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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As Wendy Goes so Goes the Nation?

Instead of watching the presidential debate last night, I opted to watch the Giants clobber the Cardinals in baseball (for my foreign readers) and the Bears win a defensive battle over the Lions (in American “football”).   I like sports when the games feel meaningful, i. e. they have high stakes, which is why I don’t get interested in pro-baseball or pro-basketball until the playoffs.   Two many games, each with too little meaning.  As far as I’m concerned the regular seasons are just a very long sorting process to see who really counts.   I’d rather watch curling if the two teams are battling for a gold medal.

I’m drawn to the competition of the presidential race even though I deplore its nature.  Unlike sports, though, while  watching this game, it is not clear who is winning overall, or  even in the case of the debate last night.

English: Seal of the President of the United S...

Seal of the President of the United States  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Political pundits and pollsters have analyzed the campaigns to death, but nobody knows for sure who will win.   Nate Silver, who seems the most sophisticated of the poll watchers (he is linked in my Blogroll to the left),  gives Obama a 70% winning chance  today, so I’m glad my money is on the president.  But I don’t feel completely confident.

This morning cable pundits and columnists have post mortemed the debate aplenty, with all sorts of analyses as to who won and by how much.   The predominant reaction seems to be that Obama won the debate, though most Romney backers seem to think otherwise.  The consensus there was Romney did what he needed to do to maintain the momentum that began by winning the first debate.  Rather than appearing unreasonably pugnacious on topics like the Benghazi tragedy, he spent more time saying “me too, but better” to Obama’s policies.    To his defenders, he “looked presidential” and that “he can handle the role.”

To Ron Reagan on MSNBC, Romney’s comments were so “banal” that if “he wore a sash and a tiara he could run for Miss America.”   However valid Reagan’s points may have been, that sarcastically over the top characterization detracts from his criticisms.   At least for me and I think there are many like me. Obama was sarcastically dismissive a time or two as well.

In recent posts I have dwelt on the “undecided’s, those swing voters who seem to go back and forth like a pendulum.  If enough of them swing the same way in the right states on election day, Romney might surprise Nate Silver and me by winning.   It is with them in mind, that I’m not so sure Obama won the debate.   At least he didn’t win over Wendy,  a previous undecided who now leans towards Romney.

Wendy has been used as an example “undecided” on FOX.  She is an articulate, likeable woman with four children, seeming to me in her 30s.  In announcing her post-debate swing towards Romney she said:    “He just has an idea of what the economy needs…. nothing has gotten better.  Everything’s gotten worse.”  Catching my attention even more was her saying:   “Obama came across as a bully.”

I would not say “bully” but to me Obama was too often dismissive to the point of condescentional overkill.   In response to a Romney criticism, the president said:   “You mentioned the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916,” Obama said. “Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military has changed.”

That comment has gone viral and zealous Obama backers probably love it, but they aren’t the much coveted swing voters, one of whom has just swung towards Romney.   While Obama had a big lead in the polls  with women voters, the gap has narrowed significantly in recent weeks. Perhaps this is an expression that even more than reproductive rights, equal pay and the like, many women are concerned with the sluggish economy and how a candidate comports himself.   Handling the economy is the one issue in which Romney regularly rates higher in the polls.   Handling oneself as a gentleman (or as a good father) counts especially with women as far as I can tell.

If many undecided’s  cast their ballots while imagining a sarcastic, bullying Obama and a laughing hyena running mate, especially women but men, too………?    Well, I don’t like to think about it.

Laughin’ Joe and the Kid

I saw only the first one-third of the debate last night because I had a meeting to attend.  I taped the program, but will not bother to watch the rest.  I saw enough, and I have a pretty good idea of what I missed by watching some post debate coverage on both MSNBC and FOX, and from reading  several editorials today.

It seems that if you favored Biden and the Democrats, you liked his feisty  ways.  If you favored Ryan and the Republicans, you saw a”grinning, grimacing, condescending Joe,” as Carl Rove put it on FOX.  Chris Wallace said it was the most “openly, disrespectful” performance he had ever seen in a VP debate.   In contrast, someone on MSNBC called it a “superb performance” by Joe, maybe Chris Matthews, who gleefully added:  “This was a Joe Biden night.”

I imagine Biden did energize the Democrat base who have probably upped their orders on anti-depressants since Obama’s mail-it-in effort in the first debate, but I also imagine Republicans believe Ryan held his own – held serve, so to speak, for Romney in next week’s debate.

So, fine, both VP candidates found approval from their bases while dissed by the other side, but it is the undecided’s that interest me at this point, as indicated in my previous post.  I ponder:  Who are they and what are they waiting for?  How much swing do these swing voters have and will only a slight breeze be required to  push them in one direction or the other on Nov 6?  Or will they feel little wind at all and just stay at home or waft to the movies?

As with the last debate, Frank Luntz had a focus group of undecided’s on FOX, but unlike the other group, this time they seemed to end up decidely undecided.

As a piece in Newsmax.com stated:  “Some of the 26 interviewed by Luntz said they were put off by what they described as Vice President Joe Biden’s “condescending” and “disrespectful” attitude towards the younger Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan.

Others in the group said they didn’t understand why Ryan couldn’t be more specific about how GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney intends to implement his “five-point” plan to get the economy back on track.”

In the end, the swing voters seemed to feel little wind in either direction. Another focus group of undecided voters on CNN split their votes evenly: 1/3 Biden, 1/3rd Ryan, 1/3rd Undecided. While that group seemed to feel small gusts in both directions, it still seems that Frank Luntz summarized the undecideds in general when he said: “We’re going to have to wait until next week’s debate [Oct. 16] to see when the undecided decide.

“One added thought. Though supportive of much what Joe Biden said, and not put off by his 82 interruptions as tallied by FOX (he needed to make up for Obama’s ennui), I was one of those put off by his frequent imitation of chuckles the clown.

I liked Biden better just listening to him on the radio en route to my meeting. One Democrat suggested those smirks and Cheshire cat grins were Joe showing outrage at the falsehoods spun by Ryan. I’d say most of us would think that is an odd way to show outrage. A serious demeanor and intense stare would have been less off putting to those capricious swing voters.

But, as we so often hear, Joe’s gonna’ be Joe.   And, all told, I doubt this debate will be much remembered by anyone by election day.