washingtonpost.com  > Nation > National Security
Essay

Swing Voters Who Hang Real Loose

By Richard Morin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 3, 2004; Page D01

It's the Silly Season again in presidential politics, the time when new, cleverly named and totally bogus groups of swing voters emerge like cockroaches out of a drain. The latest group to scuttle across the nation's countertop is Security Moms, a repackaged version of 2000's Soccer Moms.

In recent weeks, Security Moms -- white married women with children who worry about terrorism and security -- have been everywhere in the news media, thanks to a few political strategists who have successfully marketed them as the hot swing group of this presidential campaign.


Friday's Question:
It was not until the early 20th century that the Senate enacted rules allowing members to end filibusters and unlimited debate. How many votes were required to invoke cloture when the Senate first adopted the rule in 1917?
51
60
64
67


Problem is, when people finally bothered to dig into actual data they found that these married white women with children aren't politically different on security issues from white men with kids, or from voters generally. And swingers? Hardly: These women are reliably conservative and consistently vote Republican. But what a cool name!

Nonetheless, Security Moms has had a terrific run in the media, garnering for their advocates plenty of face time on national television and in uncritical newspaper stories, including one in The Washington Post.

So count me in. As The Post's director of polling, I'm sick of looking at party identification age, race and income to parse voting differences that are real but boring. I'm going group-groping too, unfettered by the rules of statistics, common sense or good taste.

A slow troll through recent Washington Post-ABC News polling data uncovered at least six underexposed voting groups waiting to emerge. The numbers are real. These groups may be important in this election. Then again, maybe weapons of mass destruction will be found in Iraq . . . and Security Moms will be the ones who find them.

The Where-Do-I-Vote? Vote: About one in seven registered voters admitted in the latest Post-ABC poll that they did not know where their polling place was. These voters tend to be disproportionately young and single. Fully a third of all registered voters under the age of 30 acknowledged they didn't know where they would go to vote. Among this key voting bloc, Bush has a narrow lead over Kerry. But really -- why should the campaigns bother? Even if these voters try to go to the polls, they'll probably get lost.

The Players Vote: With the ladies getting all the buzz again this election year, this critical voting group has slipped under the radar. These are single men, mostly young, and they make up about 15 percent of all registered voters. By nearly 2 to 1, they support Kerry over Bush. They don't care much about terrorism -- only one in 10 mentioned it as their top voting issue. Instead, nearly three times as many rank the economy as their top concern, which suggests that they could just as well be called the "Dude, Where's My Job?" voters.

The Druid Vote: In a recent Post-ABC poll, one registered voter, a 51-year-old man living in Oregon -- a battleground state! -- identified himself as a "Druid" when asked his religious preference. Fair enough, all are welcome here in the Church of the Likely Voter. This Druid strongly supports Kerry and doubts that he will change his mind. Admittedly, the Druid Vote is small -- or is it? Remember, we're group-groping and the rules of statistical inference don't apply. That Druid was one of 871 registered voters interviewed in this survey, or roughly .001 percent of the sample. There are more than 100 million voters, and .001 of that number is, hmmm, about 100,000 voters.

The Clueless Vote: Everybody is reasonably familiar with Kerry and Bush by now, right? Wrong. According to the latest Post-ABC poll, about 8 percent of all registered voters said they did not know enough about either Kerry or Bush to say whether they had a favorable or unfavorable opinion of him. Of course that didn't stop them from having a preference: By an overwhelming margin, the Clueless are voting for Kerry this year. About a third are, appropriately enough, undecided. Then again, perhaps these voters aren't clueless, but merely shy or too polite to express their opinions to poll-takers over the telephone.

The Hell-in-a-Handbasket Vote: They're dissatisfied with the way the country is going and have an unfavorable view of both Kerry and Bush. They're leaning toward Kerry, but independent Ralph Nader (remember him?) breaks into double digits among this group. But don't get your hopes up, Ralph: The people in this group are the most likely of any to say they won't be voting on Election Day. Besides, these cranks represent only 3 percent of all voters, or about what Nader got nationally in 2000.

The I Forgot Vote: Some of us have bad memories of the 2000 election. And then there are those who can't even remember whom they voted for a scant four years ago. In a recent Post-ABC poll, registered voters who said they voted in the 2000 election were asked which presidential candidate they supported -- and 2 percent said they could not recall. This year, these forgetful few are overwhelmingly behind Kerry, though nearly one in seven say they don't know whom they're going to support.

This is sweet -- and easy! So move over Soccer Moms and NASCAR Dads -- here come Boccie Uncles and Windsurfing Stepchildren. Instead of addressing the Gender Gap, I'll wax wise on "Meet the Press" about the political implications of the Transgender Gap. There's clearly no limit to what an inspired group-groper with no scruples and enough data can turn up -- or what the novelty-seeking news media will believe.


© 2004 The Washington Post Company