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Defending the undecided voter

October 16th, 2012 by Steven Gardner

It’s time to offer up another lukewarm defense for someone who didn’t ask to be defended. I did it before for Bruce Danielson. This time I’m sticking up for the undecided voter.

It is a timely defense, because Tuesday’s presidential debate questions come from those who haven’t committed to voting for Barack Obama’s re-election or Mitt Romney’s challenger bid. Saturday Night Live did a great skit about undecided voters, a mock-commercial that sums up many of our thoughts about people who have not yet made a choice. I’ll post the video at the end.

As further evidence against the non-committal types I found a site that purported to show who undecided voters are. In some cases it’s not pretty. They have less education, less money, little in retirement savings, are more likely to be unemployed, less likely to be married but more likely to have kids living with them in homes they don’t own.

Given the swing in poll numbers since the first debate, I can see why some in America are troubled that it’s on these people that the election hinges.

But I’m going to suggest, with no evidence whatsoever, that there may be a significant segment of undecided America that is thoughtful, perhaps even quantifiably liberal or conservative, who have yet to make a decision. Allow me to offer some examples. They’re hypothetical, but I bet you could find people who fit this category.

The Ronulan or Libertarian: Ron Paul supporters were asked to be good little soldiers and support the Republican banner carrier, even though they were hosed at the Republican National Convention when they had their last chance to make a meaningful stand. It’s not what happened at the convention, though, that makes them undecided. Sure, they probably like Romney’s economic policies better. But he might not go far enough their direction, and Romney’s foreign policy pronouncements about how engaged America should be might frighten them. It’s not that they like what Obama has done, but it might the preferable option of the two candidates who have a chance to win. Same goes for backers of the actual Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson who nonetheless don’t want to see a vote wasted. The waffling may be a question of which policy position matters more.

The sad liberal: Many liberals rejoiced when Obama was elected and created unrealistic expectations they should have known to temper. He said all along he would listen to everyone. Whether he did or not is an argument conservatives would like to contest, but nonetheless what Obama put forward were not bigtime liberal solutions, most notably on financial regulations, the economic stimulus and health care reform. First off, any stimulus at all leans liberal, I’ll grant you that. But the one that got through was not nearly as large as the most liberal suggested it needed to be. Furthermore, much of it was tax cuts that you and I are still getting. The 2 percent payroll tax cut has never gone away. On financial reform anyone can see that loud as many will complain about Dodd-Frank, some of the complaints are that it didn’t go far enough. He didn’t force banks to break themselves up into smaller pieces, and he didn’t nationalize any. On health care reform you have to know liberals wanted universal health care, with the government acting as the national insurance company. Instead he championed a program that required everyone to get insurance, which made it possible to get other reforms in place and ensured that insurers had more customers. So, a liberal disappointed on so many fronts might be considering voting for Romney, hoping that his performance will be so bad that a new liberal candidate could have a chance in 2016.

The pragmatist: A liberal pragmatist might have voted for Kerry in 2004, but when the economy tanked was glad his guy didn’t win that year, ushering in the age of Obama. That person might conclude four more years of Obama would be bad for liberals generally. A conservative pragmatist may dislike Romney enough, for whatever reason, that the thought of him becoming president for possibly eight years seems worse than living with Obama for four more. And there are those who are middle-of the-road pragmatists, who just want someone who can make the country work better.

Of course, the Saturday Night Live image is more fun, but I wouldn’t put these people in the “likely voter” category.

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