Back to previous page


The incredible shrinking — and increasingly valuable — undecided voter

By ,

President Obama, Mitt Romney and a slew of outside groups will spend hundreds of millions of dollars over the next three and a half months trying to convince 1/16th of the American electorate to vote their way. A voter in Oklahoma City last month. (AP Photo/The Oklahoman, Paul B. Southerland)

New polling from The Washington Post and ABC News shows there are fewer genuinely undecided voters during the 2012 election campaign than there have been in any of the last three elections.

And less than one in five voters says there is any chance at all that he or she will change his or her mind.

Just 6 percent of Americans say there is a good chance they will change their mind about their pick in the 2012 presidential race — a reflection of the divided nature of American politics and the few voters who are actually persuadable.

Another 13 percent say that it’s possible but unlikely that they will change their minds.

That’s a more polarized electorate than we saw in either 2004 or 2008.

In 2004, polling in late June showed 12 percent said there was a good chance they would change their minds. That number dropped to 7 percent by mid-July.

In 2008, a mid-July poll showed 10 percent said they were genuinely undecided.

While, overall, 19 percent of people in the latest poll said there’s a chance they will change their minds — however small that chance may be — that number was higher in 2004 (21 percent) and 2008 (25 percent).

The numbers paint a picture of a sharply divided electorate — though not necessarily head-and-shoulders more so than in recent elections. The fact is that politics has been polarized for a while, whether it was because of the Iraq war in 2004 and 2008 or the economic situation in 2012.

But this election year does seem to be slightly more polarized. And that means that the universe of gettable voters is increasingly small. That puts a premium on figuring out who those voters are and how to target them. It also means more money will be spent on fewer such voters than ever before.

If $3 billion is spent on the election, as the latest projections suggest, and only 6 percent of the electorate is really willing to change its mind, that means roughly $400 will be spent trying to persuade each of those voters.

Rest assured, there are plenty of people in both the Romney and Obama campaigns working on a strategy to capture those voters as we speak.

© The Washington Post Company