ND Expert: Alleged "undecided" voters may close gap

Author: Arts and Letters


The longest political campaign in history is almost over, which means time is running out for that elusive group – the undecided voter.

University of Notre Dame political scientist Darren Davis believes that many of the voters who identify themselves as “undecided” actually know for whom they will vote, but for a number of reasons, will not reveal their decisions.

“Many national and statewide polls continue to report a moderate number of people, anywhere from 5 to 9 percent depending on the poll, who are not willing to say for whom they will vote,” says Davis, an expert in voter behavior and racial politics.

“Given that we have long ago reached a saturation point in information about the candidates, meaning that there is nothing new that can be learned about Sen. Obama or Sen. McCain, I doubt very seriously that people who say they are undecided truly are undecided,” says Davis.

According to Davis, pollsters can elicit the kinds of responses they want, depending on how the questions are worded and how the poll is structured.

So why would some voters still refuse to reveal their choices?

“Two reasons,” says Davis. “First, it depends on how the polling questions are asked. Some pollsters will offer ’Don’t Know,’ ‘Unsure,’ or ‘Undecided’ as an explicit choice, which makes it easier for a person to select it as a viable choice.”

Secondly, “undecideds” may be driven by the “Bradley Effect” – people who care about what others think want to avoid appearing racist or anti-egalitarian, so they will say one thing in public poll, but in the privacy of the voting booth they will vote according to their true feelings.

“This type of avoidance behavior does not occur only in the voting booth, but it also occurs in normal conversation and throughout other questions asked by pollsters,” Davis says.

“To the extent this is true, Obama’s lead in many statewide and national polls could be pretty thin, if at all real.”

Contact: Davis’ comments may be used in whole or in part. He can be reached for interviews at 574-485-8766 (cell) or ddavis7@nd.edu _.

Originally published by Susan Guibert at newsinfo.nd.edu on November 03, 2008.