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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

‘Low-Information’ Undecided May Swing 2012 Outcome

A good choice if you want to read just one election-related article today would be “Meet the Undecided” by Larry M. Bartels and Lynn Vavreck in The New York Times. Among their salient observations:

The one fact everyone seems to agree on is that there aren’t many of them. …The Washington Post describes the election as “a settled issue for nearly nine in 10 voters.” The race is “tight and stable,” according to the Post’s Ezra Klein, who adds that “Romney and Obama are realistically fighting over three or four percent of the electorate.” And Paul Begala says “there are about as many people in San Jose as there are swing voters who will decide this election” — 916,643 people in six swing states, to be much too precise.

The authors take a data-driven crack at it, tapping the Cooperative Campaign Analysis Project survey, mining the responses of 10,000 individuals in a “mega-sample” surveyed each month since January. Further, say the authors

… Crucially for our purposes, 592 of the 10,000 respondents (5 percent of the weighted sample) said they were not sure which presidential candidate they would vote for, then declined to express even a tentative leaning toward Obama or Romney in response to a follow-up question. These people seem to be truly undecided — and there are enough of them to provide an unusually detailed and reliable picture of undecided voters in the country as a whole.

Their findings strongly suggest a large “low information” segment among the undecided:

…they are rather less knowledgeable about politics, and much more likely to say they follow news and public affairs “only now and then” or “hardly at all.” (Almost 40 percent are unsure which party currently has more members in the House of Representatives, and another 20 percent wrongly answered that it was the Democrats.)

In addition, 69 percent call themselves “moderates.” Yet only about 30 percent of them are real independents, with 40 percent leaning Democratic and 23 percent leaning toward Republicans. The authors believe President Obama could “make some headway” in securing the Democratic leaners in the months ahead, although the data does not much clarify which are the hot button issues that could be leveraged toward that end. A whopping 60 percent of the Democratic leaner undecideds have an unfavorable opinion of Romney. If the right “ifs” fall into place, Bartels and Vavreck see “a seemingly “tight and stable” race narrowly in favor of the incumbent.”

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