By all accounts, the 2012 presidential election will be a squeaker – probably no more than a point or two in the popular vote will separate the candidates. Such close elections put a special premium on getting one’s base out to vote and targeting the small, yet important, group of “undecided voters”.
We already see both sides doing just this. On the one hand, the undecided voter – about 10 percent of the electorate – is most concerned about “jobs and the economy.” Both Romney and Obama have scrambled over the last month to try to establish credibility on this issue and, in turn, to undermine the credibility of their opponent.
Most analysts define undecideds as self-declared independents or those who have not expressed an opinion at the voting intention question (“unsure”, “refused” or “don’t know” responses). An often overlooked but much more precise way of thinking about this group is to understand them as alienated and disaffected voters – people who voted for one candidate in one election but do not plan to vote for that same candidate next time.
Obama won in 2008 by a healthy seven-point margin (53 to 46) in the popular vote, attracting a large and diverse coalition of voters. According to poll aggregators like Real Clear Politics and Pollster.com, Obama has maintained a small but consistent one-to-two-point lead over Romney for the last few months; 2012 is not shaping up like 2008. So what happened to Obama’s coalition? Or more precisely, where is the missing 6 percent?
To answer these questions, we analyzed 26,005 interviews from our Reuters-Ipsos presidential online tracking polling, conducted between June 3 and Aug. 29, 2012.