News World US US Election Larry Hackett: Trump or Biden? History is about to leave the ditherers behind
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Larry Hackett: Trump or Biden? History is about to leave the ditherers behind

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With a week to go before election day in the US presidential race, what are we to offer the undecided voters among us – our scorn or our pity?

Believe it or not, these ditherers are still out there – somewhere between 4 and 6 per cent of the electorate, according to most pollsters.

That’s a smaller-than-usual percentage – and less, in fact, than the lead Joe Biden enjoys in both nationwide and state-based polls.

So even if all the undecideds were to suddenly back Donald Trump, it would appear to be insufficient to give Mr Trump the votes he needs to catch Mr Biden in these waning days.

That’s a big change from 2016, when 13 per cent were undecided on election day, and a series of late-breaking news (the Comey letter, etc) flipped enough voters into Mr Trump’s column to spoil the polls.

James Comey
James Comey’s intervention days before the 2016 election robbed Hillary Clinton of her destiny. Photo: AP

There was a time in American politics when to be undecided was a mark of distinction.

Here was someone who bucked party-line orthodoxy, who carefully weighed the issues, who had to be persuaded about the cogency and cleverness of a candidate’s positions.

These were independent thinkers, and campaigns worked hard for these voters, honing their messages and having their feet held to the fire.

Everyone benefited from the added scrutiny.

Today, increased partisanship has culled the herd of undecided voters.

Are those that remain this election cycle the intellectual sceptics of electoral yore, or just people so dimwitted that they ought to be ignored?

Attempts to find out are unsatisfying: Just moments after the second presidential debate on October 22, CNN polled 11 undecided voters, nine of whom said Mr Biden had won. How they could have remained undecided after the first debate was a question never asked.

Meanwhile, over on CBS, 14 undecideds gave the second debate to Mr Trump, but “he did not win by a significant margin,” declared pollster Frank Luntz.

“It’s not going to change any votes.”

The first debate was an ugly spectacle. How could so many be undecided? Photo: The New Daily

Hmm. Considering these were undecided voters, that’s not terribly helpful, is it? And yet reporters consult these voters as if they were shamans.

It’s a frustrating assignment.

“They sort of swim in a sea of disinformation and mistrust,” New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg related on a recent podcast, referring to a focus group of undecided voters she observed recently.

These voters find the daily news unbearable, can’t separate fact from fiction, and don’t know where to turn.

It’s a safe bet that many undecideds are 2016 Trump voters now suffering buyer’s remorse.

Some even voted for Barack Obama, but inexplicably can’t get behind Mr Biden.

This is clearly not just about policies, but something more elusive.

In a civically virtuous world, those holes could be filled by presidential debates. Last week’s second round was indeed more substantial, but it’s hard to imagine it was enough to satisfy large swathes of the electorate who haven’t been able to make up their minds after all this time.

So what will it take to convince these reluctant citizens?

Each voter has their own trip wire. A one-size-fits-all appeal has proven insufficient. But in these final days of the campaign, Mr Trump and Mr Biden still need a target.

Mr Trump tries his schtick on “suburban housewives,” while Mr Biden conjures the mythic kitchen table where Americans can share their hopes and dreams.

The candidates themselves have no idea why these voters can’t pull the trigger, but they are loath to let them go – polls, after all, have been wrong before.

Meanwhile, these undecideds are mocked by memes and talk-show hosts.

With just days to go, patience among fellow citizens is in short supply. Whether shame or enlightenment pushes them over the edge seems immaterial. The clock is ticking, with or without them.

Larry Hackett is the former editor-in-chief of People magazine, and a contributor to the US morning television news program Good Morning America

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