Polling an Undecided

While watching both a baseball pennant series’ final and a pro-football game at a local sports bar Monday night instead of the third presidential debate, it occurred to me that I should take my own poll of undecideds to see what insights I might garner.

Logo, ESPN Monday Night Football

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Obviously, both campaigns are trying whatever they think might blow more swing voters their way in last ditch efforts.   Team Obama, for example, has come up with a shiny new little booklet with pretty pictures to show that they really do have a plan to improve everything in the next four years.  This to combat the Romney team’s claim that they don’t.   The numbers don’t seem to quite add up, but Romney’s numbers don’t, either.  My guess is that nobody trusts anyone’s so-called facts at this point anyway.   Not that this phenomenon is exactly brand new.  As Winston Churchill once said:  “The only statistics I believe in are the ones I make up myself.”

At this point, for swing voters, it is all about last minute impressions.  A number of liberal commentators, and the not so liberal Andrew Sullivan, have concluded  Obama routed Romney Monday.   I’m convinced they have no sense how little that might help  his chances, even if in some sense they are right.  They seem to equate winning the debate with winning over undecideds, which may not be the case at all.   In my previous post I described one undecided, Wendy, who had her balance tipped in the opposite direction, towards Romney.   Of course, that is only one, but why couldn’t there be many Wendys out there?

Let’s return to that sports bar Monday night where I  hatched my plan to do my own poll.   In addition to my desire to understand was the thought that if I conducted my poll  in bars I might be able to deduct part of my bar tabs as research expenses on my taxes.

That’s how the bartender, who we will call Bob, became my first respondent.  When asked if he was likely to vote, he said he was, and that he was undecided.  Perfect.   I went on to ask if he leaned one way or another and he said:  ” I don’t really like Obama, but I can’t vote for a Mormon.”

Why?   “Do you know much about Mormons?    Below the surface, they are into some strange sh_t, man.”….and Bob just shook his head while walking to pour a drink for another customer.  He then looked back and said:

“I might just vote for my dad.  He’s a good man.”

Bob doesn’t seem totally sold on voting for his father, so he remains an undecided, except for the fact he is clearly leaning away from Romney, leaving the choices Obama, his father or someone else, or just not voting.  I do not have a clue what he will  do at this point.  I’ll ask him after Nov 6.

Liberals tend to have too much faith in reason.  Wendy, mentioned in my previous post, is an indication that you can “win” a debate and still lose voters.   My guess in her case is that it was primarily Obama’s sarcasm at times which swayed her the other way, just as she probably did not care for Joe Biden’s derisive giggles while Ryan spoke in the VP debates.  I believe undecideds are more swayed by likeable or unlikeable impressions than specific facts, especially in this age of “post-truth politics.”

Bob adds another dimension to that,  the possibility that a number of undecideds are sufficiently idiosyncratic when it comes to voting for a president that one can’t predict what they might do or what might sway them.

Bob has prompted me to end my poll, as the task of understanding the range of undecideds now seems mind boggling.   If  the other pollsters turn out to be significantly wrong here and there on election day, I’ll think of Bob.

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P. S. – I imagine that most of you are sick of hearing about this election just as I am in writing about it.  Just in case it matters to someone besides me,  in next Tuesday’s post I will lay out the reasons I will vote for Obama and not Romney.   Then I plan to take a break until Nov 9th, the Friday after the election.   Finally, after all this time, energy and money spent to just pick  the captain of our leaking ship (and his congressional crew), we’ll begin to see if much can be done to save it.

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“Utterly Inadequate”

Official photographic portrait of US President...

( Wikipedia)

That was how Tom Brokaw summed up President Obama’s performance at the debate, and that seemed to capture much of the public reaction, especially from the staunchest of Obama supporters.

Mitt Romney, former governor of Massachusetts,...

(Wikipedia)

Political wit Bill Maher, who has donated one million dollars to an Obama Super PAC,  sounded liked he might want his money back in several tweets, including  “i cant believe I’m saying this but Obama DOES look like he needs a teleprompter.”   In the end he proclaimed Romney the winner of the debate.

Chris Matthews, of MSNBC, who undoubtedly remains convinced he is a hard hitting interviewer, but to me has morphed over time into a cheer captain for the Obama team, was almost apoplectic over the Obama performance.   “Where was Obama?” he yelled.  “He looked like he was enduring the debate.”  The President often stared down and sometimes grimaced while Romney focused his eyes and his zingers on him.

Of course, pundits have mentioned that challengers of a President have usually won the first televised debate, and we know how that worked out for John Kerry, for example.  Recently the pollsters have generally been tossing dirt over Romney’s chances like his campaign is already dead, so how is the President supposed to get up for the challenge?  Maybe being the leader of the free world has taken a little out of Obama lately, and he just couldn’t get past the feeling of having to endure an obvious etch-a-sketch loser like Mitt Romney.   Any athlete knows you don’t want to play a weak team because it doesn’t pump up the competitive juices.

Tied to that is the coaching Obama got or didn’t get for the debate.   Apparently, they did not want him to come off as too aggressive at or dismissive of Romney  (no mention of the 47% or Bain).  That succeeded.  He came off as blah instead.   But certainly they did not coach him to often look down nor to grimace.   He seemed to come up with those techniques on his own.

O. K., so most agree Obama’s performance was “inadequate”, but let’s remember one thing.  We are talking about ONE NINETY MINUTE PERFORMANCE.   Given all there is by which to judge the two candidates, this really shouldn’t mean that much.  Or should it?  Apparently it did to several members of a focus group of 24  “undecideds” who discussed their reactions to the debate on Fox TV.

Frankly, I’m a bit surprised that after months and months of us being inundated with political blitz, they could find 24 undecideds.   I’ve been assuming what few there are must be in a coma or lost somewhere, like in the Amazon basin.  But pollsters say I’m wrong, estimating that 5% of likely voters are still undecided.  Anyway, pollster Frank Luntz gathered 24 of them, 13 of whom had voted for Obama in the last election.  By the end of the debate, though, a big majority of the group either seemed to favor Romney, or at least hadn’t decided.   Obama didn’t seem to pick up a vote.  One guy had become very decided, saying he would vote for Romney because he showed a better “grasp of the facts”.

What facts?  There are millions of related facts and Romney chose some and was crisp and sharp in selling them.   Given more time and attention (as numerous commentators have done in postmortems), those “facts” reveal more holes than Swiss cheese.  But for whatever reasons, Obama failed to bite into them, barely even a nibble.

O. K. then.   The Emmy for best Presidential performance in a TV debate goes to Mitt Romney.   Now that the West Wing is no longer on the air, the competition is slim.   What I wonder about is how many swing voters are as impressionable as that Luntz focus group?   Many did not seem to realize that acting more presidential than the President for 90 minutes, by appearing more energized and in better command of the facts, is not equivalent to being the President and doing presidential things, especially when many of the so-called facts are essentially fictions.

This focus group of “undecideds” did make me wonder whether many of those swing voters come election day will vote  as whimsically as me choosing sweet and sour pork on a Chinese menu over beef and broccoli.  I don’t know why.  Broccoli just seems less appealing at the moment.

One thing for sure about that debate is that Mitt Romney acted like the guy who wants the presidency more.   This is partially because Barack Obama already is the President.  He already has the bone that Romney wants.   The problem in debating might be that Obama has come to believe that he has already won.

Given the capriciousness of some American voters, though, the race may not be a done deal, especially if between now and Nov 6, Mitt adds to his collection of my imaginary Emmy’s.