Big swath of US voters undecided, unexcited

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Big swath of US voters undecided, unexcited

Nearly a quarter of all registered voters are either undecided about the US presidential race or iffy in their support for a candidate two months before the election, an Associated Press-GfK poll shows.

By (AP)

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Published: Sat 25 Aug 2012, 6:39 PM

Last updated: Fri 3 Apr 2015, 9:56 AM

These voters could well prove decisive in a close contest. And they will be tough nuts for President Barack Obama and Republican candidate Mitt Romney to crack.

Just 29 percent of them have a strong interest in the campaign, compared with 51 percent of those who’ve made up their minds. They will not be hanging on every word coming out of the national political conventions in Tampa, Florida, and Charlotte, North Carolina, over the next two weeks.

These so-called persuadable voters are more often men than women. They are a bit younger than those who’ve made up their minds. They have less education and income. And they are far less partisan.

A quarter are independent or unaffiliated, while more than a third consider themselves Democrats and a similar share count themselves as Republicans.

They are people like Eric Avila, a 35-year-old Democrat from Tampa who didn’t vote in 2008, has been unemployed since he was laid off from a sales job four years ago and doubts that either candidate will do much to reduce joblessness.

Avila plans to vote this time but finds the campaign rhetoric from both sides grating. “It kind of gets on your nerves after a while,” he says, “all of this stuff a person’s promising, and it just gets forgotten or buried under a whole bunch of other things.”

How people like Avila ultimately vote could hinge on which issues rise to the top of the campaign.

Romney, the wealthy businessman and former governor of Massachusetts, holds the advantage among these voters on the economy, creating jobs and the federal budget deficit. But on two issues that have recently grabbed the spotlight — social issues and government health care for the elderly — Obama is the more trusted candidate among these voters.

Neither Obama nor Romney carries much weight with these voters, though: Half have an unfavorable opinion of each candidate.

Count Pam Zickert, an independent from Santa Maria, California, among those who are undecided and unenthusiastic.

The 62-year-old retiree dislikes Obama, finds Romney “a bit bland” and has no intention of watching the political conventions.

“It’s tough to pick a presidential candidate when none of them are inspiring,” says Zickert, who voted for Republican John McCain in 2008.

William Galston, an expert on government and politics at the Brookings Institution and a former Clinton administration official, says that because the persuadables are more difficult to win over, Obama and Romney so far have been more focused on firming up support among their base supporters than on cultivating those on the fence.

Romney’s selection of conservative darling Rep. Paul Ryan as a running mate was “a decision to place mobilization ahead of persuasion,” he says, and Obama’s campaign has been systematically targeting the basic building blocks of his winning 2008 coalition: women, Hispanics, younger voters and gays and lesbians among them.

Still, in a tight race, the persuadables can’t be ignored. The campaigns may well spend the convention weeks and September firming up their base supporters, then devote the debates and the final weeks of the race to reaching out to more fickle voters.

In the AP-GfK survey, taken Aug. 16-20, the 23 percent of registered voters who are considered persuadable included 7 percent who expressed no presidential preference, 7 percent with soft support for Obama and 9 percent with soft support for Romney.

The poll involved landline and cellphone interviews with 885 registered voters, including 192 considered persuadable. The margin of sampling error for registered voters was plus or minus 4.1 percent, and for persuadables 8.9 points.

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