Who are these undecided voters?

There are Democrats who feel that Barack Obama is not progressive enough. There are Republicans or Tea Party members who feel that Mitt Romney is not conservative enough. But even the moderate versions of both candidates stand vastly apart from one another. This makes it frustrating to understand how any voter could be undecided about the race. How could they not find one candidate or the other to hold views that are more congruent with their own?

New York Times columnist Ross Douthat describes it this way:

In public, the American political class makes idols of undecided voters. We put them in focus groups, we let them pose questions during debates, we interview them and pitch ads to them and fold them into elaborate theories about “soccer moms” and “Reagan Democrats.” Officially, their existence justifies everything that pundits and pollsters and consultants get paid to say and do.

In private, though — and, O.K., sometimes publicly as well — political insiders tend to discuss undecideds with a mix of exasperation, condescension and contempt. Especially at this point in the presidential season, after months of debates and ads and op-eds have made the case that “the choice is clear” in “the most important election of our lifetimes,” it can be hard to imagine how anyone with an ounce of savvy can still be on the fence.

Perhaps the reason is that these voters have either little interest in or minimal knowledge about the key issues of the campaign. Yet many are viewed as likely voters because they consider it their civic duty to vote, at least in a race as important as the presidential sweepstakes. They do not approach an election with a particular political philosophy.

This means that there are primarily two criteria by which they make their decision. First is whether or not the “like” the candidate. They don’t particularly listen to the rhetoric of the candidates. It’s more a question of do they like the cadence of the candidate’s voice, his or her hair, whether he or she smiles, the clothes he or she wears, and how comfortable he or she looks when on the stage or mingling with voters.

The second measure is the ads that the candidates run. Again, it’s not particularly about issues.  Most of all it’s a question of whether they are comfortable with the ratio of positive comments that the candidate makes about him or herself vs. the negative charges directed at the opponent. Some people prefer nothing but positive; others like the attack dog ads.

In all fairness, Douthat argues that there is a more group of more educated undecided voters. He says:

If you want to think well of swing voters, and imagine them as wise Athenians rather than a Colosseum-going mob, you could see the improving odds for what once seemed like an unlikely 2012 outcome — a Romney victory in which Democrats hold the Senate — as a nod to the necessity for bipartisanship, and an attempt to make a significant change in Washington while also forcing both parties back to the negotiating table.

Even if this well-informed voter makes his or her choices in a way that ensures bi-partisanship, it is strange to see how a voter does not embrace either the compassion of progressives or the meager empathy towards the less fortunate of the conservatives. Do they parent their children in a bi-partisan and inconsistent way, or do they have a clear philosophy of how one treats others? I suppose that because people’s views on various issues are distributed along a continuum that it is possible to constantly slide back and forth. But in 2012, we have a clear choice for President. Obama’s and Romney’s positions on issues are quite different. and one candidate–President Obama– is clearly more sensitive to the needs of the middle class and those who are poor. He also has more of a sense of integrity. All the same, President Obama, along with Mitt Romney, have to try to attract the votes of this strange breed called undecideds while they shore up their bases. Clearly. this is not an easy job.