candidates.

And for that matter, go to candidate "forums" which are esentially focused debates.

So if a single type of campaign event focuses on undecideds that just strikes me as balance.

You dumba**#* are why Democrats are seen as elitists (4.00 / 2)
Seriously.  While undecided voters can be frustrating, they also likely haven't been paying attention.  They may be hearing things about Obama that gives them pause, such as he's a Muslim, he hangs out with terrorists, etc.  (Granted both are lies), while hearing his ideas on the economy, which they may like.  

I speak to one undecided voter nearly every day because he enjoys sparring with me on what FOX News says, as I show the flimsiness of the shite they put out there.  But he's a Democrat, yet still not convinced that Obama is the one he's voting for.  

Pander Bear (0.00 / 0)
Pandering to undecided voters ... leaves out the most interested and passionate people in our political system

While I agree with most of the rest, I have a problem with the "leaves out" in this sentence.  Since when does including one group mean you are leaving out another?  What a strange way to think.

And, of course, the word "pander" most be used whenever someone besides one's self are being targeted.  No one ever panders to groups one agrees with or likes; funny how that works.

Wouldn't it be boring… (0.00 / 0)
...if everyone had already made a decision? Actually, I don't believe that, but I'll bet folks in the media do. Make the election season suspenseful, a horse race, whatever, and the news cycles will seem more interesting.

I tend to think that many of the "undecideds" in the current electorate have in fact come to a decision already, but for whatever reason--like, we live in a country that skews conservative--they just don't want to go on record about it. I'd also bet that other "undecideds" have had lifelong party affiliations without being totally tuned in during previous election seasons. If you're a free-market or racist Democrat (yes, they exist), you might be giving Obama a second or third look. If you're a racist Republican who belongs to the working or middle classes, the Bush administration has probably done a number on your thoughts of allegiance to the GOP. More permutations are possible than one might think, which is why Obama just needs to keep running a sharp campaign.

"This ain't for the underground. This here is for the sun." -Saul Williams

Horse Race (0.00 / 0)
Of course, one of the main reasons the media covers the campaign as a horse race is most viewer have made up their minds.  That means we are tuning in to root for our team, not make up our minds.

But Matt is completely correct when he states that "undecided" voters are necessarily the ones who will actually change their minds.  Many of them already have their decision largely set, they just don't really know it or are unwilling to admit it.  Others who say who they will vote for might change their minds daily.  The difference between those categories is often a personality quirk more than an actually identified undecided.

[ Parent ]
Interesting you mention the stupid vote... (0.00 / 0)
because the Daily Show covered that last night.

In semi-defense of undecided voters (0.00 / 0)
On one level, anyone who isn't convinced of the necessity of pulling the lever for Obama/Biden isn't playing with a full deck.

But the common sentiment is that undecided voters are somehow even stupider than Republican voters, and I just don't see the logic in that. I don't know what the profile of the average undecided is, but I imagine that at least some of them are people who, for example, support abortion rights but are opposed to any tax increases, or who support the war but want universal health care, etc.

I don't know, maybe there aren't that many people out there like that. But it seems to me that the mere fact of being undecided doesn't indicate that one is any dumber or more ignorant than someone who has decided to vote for the lesser candidate.

You'd have trouble convincing anyone here (0.00 / 0)
that already-decided voters are being somehow "left out" of the political system, or that they are "not part of" the political strategy of both campaigns. I mean, how many emails do we all get from various Democratic partisans? I sure don't feel left out.

The reality is that the debates, when both candidates are on a (relatively) neutral stage responding to the same questions and to each others' ideas, is the ideal place to address the concerns of undecided voters. It's appropriate to take questions from those voters, too; if already-decided voters wrote your questions, you'd get questions tailored to embarrass one or the other candidate. Not only would the candidates be reluctant to participate in such a forum, but such an approach would hardly raise the level of the discourse.

I agree that anyone currently (still) undecided is remarkably disengaged from politics. I wish more people were more engaged. But to declare them stupid (and I have done so) is, I think, elitist. It's not a mortal sin to be elitist, but there's nothing wrong with calling it what it is.

Now I don't know if it's true.. probably isn't (0.00 / 0)
But a friend of mine insists that any voter that is still undecided is racist. Whether they know it or not.


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