Study gives a look at undecided voters
About 16 pct. of likely voters need to be persuaded. They like Romney on the economy ... but then ...
WASHINGTON - Who are these people who still can't make up their minds? They're undecided voters like Kelly Cox, who spends his days repairing the big rigs that haul central California's walnuts, grapes, milk and more across America.
He doesn't put much faith in either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney. But he figures he's got plenty of time - a little more than a week - to settle on one of them before Nov. 6. And he definitely does plan to vote.
"I'll do some online research," said Cox, co-owner of a Delhi, Calif., truck-repair shop. "I don't have time to watch presidential debates because it's a lot of garbage anyway. They're not asking the questions that the people want to hear."
About 5 percent of Americans with solid plans to vote have yet to pick their presidential candidate, according to a new AP-GfK poll. When you add in those who lean only tentatively toward their choice or won't declare a favorite, about 16 percent of likely voters look ripe for persuasion. That's about the same as a month ago.
In a super-tight race, undecided voters have taken on almost mythic stature. Their questions at the town hall-style debate are parsed. Campaign techies wade through data to find them. The president dialed up 9,000 of them for an Air Force One conference call as he flew to Los Angeles this week.
But the undecided also endure Twitter sniping and late-night TV ribbing. They're derided as uninformed nincompoops who don't merit the power they wield. As David Letterman put it: "You're idiots! Make up your mind!"
Do these wafflers, ruminators and procrastinators deserve coddling - or scorn? Are they just misunderstood?
A look at who they are and what they're waiting for:
Two-thirds of persuadable voters have an established party preference, the AP-GfK poll shows. They're roughly divided between those who call themselves Democrats or lean that way and those who are Republicans or lean to that side.
So why not just plan to vote with their party?
"They are really a little bit torn," said Lynn Vavreck, an associate professor of political science at the University of California, Los Angeles. "They may have some issue positions that are counter to their party, or they're not sure how they stand on some things."
About 30 percent of persuadable voters say they're political independents. That's three times the presence of independents among likely voters who have decided who they'll vote for, according to the AP-GfK poll.
Professors have a euphemism: low-information voters. The bulk of registered voters who are still undecided fall into that group, researchers say.
In the AP-GfK poll, 85 percent of the persuadables said they have a "great deal" or "quite a bit" of interest in following the campaign, almost as high as among other likely voters.
Persuadable voters are more likely to trust Romney to do a better job handling the economy and the federal budget deficit, the AP-GfK poll shows. And they're about as comfortable with Romney as they are with Obama on foreign policy.
They are more likely to say Obama has a clear vision for the future, however. They tend to say he understands the problems of people like them better than Romney does. They also give Obama a broad advantage on making the right decision on women's issues.
Only 3 in 10 persuadable voters think the economy will improve in the coming year, compared with 6 in 10 decided voters.