The ‘undecided voter’ must be a myth

Prof C Explains
4 min readOct 14, 2008

by J Scott Christianson, Columbia Daily Tribune Columnist

At each presidential debate, the news channels corral a group of undecided voters, arm them with special remotes that instantaneously record their positive or negative reactions and then track the results to see which way they are leaning in response to various remarks. Graphed in real time across the bottom of the screen, you can tell what messages are resonating and which are a turn-off.

While this is a fascinating study in how language can affect opinion, my main question is: Who the heck are these undecided voters? After what seems like three years of campaigning, advertising, policy debates, phone calls, door hangers and news coverage, how can anyone be undecided at this point?

Regardless of their ambivalence toward the two tickets, the undecided voters seem determined to make it to the polls on Nov. 4. What they lack in decisiveness, they are apparently trying to make up by being punctual.

And with the presidential race being so tight — combined with the way the electoral college system can magnify a small margin of victory in a few states into a clear electoral win — the media are focusing on undecided voters as the ones who will determine the outcome of the election.

Approximately 5 to 10 percent of the likely voters in the so-called “battleground” states claim to be undecided. Undecided voters are different than independent voters — voters who don’t naturally have strong party affiliations. Most independent voters have made up their minds by now.

So what will help the undecideds decide? Is it information? In the age of the Internet, anyone who has a question about either candidate can get it answered within minutes. Or if they are not yet connected to the Internet, undecided voters can get their questions answered by simply calling one of the hundreds of McCain and Obama offices across the country.

Many undecideds claim “neither candidate excites me.” This has to be one of the most exciting campaign seasons in a long time. What type of excitement are they looking for anyway? I guess Paris Hilton should have made a run for it after all.

Other undecided voters simply push off the decision, saying they will make the decision once they are in the voting booth. One wonders what political calculus takes place at that point: Eeny, meeny, miny, moe?



Prof C Explains

J Scott Christianson: UM Teaching Prof, Technologist & Entrepreneur. Connect with me here: