They make up only a sliver of the electorate, roughly 4 to 7 percent. We're talking 1 million to 2 million people at most, in just a handful of critical states. They tend to be younger, female, and clueless about politics.
They are the undecideds. Better yet, they could be the deciders — the voters who pick the winner of the presidential election in an increasingly polarized environment. Some polls suggest there are fewer fence-sitters this year than in recent elections, yet this race will see record-setting spending of at least $2.5 billion by the campaigns, national parties, and other political groups.
"More money in history will have been spent to persuade the fewest number of voters," said President Obama's pollster, Joel Benenson.
Obama and Mitt Romney will spend nearly all of their time down the stretch in fewer than a dozen states that are truly up for grabs. Their television ads are carefully designed to win over the wishy-washy and the disengaged. Watch Obama calmly appealing to undecided voters in one oft-running ad: "Sometimes politics can seem very small. But the choice you face couldn't be bigger."
Elections, of course, are not just about persuading undecided voters. They also hinge on whether campaigns can turn out the voters who already agree with them. Romney had that in mind when he bypassed the middle of the road — and the preferences of some Republican strategists — to tap a small-government crusader and hero of the conservative establishment as vice president. Democrats have been trying to pigeonhole Rep. Paul Ryanas a right-wing zealot ever since.