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The Undecided Voter Examined


If you shout “fire” in a crowded theater, most people will respond, one way or another. Most of them will run out onto the sidewalk and start to form a lynch mob; some of them will boldly check the theater for combustion-related activities. The undecided voter is the guy still sitting there in the middle of row 43. And not because there wasn’t a fire. This mug just can’t make up his mind whether to burn to death or see the rest of the movie.

I already knew I didn’t like the reactionary pseudo-conservative jingo-Jesuoids that worship precedent Bush with the mindless fervor of worker termites. Real conservatives are coming to my side in droves, and because I’m a progressive I don’t turn them away. I lead them into the gymnasium we’ve converted into a dormitory and give them blankets, soup, and a copy of ‘The Economist’ from 1998. Money isn’t everything, they admit. Well, it is, but Bush even threatens money. Some of these authentic conservatives are going to vote for Bush again this time, but they’re doing it for the party, for the sake of continuity and tradition, and when it’s over they will do the decent thing and dash out their brains. Other real conservatives are going to cross the line and vote for Kerry, because they simply cannot bear to vote for Bush again, or they’re broke. Some of them are even voting for Kerry because he reminds them of Eisenhower, if Eisenhower wore a wig and was 6’4″. Meanwhile the undecided voter is still sitting there in row 43. The lights are on, but there’s nobody home.

My theory is there are three kinds of undecided voters. Four, if you include dead people. First, there’s the ‘you can’t make me’ model. This person is angry and resentful and doesn’t get invited to holiday gatherings much. Obstinate, opinionated. Has difficulty admitting mistakes. Consequently will avoid making decisions that represent a reversal of earlier decisions, but which it would be patently wrong to repeat. During my time at Disney Imagineering, I knew a woman who had such a bad case of ‘you can’t make me’ it was impossible to work with her. She would commit to terrible courses of action simply because the evidence suggested doing the opposite. She refused to be pushed around by mere facts; the rest of us were sheep, responding mindlessly to reality. When inevitably her course of action proved disastrous, she defend the outcome like a wildcat defending her kits under the influence of Amyl Nitrate. She was eventually given the boot (the big shiny black boot with a bubble toe familiar to all Mickey Mouse fans). Even then, for almost a month after she was remaindered, she kept showing up for work, in denial that she could have been fired, unwilling to accept anybody else’s decision. It was tragic. We thought it was funny. I suspect a lot of undecided voters are of this stripe: they know Bush is a miserable president, but they can’t stand to admit they were wrong. So they refuse to make a decision.

The second class of undecided voter enjoys the attention. I mean look, nobody’s going to invite me to sit in on one of these debates. I know where I stand, who cares about me? The media loves a good narrative, and to them undecided voters are catnip (or Amyl Nitrate). What could be better than a razor-thin margin between one candidate and the other, the outcome to be decided by a bunch of hand-wringing vacillators? Not that all of them wring their hands. Many of this group of undecided voters are grandstanding like John Phillips Souza, using the press to offer stern, contradictory advice to both candidates. Undecided voters get quoted in the newspapers, polled, invited to debates, analyzed, and exhorted to make various decisions. The more they don’t decide, the more attention they get. My advice is to just ignore them. Maybe they’ll go away. Or better yet, maybe they’ll make a decision, and America can go back to sleep.

The final group of undecided voters, the largest and most blood-curdling demographic, is generally thought of as being in the exact middle, the very equator of public opinion, in this particular contest a kind of living representation of the Mason-Dixon line. This is a false idea, based on a mental picture of a horizontal line: the undecided voter falls precisely between left and right. Tripe. Picture a vertical line, with dolphins at the top, humans in the middle, and zooplankton almost at the bottom. The undecideds are just below that. No offense to Pseudodiaptomus forbesi. What is to be done with these inveterate, if not invertebrate fence-sitters? Take them to a movie, set the place on fire, and don’t shout anything.

BEN TRIPP can be reached at

His book, ‘Square In The Nuts’, has been held up at the printers by thugs but will be released as soon as hostage negotiations conclude.

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