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Undecided voters wait for more information to make presidential decisions

Monday, September 24, 2012 | 6:26 p.m. CDT; updated 7:39 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, September 25, 2012
Chris Graves stands inside Joe Machens Body Shop on Monday. Graves said he is an undecided voter. "They say every vote counts, but does it really?" Graves said.

COLUMBIA — According to a recent ABC/Washington Post poll, only 4 percent of surveyed American voters, who already support a presidential candidate, said there was a "good chance" they would change their minds about who would get their vote.

The 2012 presidential election race between President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney largely will be decided by voters who remain undecided during the last seven weeks before the election. Voters who currently support a candidate aren't likely to change their minds and alter the election results.

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"As you get closer to the election, change is less likely," MU political science professor Marvin Overby said. "People don't like changing their minds. People are somewhat reluctant to change their minds unless some new information comes along to nudge them off the point they're on." 

Undecided voters in Columbia who spoke to the Missourian said they are looking for new information that will help them make a final decision when they go to the polls Nov. 6.

In Missouri, Romney is projected to receive 50.3 percent of the presidential votes while Obama is projected to receive 43 percent, Overby said, citing statistics from RealClearPolitics. The 7 percent of Missouri voters unaccounted for in that poll might or might not have made decisions, he added. The projection comes from an average of three surveys conducted separately by Public Policy Polling, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and Rasmussen Reports. They had an average margin of error of just more than 4 percent. 

"It doesn't matter how many Missourians are undecided; it matters how many people who are going to turn out and vote are undecided," Overby said, adding that polls often have difficulty gauging who actually will vote.

For Kyle Buck, a 22-year-old MU senior studying biological sciences, this year's presidential election boils down to two issues: lowering the debt and supporting gay rights. He changes his mind "day to day" on which is more important to him, he said. 

"I consider myself a social liberal but an economic conservative," Buck said, adding that he prefers Obama on social issues and Romney on the economy.

Buck voted for Republican John McCain in the 2008 presidential race but said he might vote for Obama this year. He said Obama is more likable and has a good air about him while Romney "feels very pompous." 

Buck didn't pay much attention to either party's convention but said he plans to catch highlights of upcoming debates. He gets most of his presidential election information from social media and Internet links sent to him by friends, he said.

"We've been given the right to vote. Why waste it?" Buck said.

Undecided voters such as Buck have three presidential and one vice presidential debate to look forward to in October. The first debate between Obama and Romney is scheduled for 8 p.m. Oct. 3 and will focus on domestic policy.  

The next debate will be between Vice President Joe Biden and Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., Romney's running mate, on Oct. 11.

The remaining debates between Obama and Romney are Oct. 16 and Oct. 22.

Deb Wende, 54, said she hopes the debates will help her decide for whom she should vote. Wende voted for Obama in 2008 but said he would have to "do something that shows he really does care about the economy and about people getting jobs" to earn her vote this time around.

"I'm not pleased with what he's done, yet I'm not pleased with what Romney represents, so it's like you have to pick the lesser of the two evils," Wende said.

Social Security and Medicare are the two issues Wende is most concerned about. She is enrolled in both programs. She plans to read the newspapers and watch television news to keep up with each candidate's stance, but she said she'll be careful about which publications and channels she chooses. 

"The media sometimes has a tendency to slant the view to one candidate or the other, so you have to shift to other articles and newspapers to find out what’s really real," Wende said. 

Overby, the MU professor, said Missouri still is historically considered a battleground state, though it is not deemed as a swing state in this year's presidential election.

"Since 1904, Missouri has voted with the winner in all but two elections — in 2008 and 1956," he said. "It has this reputation of being a bellwether state."

A bellwether state tends to indicate where the rest of the nation stands on the presidential election. 

"But this year, Missouri seems to be off a little bit," Overby said, pointing to the state's slower Hispanic growth compared to the rest of the nation as a possible reason for the projected Republican edge. "Hispanics tend to vote Democrat."

In 2008, McCain won Missouri with 49.4 percent of the vote to Obama's 49.3 percent. McCain earned just 3,903 more votes than Obama after 2,925,205 Missouri votes were counted, according to the Missouri secretary of state's website. It was the closest contest in the nation. 

