Down to the wire for undecided voters

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Stacy Vogel
Sunday, October 12, 2008
— Deanna Bello knows it's getting down to the wire, but she just can't decide.

The 38-year-old Janesville woman is leaning toward Barack Obama, but she's still not sure.

Which candidate has the best health care plan? the mother of two wonders. Who is better suited to fix the economy?

After a seemingly endless campaign season, the number of undecided voters is shrinking by the day. Bello is one of about 8 percent of voters nationally who call themselves undecided, said Charles Franklin, political science professor at UW-Madison and co-developer of the Web site Pollster.com

That number could vary anywhere from 3 percent to 11 percent in Wisconsin, depending on how the polls are conducted, Franklin said.

Undecided voters could be important in a swing state such as Wisconsin, but it's hard to nail down how many of them there are undecided, election experts said. Some people know how they're going to vote but don't want to tell a pollster. Others, such as Bello, might be leaning one way but aren't committed.

Some undecided people will end up not voting, said Ken Goldstein, political science professor at UW-Madison and director of the Wisconsin Advertising Project. He estimates the true number of undecided voters at 3 or 4 percent.

Most undecided voters aren't heavily partisan and don't carefully follow the political process, election experts said.

"They're people who are passive viewers of the election," Goldstein said.

Bello just started paying attention to politics a few years ago, and she doesn't have strong political opinions, she said.

She voted for George W. Bush in her first presidential election four years ago, but she's thinking about voting for a Democrat this time.

Bello lists health care and the economy as her two biggest issues, but she's not sure who would do a better job on either. She has been impressed with Obama's speaking skills during the debates and likes the idea of a young, fresh face in the White House, she said.

At this point, the thing most likely to sway undecided voters would be a dramatic event, Franklin said. This fall's bank failings and the subsequent stock market plunge are a perfect example that seems to have benefited Obama, he said.

On the other hand, an international crisis in the coming weeks could shift the focus away from the economy and potentially benefit John McCain.

Negative campaigning also could affect voters in the last weeks of the campaign, said Susan Johnson, chairwoman of the UW-Whitewater political science department.

Negative campaigning sometimes backfires, but it often achieves its goal, she said.

"It tends to stick in people's minds," she said. "That's what people talk about. If it didn't work, campaigns wouldn't use it."

But Bello wishes the candidates would be more direct with voters and stop trying to tear each other down.

"The biggest thing I see is the bashing of each other," she said. "It's like my kids fighting."

Still, she doesn't see skipping the polls as an option.

"I've got family who won't vote," she said. "You can't not vote."


Here are some suggestions from local political experts to help undecided voters make up their minds:

-- Visit the candidates' Web sites (www.johnmccain.com and www.barackobama.com) for detailed information about their proposals and stances.

-- Check local and national newspapers. Read your newspaper's endorsements and compare the newspaper's view to your own.

-- "Talk to trusted friends," said Charles Franklin, political science professor at UW-Madison. "Go to your church and talk to people you agree with there, or go to your union hall and talk to someone you agree with there. For that matter, talk to someone you disagree with."

-- Susan Johnson, political science chairwoman at UW-Whitewater, recommends the Web site www.ontheissues.org to compare candidates' statements and voting records.

-- Johnson recommends the Web sites www.factcheck.org and www.politifact.com to judge the accuracy of campaign advertisements.

Last updated: 10:44 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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