A year ago today I was in Ohio. I was following round the Republican candidates seeking the presidential nomination, taking the temperature of the race. And then I headed off to the Ronald Reagan dinner – ‘a gathering of Iowa’s most influential Republican office holders and activists’ – to get an idea of who they may favour in the first of the primary contests which, at that point, were less than two months away.
For the last twelve months, I have followed every move in the race for the White House. I read thousands of newspaper and magazine articles, dozens of books, watched countless TV shows and interviews and innumerable clips on You Tube. I’ve been to all the key Republican primary contests, attended the Republican National Convention in Tampa and I’ve been to and reported from the three presidential and one vice-presidential debate. Even when I try to switch off and watch some TV, my viewing is disturbed by the barrage of campaign ads. It’s fodder for the late night talk shows, a gift for comedians. I even dream about the election. And while part of me will be glad when it’s finally over, I also know I will miss it terribly.
I accept that I follow the campaigns so closely because it’s my job. But even if it wasn’t, I’d still be very interested, even though as an ‘outsider’ I have no vote.
Now, as I write, there are just six days to go to what both sides have predictably called ‘perhaps the most important election in US history’.
And I’m told that the race will be decided by the undecided. Apparently, there are people that, despite the saturation coverage of the election and the candidates, have yet to make up their mind how to vote. It seems incredible to journalists like me, political junkies and even those on the campaigns that there are citizens who haven’t reached decision on who would handle the major challenges facing the US better, who would make a better Commander in Chief, who deserves to win the White House.
Both sides will spend the next six days trying to convince those undecideds to move to them. They’ll be calling, knocking on doors, even accosting people on the street to get them to back their candidate. And they will spend lots of money.
One pollster says that he’s not sure if people are truly undecided or are just reluctant to give their honest answer. And he believes that those who are undecided now probably won’t vote in November 6th. Part of what he says may be true. I know one woman who refuses to tell political canvassers who she’ll vote for, even though she made up her mind a long time ago: ‘Voting is a personal thing, I don’t feel the need to share with strangers who call’.
Some newspaper articles and commentators have called the undecided ‘stupid’ or ‘ignorant’ and even ‘boneheads’. That’s clearly unfair to people who realise the importance of their vote, the implications of their decision. Remember the election in 2000 was decided by a little more than 500 votes.
And it’s perhaps a sign of frustration that the candidates aren’t what they want a feeling they won’t deliver what they promise and will simply resort to partisan politics as soon as they are elected.
It’s been a long campaign – the undecideds can take a little more time.