5 Nov 2012

Undecided voters: ‘holy grail’ who could decide US election

As US election frenzy reaches its peak, there are still thousands who have not decided whether to vote for Mitt Romney or Barack Obama. Channel 4 News meets two of them.

Undecided voters: 'Holy Grail' who could decide US election (Getty)

The US presidential election is just a day away, but when Channel 4 News met them earlier this week, Kate Berkland and Joanne Kalmbach were yet to make their decisions.

They are two of a band of “uncommitted” voters (in pollster-speak) who could still be swayed by a last-ditch campaigning effort. This group has narrowed over the course of the race, and so at this late stage, undecided voters are the “holy grail” for campaigns, pollsters, and political analysts.

This subset of the American population tends to be less politically engaged, less educated – and less likely to even make it to the polls. The last-minute decisions of those who do, however, are watched closely in a race that could be decided by a few hundred votes.

Kate Berkland, a student at Syracuse University in upstate New York, received her absentee ballot for Massachusetts some time ago, but when Channel 4 News met her, it remained blank. She waited until the last possible moment to fill in her vote and send it back. She feels pressure to vote for Barack Obama “because everyone else wants me to”, but worries that he cannot deliver.

“Last time Obama ran on so much hype… He promised too much,” she said.

Last time Obama ran on so much hype. He promised too much. US voter Kate Berkland

The looming fear of finding a job after graduation weighs on Kate heavily, and she believes that Mitt Romney would improve the economy and cut spending. Still, she admitted that Romney has built a reputation for “helping people who already have money.”

She is disinclined to believe his more extreme positions, pointing out that he does have to win over the more conservative voters of his party.

“He worked in Massachusetts and it’s a very liberal place,” she said. She tuned into the debates and took Romney’s continual shift to more moderate views as a good sign, but does not know how to make her decision when there are “not a lot of specifics” offered by either side.

Frustration over lack of clarity

The debates also left another undecided voter, Joanne Kalmbach, frustrated by the lack of clarity. Before the first debate, she was pro-Obama, but Romney’s strong performance made her reconsider. Then, when he agreed with most of the president’s policies in the third debate, she questioned whether she could even differentiate the two.

“I thought the debates would do it,” she said, but “both candidates weren’t telling the whole truth.” She went on fact-checking websites afterwards, but still can’t tell who is bending the truth less. She feels disheartened after “trying to make a really conscious decision” and not finding answers.

A dance teacher from Pennsylvania, she voted for Obama in 2008 despite being a registered Republican. She now feels disappointed that the economy recovery hasn’t been stronger.

“I thought that four years in, we’d be in a better economic state,” she said.

Romney’s private sector credentials impress her, and she believes that “government should be run more like a business.” She believes Romney will follow through on cutting taxes, but she is not sure where the money will come from to reduce the deficit.

“Ideally [his plan] sounds great, but realistically, I don’t know how it works,” she said.

Romney’s Medicare plans also trouble her. The Republican candidate attempts to assuage the fears of older voters by saying that Medicare will not change for those over 55 – but Joanne is under that cut-off.

Both women acknowledge Obama’s successes and strengths: Kate likes his policies in the Middle East, and Joanne is more aligned with his stance on gay marriage and abortion. Fears of a stalled economic recovery, however, might just push them to overlook those issues for this election. But will the fear of the unknown – Mitt Romney – be greater?

While Kate, who has to post her ballot, has made her mind up by now – as America prepares to go the polls – Joanne is sure she will deliberate up until she is at the polling station on the day.

“I’ll probably make my decision standing there,” she said.

Written by Elise Garofalo.