You might find it hard to believe that after so many months and so much partisanship, and now with so little time left, an unusually large percentage of voters remain undecided —unless you happen to be one of them.
The undecided voter bloc could cast the decisive ballot on Election Day, especially if polls showing Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hilary Clinton running neck and neck don’t change. Somewhere between 14 percent and 20 percent of voters are undecided, that’s twice as high as in 2012. So the question is – what will they do? Will enough undecideds rally around one of the mainstream candidates to tip the balance? Will they toss in with Libertarian Gary Johnson or the Green Party’s Jill Stein? Or will they simply choose to sit this one out and not vote?
Those questions were apparent in a recent YouGov poll that found 14 percent of respondents remained unsure of whom to vote for and another 14 percent said they didn’t plan to go to the polls at all. The YouGov poll of 1500 Americans also found that some undecided voters are paying close attention to third party candidates. Eight percent of self-identifying Republicans said they were considering a third party option, and 6 percent of self-identifying Democrats said the same thing. The poll signals the potential for some unusual results on Nov. 8 compared to 2012 when third party candidates received less than 2 percent of the vote.
We set out to find these voters on the fence, and follow them between now and Election Day. What will it take to sway them toward one candidate or another, and when exactly will that happen before it’s time to cast their vote? We will check in with a group of undecided voters located across the country at what could be key decision moments, beginning with the first presidential debate Monday night.
We also are interested in talking with other undecided voters, so if you think that describes you, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, and tell us why.
Now let us introduce the four “Voters on the Fence” that we’re following. And be sure to check back regularly to see what, if anything, has made a difference for them.
Emily Werff said she feels politically aligned with Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson’s conservative fiscal polices and emphasis on small government, but there’s one big hurdle holding her back from declaring her support--she’s afraid she would be throwing away her vote.
“Johnson aligns a lot with me, I would vote for him but I’m not sure my vote would even count,” she said. “I feel like then that’s wasted, but why vote for a person that I don’t want to vote for?”
It’s a political puzzle that has rattled the registered Republican for months. A resident of Cincinnati, Ohio, Werff, who is 38 and does medical research at the University of Cincinnati, supported John McCain in 2008, Mitt Romney in 2012 and Marco Rubio in this year’s primaries — but she said her support for the party stopped when Donald Trump became the nominee.
“I feel like Donald Trump is too harsh on everything. He’s mean to people. I feel like he’s always yelling,” Werff said. She also worries about the impression Trump would make on foreign leaders, and the way he talks about minorities concerns her, too. “I think that he categorizes them, which is never a good thing to do,” she said.
Werff, who is from a military family, says she doesn’t view Hillary Clinton any better. While she says she is pro-choice and tends to the left on social issues, she finds questions about Clinton’s leadership during the deadly Benghazi attack troubling and Clinton’s private email server concerns her, too. All in all, Werff said she worries that a Clinton administration would not be trustworthy.
“I’m not comfortable with how things have been handled … and what they’ve hidden from the public. I just don’t feel comfortable with it, and I don’t want somebody like that running our government,” she said.
She says that as a woman she wants to like Clinton, but it’s been a struggle for her.
“It’s weird for me as a woman to not want to vote for a woman because I’m excited there’s going to be a woman as president, that’s awesome! I should want that, but I don’t want it to be her.”
So, for now, where does all this leave Werff? She’s leaning heavily towards Johnson.
The election may be less than 50 days away, but Alon Sendowski says he has plenty of time to make up his mind.
“I still think it’s a little early. The debates have always been really big for me as a deciding factor, so I’m definitely real excited about the first debate coming up,” he said.
The truth is though, Sendowski, who is a 27-year-old independent who will be voting in Prince George’s County, Md., hasn’t been excited about any of the candidates this cycle — including during the primaries. Now, with four left on the list, he still isn’t inspired.
“I just can’t fully get behind any of them. They have all their strengths, they all have some major weaknesses,” he said.
Sendowski fits the profile of an independent voter. He voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and for Mitt Romney in 2012. This year he’s looking for a candidate who focuses on strengthening the economy because he fears a weak job market helps build social unrest. He also is concerned about national security and foreign policy. He may be a millennial, but Sendowski says his anxieties are more related to his job in finance and his family’s background — his dad is Polish and his mom is Israeli.
