The Undecided Voter

At every election, like the one just passed, I begin to wonder about these guys, the UVs—the X factor that can swing an election from favourite to underdog, or vice versa. Why do we have so many of these Hamlets in our world, people who hold the balance of power in their hands by virtue of their indecision?

Research indicates that election tactics such as leaders’ debates, attack ads, and campaign rallies don’t do much to sway the Decided Voter, for the “convinced ones” pretty much know what they want before an election is even called. But these tactics do influence the 15% of Undecideds, which could make all the difference to the savvy political party that capitalizes on them.

To give some of the UVs credit, among their ranks is the apparatchik who has fallen out of grace or has got disillusioned with his party between election cycles and is in limbo when the next election nears, not sure where to hang his hat this time. There is also the strategic voter who believes that voting for her party is a lost cause, and is looking at the progress of the front-runners to decide where she can cast her vote to ensure a decisive result for the public good. I am not interested in these types – we will always have some of them in any democracy. I am referring to the Undecideds who exhibit some or all the characteristics listed below:

  1. Not politically aware, driven, or interested in the issues of the day.
  2. Heavily and easily induced by advertising. A consumer magnet’s dream. Lines up for hours outside stores for Boxing Day, Black Friday, and other consumer events.
  3. No deep convictions. Undeveloped critical thinking.
  4. Needs a lot of information in order to reach a decision.
  5. Procrastinates.
  6. Short attention span. Responds to bad news better than to good news.
  7. Looks for short-term gratification.
  8. Superficial (“I like Justin’s socks. Therefore, I think I will vote for him”).
  9. Passive-aggressive (“My vote counts, let them beg for it!”).
  10. Doesn’t trust government and elites, and believes in conspiracy theories.
  11. Entitled. (“No matter who is in power, life will go on the same and nothing will change, for me”).
  12. Believes their vote doesn’t count; after all, it’s one among millions.

I could continue to apply the labels, but I think I have painted enough of a picture. I think these Undecideds are vulnerable and dangerous. Political leaders exploit them – they are the ones who will see a candidate ring their doorbell for a 5-minute front-porch chat, they are the ones the candidate will be looking in the eye during TV debates, they are the ones who get the continuous robocalls at home urging them to “join the revolution.”

How does one minimise this 15% to a negligeable factor? Deny them a vote? Educate them early on critical thinking and civic responsibility? Bribe them? Or should we throw our hands up and encourage an even larger undecided voter factor, so that no leader takes an election for granted and has to work really hard to earn the deciding vote? There is no magic answer.

One thing I know is that the undecided factor takes “boring” out of an election, rendering it into a whodunit or a whowillwinit event. It can also get the wrong candidate elected because he ran a better negative campaign, had more money to spend on advertising, and cut a better figure on TV with glib but empty rhetoric – or, wore better socks.

It goes to show that democracy is not a perfect tool of governance, but the best of the worst lot. So, as we heave a collective sigh at the results of the last, “nothing-changed-at-all” election, read up on the issues and track records of the candidates, turn off the TV, and do some thinking for yourself over what matters, don’t answer the doorbell when the political snake oil salesman comes knocking, and above all, work hard at climbing out of the UV ranks.

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