Everyone from Leno to the local newspaper has made fun of the undecided voter. They are uninformed, holding out for a better offer, dazed and confused (“Who’s running?”), they are those people who shouldn’t go to Starbucks because there are too many options (Watch “You’ve Got Mail” for a good description by Tom Hanks). Most cable news pundits are also on the bandwagon.
I’m sure some undecideds deserve the jokes – but there are a large number who fall into other categories as well. One category is those looking for some detail. The other is those who want a buffet of choices from both columns R and D. And yet another is those who like one candidate but don’t trust him to stand up to the extremes of his party.
The detail seekers are wondering what Mr. Obama plans to do. He has announced no plan for the next term. Even what he pushes as his plan is a rehash of his first term philosophies more than a plan. Mr. Romney “five point plans” likewise consist of pretty high level goals. The details are going to kept close to their vests because any real information would risk some portion of the electorate. Had they started disclosing detail six months ago and begun building support for them, we would not have this problem – but they didn’t! The detail seeker may only be looking for clarity as opposed to looking for “right” answers.
The buffet voter might like a bit of economic direction from Romney and a bit of social safety blanket from Obama. For them (us), neither candidate is ideal. For many of this category the best candidate would be a libertarian! However, most libertarian politicians are also pretty much on the edge of reality and have a pretty bizarre view of the rest of the world. The Republicans once had a sizable number of socially liberal, fiscally conservative members but they look like moderates to today’s Republican base and are therefore derided as RINOs. Even if this problem were resolved, there would still be voters who wanted a different choice of policies. They’ll always be around and will normally have to make difficult decisions based on their issues. That’s where more details would also help. Buffet voters are more focused than those just looking for details because buffet voters are looking for specific policies and they have the right answers in mind.
The last category, trust or character voters, may have a philosophical leaning toward one candidate but have not been persuaded that candidate is who he claims or will do what he says. In particular, I think these are people who might want to vote Republican but have been repelled by the party in the last few years. There may be some who want to vote Democratic but have been put off by Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi. I just haven’t run into any of them. I have met the former. Mr. Romney’s long history of telling each audience what they want to hear will look like undisguised opportunism to this group. Politics has been described as the art of the possible but it is always affected by a wish to move in a certain direction. His record in Massachusetts and his ability work with a Democrat controlled legislature was commendable. It looks like the art of the possible. The question the character voters have is what will he see as possible with the presidency? And for Mr. Obama, very little has been possible for the last two years. How will he change that? Both men left large questions in this area.
We’re in the middle of Hurricane Sandy as I write. It represents a huge and unusual storm that will no doubt affect millions of Americans in the northeast. Is it at least partly due to global warming? Neither candidate mentioned the environment during the debates and very little at all during the campaigns. Sorry, but it is an issue. And if Mr. Romney wins, will he cut FEMA? Will he wait until they have finished dealing with Sandy? It’s all a question of character.
And stay safe during Sandy.