As Election Day is upon us and voters young and old come together at their local polling stations or send off their absentee ballots to cast their votes, I’ve been thinking more about how important it is to vote. It baffles me that so many young Americans who are legally able vote choose not to out of indecision, or do not even bother to register to vote. It is your right, as an American citizen, to vote. If you don’t vote, you don’t get a say in who your next president is.
Not only are there people who choose not to vote, but there are also a considerable number of Americans who simply don’t know who to vote for (or so they claim). Who are these “undecided voters” who are constantly referenced by the media and corralled into town hall meeting after town hall meeting to listen to campaign spiels by the candidates? The New York Times says undecided voters “think less about politics.” “They are less interested in politics and the news, less partisan, and less likely to hold opinions on issues dominating campaign discussions,” writes New York Times blogger Lynn Vavreck.
But is there such a thing as an undecided voter?
According to a July 2016 article in Time magazine:
“If you listen carefully to them—the 11% of America that still hasn’t made up their minds—you’ll hear a common theme and tone. They are a sea of tranquility amidst the raging storm of partisan politics. They’re proud of their independence from either candidate, and see themselves as above the political fray.”
While I certainly don’t want to undermine a person’s right to indecision, I can’t help but question the idea of seeing oneself as being “above the political fray.” While voters can carefully study the candidates and determine that neither of the candidates’ political beliefs meshes with their own, there seem to be a lot of so-called undecided voters who aren’t even attempting to choose.
Many of the so-called undecided seemingly don’t know (or don’t care to know) about the candidates or the political process. The writer in Time says this kind of apathy and complacency makes the so-called undecided voters “useless,” but I don’t know that I’d use such a harsh adjective.
For those of us who care about politics and the political process, it can be frustrating to engage with a non-participatory voter about why he or she isn’t taking a proactive stance on the ballot. How can someone deny themselves the privilege of having a say in how our country is run? Some voters simply want to go with the candidate whom they feel is the most on their side. But if voters never get to that point of actually feeling like a candidate is on your side, then what? In many presidential election cycles, that “then what” is the very limbo in which many undecided voters live.
Some undecided voters ultimately want to exercise their right to vote. According to Time, most would-be voters do have an ideal candidate in mind. For example, voters who are on the fence usually want a candidate who is a unifier and who will work across all of the barriers (racial, sexual, socioeconomic, etc.) that divide us to bring about change and progress.
Other characteristics of the undecided voter’s ideal candidate include:
- Someone who acknowledges that the political process is flawed.
- Someone who appeals to a “third option,” listening to the voters who want more choices because they don’t identify with the ideals of either candidate and be willing to make changes for them.
- Someone who has a good moral character and who is honest.
- Someone who communicates a plan of action for righting America’s wrongs.
- Someone who keeps up with changes in technology in our increasingly digital world and knows how to utilize the internet for their campaign strategy.
With Election Day here, you can expect to hear more and more about undecided voters. They are the group that every campaign hopes to court. Still, perhaps it’s time that we reassess the idea of the undecided voter and we consider that the undecided voter is just, frankly, a dissatisfied voter. Or perhaps, an unimpressed voter. The myth of the so-called “undecided voter” makes it seem as if these are individuals wringing their hands and anxiously wracking their brains over what to do and how to cast their ballot. But the literature seems to show they are not as much overwhelmed as they are over it. If undecided voters aren’t wishy-washy, then maybe they’re wistful. Many of them might, in fact, want a candidate who doesn’t really–and can’t really–exist in real-world politics.
Time magazine speculates that undecided voters will decide the election. After all, it’s believed that a candidate who can win the vote of undecideds is the subtle persuader and ultimate politician.