Undecided Voters Speak!

The more I see the CNN/etc. panels of undecided voters, the more I'm convinced that Saturday Night Live told us all we need to know about their "low-information" status.

But after I made that point a little while ago, several Undecided Americans wrote in to say: Nope! That's unfair! Here are two samples. First, from a male reader:

I thought I'd give a perspective from someone who is highly engaged but still truly undecided. I know it's hard to imagine why I or anyone would be undecided when the policy differences between the candidates are so obvious. It's not because I don't know what I believe about those policies. It's for two reasons:
·      First, some of us don't break down along the usual ideological lines. For example, I'm fiscally conservative, but socially liberal.  So my quandary is choosing which set of policies are more important to me, and to the country, this time around.
·      Second, there is the question of effectiveness. President Obama reflects my policy views better, but based on his administration's record, I now doubt his ability to get most of those things done. And yes, I'm disappointed about the lack of change that I expected to see, but haven't. The big change has been the passage of Obamacare - and that wasn't one of the policies that I supported.
·      So then I have to assess Romney's potential effectiveness. And here is where the big unknowns enter in. I can imagine a scenario in which he is quite effective on domestic policy. (Moderate Mitt builds a coalition with the remaining moderate Democrats. Obama can't build a coalition now or in the next term because there are virtually no moderate Republicans left in Congress).  

I tried to make a similar calculus in 2008. Then, it came out in Obama's favor. In 2012, I'm not sure. It will probably come down to a gut decision after I walk into the voting booth. For reference, here's how I've decided on president in the past:

1980:  too young to vote, but I was a Reaganite
1984:  supported Reagan but didn't get around to voting (typical college student)
1988:  had no love for either Bush or Dukakis so voted for a third-party candidate
1992:  felt like a Republican at the start of the race, but was won over by Clinton's energy and optimism. Clinton.
1996:  badly disillusioned by Clinton's scandals. Voted for Dole on grounds of integrity.
2000:  Bush. Gore drives me crazy.
2004:  Bush. Choice came down to a vote of support for the Iraq War. [JF note: !!?!]
2008:  Obama, gladly.
2012:  ?

Three-plus weeks left in which to answer that "?" Now, from a female reader:

I just saw your line about wondering who the undecided voters are and what they are waiting to find out. As an undecided voter, I thought I'd share my answer with you. I'm not waiting for additional information about their policy positions (well, I admit that more discussion about their respective views and policies around immigration would be helpful). I have been a political science instructor for years, so I suspect that I'm more engaged than the typical, mythical Undecided Voter. The reason I have not decided yet is because I am still weighing how much I dislike both options against the repeated injunctions of my grandmother to vote. She remembered when women did not have the right to vote, and instilled on me that I should vote in every election, even if only for dogcatcher.
I will not vote for Mitt Romney, no matter what he says in the next few weeks. I don't want to reward the way that he has campaigned with a vote, and I don't feel confident that I know exactly where he stands on any issue. So my question is whether to vote for Barack Obama as either a) an endorsement of his presidency - which I'm reluctant to do because I think the past 4 years have been disappointing on a number of fronts, including drone strikes, sluggish economic recovery, watered-down healthcare bill, etc.; b) a rejection of the Mitt Romney option - which I'm reluctant to do because while I am liberal on economic issues I am fairly conservative on social issues, and I feel a moral tension in voting for Obama just as a way to repudiate Romney; or c) write someone else in as a way to register a vote but not select either of the major party candidates.
To distill this, Romney cannot win my vote, but Barack Obama still could.
I doubt I speak for very many undecided voters, but now you know why at least one voter still hasn't made up her mind.
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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.


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