As we're now in the final stretch of political Armageddon -- judging from the intensity and hype of most folks finally paying attention -- there's that ongoing discussion about the "undecideds."
Emphasis on discussion -- because it really should be a debate about whether or not they really exist. Mainstream media and talking bubble heads pontificate 60/60 about who these people are, with so-called "undecideds" showing up on post-debate living room panels like reality show contestants. They are like Norse gods and intriguing comic book characters, like a family of tight-suit wearing "supers" with a big "U" on their collective chest.
Recent polls keep egging us on into vein-popping speculation and annoyance. The Washington Post shows about 9 percent of voters saying it's a "good chance" they'll change their mind. YouGov shows a slim 3 percent of voters who haven't really sorted this all out. In battlegrounds Colorado, Virginia and Wisconsin, the election could boil down to about 5 percent of those voters being all mixed up.
That of course has quite a few people worried, especially those of us who remember the dreaded 2000 election -- the wait and the uncertainty. If we have to go through that again, we'll need someone to knock upside the head. The undecideds.
But, when looking closely at other pieces of the puzzle, one can argue that the phenomenon of "undecideds" isn't really what it seems. In fact, some brave souls with sharper tongues would have a foul mouth's full of something to call it -- but, we'll keep it family-friendly for the moment. Who are these "undecideds?" Are they for real?
Maybe not -- maybe they like being the different one in the bunch. You know that person you meet over beer, wine and vodka martinis at an evening soiree, that cat who wants to be ... special. Who wants to stand out. Everyone else at the party seems to have their minds made up, but fam with the weird disposition wants you to believe they are "undecided."
That's one type of undecided. Lately, I'm seeing about a total of three.
The second type is a bit more reasonable: They really don't want you, their significant other, the anonymous pollster swearing confidentiality on the phone or, even, their kids to know who they're voting for. Real talk: It's none of your business. Since when did voting become a public display? Thought it was private?
And why not keep it private? "My dad and I didn't talk for five years because of politics," says one bummed friend who's afraid of talking up the subject with his father after a long, delicate dance of reunification. "But, he keeps asking me. And I just keep avoiding it." Eager to keep the familial peace, good friend asks for advice on what else in politics to discuss besides... well... that thing they call a vote.
"Talk about the polls," I tell him, slap on the back. "Keep it horse race for about an hour, dazzle him with your sofa pollster skills and he'll be so proud of you he'll forget about the question."
It's like the Civil War out there. Brother battling brother. Sister scratching sister. Offspring wanting to strangle their back-to-the-future parents. And worse: bosses threatening to fire you if you don't vote for a certain candidate. Gallup is already showing us how polarized it is: only 8 percent of Republicans like the incumbent. More Democrats liked President George W. Bush in 2004, 12 percent, than Republicans like President Obama. President Clinton actually got 23 percent of Republicans liking him in 1996. It's hot out there. So, it's plausible. Why would you tell people who you're voting for? Keep it quiet. Isn't that obvious? Keep friends and influence people at the house party. Hence, pollsters should ask: Are you afraid of telling anyone who you're voting for?
Some of this is people being too afraid to reveal their political tastes in a very toxic political environment. But, the third type of undecided could also be motivated by race. Not racism necessarily -- but, simply, the comfort of voting for one's own (and, yeah, just not voting for the "other"). This is why most polls won't go there, but some will. The tab breakdowns by race, I feel, are the most revealing about the electorate, even down to the nub of, say, white women versus women of color. And, yes, that's why you see "women voters" leaning increasingly to Mitt Romney -- they're not a monolithic voting bloc as assumed.
We see this in the YouGov poll, for example, where 5 percent of registered and likely white voters are still "not sure." Feeling overly polite, there's a willingness to wager that a vast sum of this group may be open enough to answer a poll, but skeptical of confidential surveys enough to hold back. But, they are very much unlike the 59 percent of white voters who are telling it like it is: they are going Romney.
Watching what he called CNN's "group of fake undecided voters," Hiram College political scientist Jason Johnson put it like this as we were furiously texting back and forth: "After the debate, 11 said they were now voting for Obama. About five said Romney and [another] nine wanted to keep their vote private."
What did that mean? "Translation: those nine are Romney supporters, and always were and just don't want to admit it on air," added Johnson, mixing in that it was because "he got his butt kicked" in the last debate.
Or, maybe, they didn't want their Black or liberal friends and family in their face about it.
This is a bit more complex and, admittedly, uncomfortable for most. Yet, the tension is there, particularly among white voters who are afraid to admit that they are not voting for the black dude this round to white voters who just feel comfortable voting for a fairly healthy, smart and seemingly capable white guy (the one who looks like them). Either way, some undecideds may be leaning in that direction -- and, out of fear of being called or thought of as a bigot, they are decidedly keeping their mouths shut.