Getting Inside the Heads of Undecided Voters

Dec 20, 2011

With the New Hampshire primary only about three weeks away,  as many as two-thirds of GOP voters are keeping their options open.  Their influence on the outcome is large but you are unlikely to meet them at a town meeting or a rally.   We  went looking for them in a place where the emphasis is on the body, rather than the body politic.

“I’m Jon Greenberg NHPR.  Are either of you thinking of participating in the Republican primary

Maybe, but I’m going to do cardio.”

Joe Devine has plenty of ways to meet that need at the Planet Fitness gym in Manchester.  The Republican roster offers him about as many political choices, and that’s sort of his problem.

“They’re all pretty much the same to me.  Nothing’s really stuck out, no one’s really jumped ahead in my book.  I haven’t seen anyone who’s a clear cut favorite.”

Pity the poor campaign manager who might want to figure out the issue or message that would sway Devine.  He’s just looking for someone who will be able to get something done in Washington.   He’s unimpressed with the parade of alternatives to former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.

“He was the front runner in the beginning and now you have Newt, somewhat of the flavor of the month.  But then when you look at some of the stuff he’s been involved in.  I don’t know. That taste might be a little funny.”

It’s not that Devine hasn’t been watching debates or paying attention.  He has.  But he’s still up in the air. 

So is Jen Andrews, a former school teacher who’s aiming for a second career in health care.  Andrews might vote, or she might not.

“They haven’t really got me to really want to get out there and vote.  That’s why I’m undecided. There’s no wow factor./Have you seen any of them watched any of the debates?// I watched the first few debates.  But I’ll be honest, the last few, the last month or so, I just tuned out.  I felt they were just saying the same thing over and over again.”

A typical explanation for why people are undecided is that they don’t follow politics.  That might be true a lot of the time but not all the time.  Andrews has been listening and says the turn off is the way the candidates speak.  They sound canned.

In theory, candidates still might be able to connect with voters like these.  That’s a tantalizing possibility for any campaign manager.  And it does happen.  Just a few days ago, Texas congressman Ron Paul won over Gail Bourque. 

“He did a big mailing, kind of a grassroots mailing, Last week.  His wife sent out a letter actually.  So that was smart.  If you want to get the woman vote, have your wife send out the message.”

If only it were that simple.  The fit goes a bit deeper.  Bourque is an independent who has no love for government bureaucracy. She say Paul strikes her as not particularly Republican and as for bureaucrats?  Paul’s latest ad had a tractor trailer rolling over one in effigy.

By definition, undecided voters are pulled in different directions.  And usually, it’s a choice between who they’d like to vote for and who they think they ought to vote for.  Ask Paul Simmons who he likes and he’s pretty clear.

“Rick Santorum would probably be my Number 1 but he’s not doing so well.”

And where is Simmons leaning now? Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.  Sort of.

“  I’m not a big Newt fan.  I would not consider him but he is kind of, I guess, in the lead and he’s not the worst candidate.”

Not being the worst is hardly a ringing endorsement.  And if Gingrich falls in the polls, Simmons will reassess. 

As undecided voters are apt to do.