“I’ve definitely always been in-tune with what’s going on in the outside world and how we work with our allies and deal with potential threats,” he said. “I mean I don’t have a family, I’m young, but looking at the future, I want a peaceful world and I think globalism or working with other countries is important and having positive relationships for our future.”
Sendowski is narrowing his decision to the nominees of the two major parties, but he says he does have major issues with the two-party system. His ideal candidate would be somewhere between Obama and Trump, a socially liberal and fiscally conservative option.
How presidential a candidate would be once in office is also a key issue for Sendowski.
“[The question is] do I think I would feel safe if this person were in office? Particularly with Trump. I mean I love the idea of Trump, but he says a lot of crazy, scary things, too,” Sendowski said. “And Hillary. I can’t get excited with her. I mean I don’t believe anything she says is real.”
Lifelong Colorado resident Margaret Deluca is a registered Democrat, but she isn’t sold on her party’s nominee.
“My priorities are the environment and women’s rights and immigration. So it’s those three issues that are decisive,” she said. “[Clinton] would be the best for women’s rights and the environment; however, she has almost an open border policy when it comes to immigration and that is the big strike against her in my opinion.”
Deluca is a 56-year-old volunteer search and rescuer and protecting species in the environment is an important cause for her. Those views typically plot her with the Democrats, which is why she voted for Barack Obama in both 2008 and 2012. But immigration has become a bigger concern for her, she said, in part because Colorado has experienced a huge surge of foreign-born residents.
“I have no issue with where people come from, but it’s the sheer numbers that are being let into this country that I think have a negative impact,” she said, adding that different cultural values are part of the problem, but that “ultimately it’s a negative drain on our economy because I think there’s so much under-the-table work happening where taxes are not being paid.”
Deluca finds Trump’s policies on immigration are much stronger than Clinton’s, but she also thinks of him as a “loose cannon.”
“In a nutshell, I think that both parties are too extreme. Trump is far too harsh, Hillary I’m afraid is far too liberal. There really seems to be no middle ground,” she said. “I guess to sway my vote either way it would take these two factors – for Trump to mature and for Hillary to maybe have more of a backbone.”
Deluca remains torn, which is why she has found herself seriously considering the third party option of Gary Johnson, not because he excites her either, but because he has some middle ground. At this point she said she’s dead in the middle between Johnson and Clinton.
Some voters are undecided because they feel they don’t know enough to make a decision. Deb Morrison’s problem appears to be she knows too much.
The 56-year-old safety specialist from Vevay, Ind., has picked through each presidential candidate’s policies bit by bit. She’s also compared and contrasted their demeanors and their leadership histories, and she reads and consumes information about them daily.
The result? “I think this year I’m more conflicted than I ever have been,” she said.
Morrison voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 but was disappointed with his presidency. She had hoped he would rally the country together but what she saw instead was more divisiveness. This year she favored New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in the primaries, but by the time her state’s primaries rolled around, Christie was out, so she reluctantly voted for Donald Trump.
“Christie gave to Planned Parenthood. And I think his focus and energy was more on security and the laws of this country and upholding them, a little more traditional in that value, but I didn’t see him as a threat to some of the social issues that are important to me,” Deluca said.
Deluca said she is fed up with the entire political system, not just the presidential candidates. She says that in an ideal world Americans could just tear down the government and start from scratch.
“As far as our immigration and being able to live the American Dream and all that’s great, but I think given our society today and our world today that’s got to change,” she said. “I think I’m ready to see a change with Congress, with our representatives. We’ve gotten further apart from each other.”
The economy is a big issue for her, more so than the social issues. She’s pro-marriage equality but said, “If you have that equality but you can’t earn a living, what good does it do?”
She also would like to see the country get rid of what she calls “the good 'ol boys network,” which is why Clinton semi-appeals to her.
“I would love to see a woman, obviously I have that bent,” she said. “But the change and somebody new, somebody who’s not a politician, that would be Trump. But he scares me as far as some of his rhetoric. I question whether or not he’s going to be able to represent us with dignity and class. Some of the things that come out of his mouth, I’m appalled.”
So like many other undecided voters, Deluca is also considering the third party option — Gary Johnson. She says the Libertarian Party aligns with her socially and fiscally but even Johnson isn’t without his flaws, she said. Deluca worries about his experience and was extremely turned-off by his recent Aleppo flub when he was asked about the siege of the city in Syria and didn’t know what it was. He told reporters he thought Aleppo was an acronym for something.
Right now she is trying to decide between Trump and Johnson.