Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Swing Voters

Swing voters, or late deciders, are not often studied in the political science literature. One portrait of the late decider is someone carefully weighing the candidates and their stances before casting a vote.

Not so much.

One study looks at these late deciders and I want to point especially to Table 9 in the paper that examines differences between swingers and non-swingers. How do they differ? The swing or late deciding voters are less interested in the campaign, less likely to participate in the political process through attending rallies or wearing buttons, make a political contribution, and of most importance here in my blog -- less knowledgeable about the candidates or campaign.

A few quick comparisons:

  • Thirty-four percent of non-swingers can name the Speaker of the House, 26 percent of swingers can do so.

  • Knows which party controls the House, 73 percent swingers, 65 percent non-swingers.

  • Fifty-two percent of non-swingers rated "high" in knowledge, 42 percent of swingers.

It's interesting to note that exposure to political advertising is the same regardless of swing status. Ads are hard to escape, even for late deciders. Again, political advertising is become more and more important not only for candidates but as a way people learn about the campaign, mainly because it's hard to avoid ads versus skipping the news.

What do we take from this, and what does it mean today? The "neither" or "undecided" numbers in most national polls are fairly small, in the single digits.

That suggests there aren't many undecided swing voters out there. Don't you believe it. Some polls filter for "likely voters" and some are of just "adults." The filtering, part art, part science, significantly changes how the candidate numbers come out. I'll blog this tomorrow with a couple of good articles this week on the "likely voter" problem in polling, but basically there are more "late deciders" out there than you'd think . . . largely because they don't care all that much but may still vote.

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