Chris Graves, a Glasgow resident who works at an automobile repair shop in Columbia, said he also is undecided but is leaning toward Romney. That's if he chooses to vote at all.

"Obama has put us in a lot of debt," Graves, 36, said. "You can't just throw money at everything."

He is skeptical, however, that his vote would make a difference. 

"They say every vote matters, but does it really?" he said.

Dorothy Kyger, a volunteer for the Columbia Area Senior Center, is sure she will vote but is unsure for whom. She said she is annoyed with the constant "bickering" between each party.

"I've just been so disillusioned and disappointed with all of the campaigning because it seems to be so negative, so I've just tuned out," she said. "I want to see a more united country."

Kyger, 78, will stay away from television coverage, which she said "stirs excitement," and will instead rely on conversation with friends and neighbors about the election. She will also read newspapers to keep up with the issues important to her.

"I think my greatest concern, because of my age, is health care," she said, adding she would like more clarification from each candidate about Medicare.

Kyger has lived in Columbia's Sixth Ward for more than 42 years and works at the senior center gift shop. She considers herself an independent voter and said she will wait until she has enough facts before deciding who will get her vote.

"I have to touch what I'm buying before I buy it," she said. "That's my philosophy of life. I don't make fast decisions."

Other Columbia voters will be casting ballots in the presidential election for the first time. Adam Olson, an MU freshman from central Illinois who is studying food science, is among them.

"If you don't vote, you're not paying attention," he said.

Olson is registered to vote in Missouri. He is leaning toward voting for Obama but "could be persuaded pretty easily," he said. 

"I like what he's done the past four years, but I don't know what Romney has in store," he said. "If Romney gives me a specific plan on how he's going to fix the economy and why it's going to work, I'll be with him 100 percent."

Olson, whose mom is a Democrat and whose dad is an independent, said his top two issues are the economy and foreign policy. He said he doesn't care about social issues.

Jordan Wood, an MU sophomore who also will be voting for president for the first time, said he will know for sure after the debates who his favorite candidate is. He plans to watch all the debates in their entirety.

Specifically, Wood wants to see Romney be more clear about his positions and whether Obama can push more ideas to improve the economy. The economy, health care and foreign policy are the issues he cares most about. He said he won't use social media as a source for presidential election news because "it's basically people's extreme opinions, and there are no facts." 

Ronnie Piper, a 64-year-old retired truck driver, will vote in November but not for a president.

"Through history, I've always wanted to vote for somebody because I have core beliefs," Piper said. "This year, I don't think anybody is addressing my core values."

Piper, who has lived in Columbia most of his life, said his values represent "blue-collar conservatism." Given the country's high unemployment and immense debt, neither candidate appeals to him.

"What is there to vote for?" he said. "They can't fix this. It's unfixable." 

Tierra Hutt, who voted for Obama in 2008, said she would watch the upcoming debates to solidify her decision. She is leaning toward voting for Obama again but said Romney's performance in the debates could sway her vote. She ultimately will vote for the candidate who can "make jobs more plentiful for people."

In the past four years, changes that Obama touted during his 2008 campaign have been "slowly but surely coming along" but not as fast as he predicted, she said.

"Since he's been in office, there hasn't been much drastic change, but there has been some change," Hutt said, pointing to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act as something she supported.

Hutt is 26 and has lived in Columbia for more than 12 years. She said gas prices and unemployment are two of her biggest concerns.

"This is ridiculous," she said. "Gas prices are too high, and if the gas prices are too high, (people) can't go anywhere. And if they can't go anywhere, they can't work." 

John Petrocik, chair of the MU Department of Political Science, said only a small percentage of voters are undecided at this point. 

"The Democrats already know who they're going to vote for; the Republicans already know who they're going to vote for," he said. "And you're dealing with some weak partisans and (independents) who don't come to the election choice with a strong set of attitudes about the parties and the candidates.

"And they're scratching around looking for something that will help them make a choice." 

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.


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Comments

Richard Saunders September 25, 2012 | 10:51 a.m.

Like it matters the least bit which elite puppet gains power. The only difference is the flavor of the lies.

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