By Frank Luntz
A news analyst and contributor to CBS News and the Fox News Channel
America’s most coveted voting bloc: the infamous “undecided” voter. If you listen carefully to them—the 11% of America that still hasn’t made up their minds—you’ll hear a common theme and tone. They are a sea of tranquility amidst the raging storm of partisan politics. They’re proud of their independence from either candidate, and see themselves as above the political fray. They deeply dislike Donald Trump, and they deeply dislike Hillary Clinton.
In an ideal world, they serve as America’s referees. And we need that now more than ever, considering the blatant and rampant fouls both candidates commit every day.
But there are two types of undecided voters.
The first are useless. They simply don’t know or don’t care about the candidates and/or the political process. They’re the “low-information” voters that conservative talk radio hosts love to hate. They tell themselves that they’re fact-based arbiters. But really, they’ve applied only haphazard thought to forming a cogent worldview. And what they “know” is often wrong. But their mistaken assumptions are held with such stubborn passion they refuse to hear an alternative viewpoint. They’re every bit as angry as the more extreme elements on the Left or Right; they’re just hiding it, from themselves and from the world. To even attempt to persuade them is a deeply futile endeavor. They foment on the fly.
But the second? They will decide the election. They are the none-of-the-above voter. They know a lot about both candidates and don’t like either one. (Can’t blame them, really. Two fundamentally flawed candidates clamoring for votes in a fundamentally furious nation.) They cannot stomach the choice between “crude” and “corrupt” (their words, not mine). These voters are like children living through a bitter divorce; watching with a mixture of fear and disdain as their parents argue, knowing they will soon be forced to choose with whom to live—a decision with no good outcome.
At the Republican National Convention in Cleveland this summer, I hosted four focus group sessions with 27 undecided voters, sponsored by Google. Their political backgrounds were remarkably balanced: one-third voted twice for President Obama, a third voted Republican both times, and the remainder switched sides, in both directions, between 2008 and 2012.
And at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, I heard (because they’re yelling in my face) from the Sanders crowd. They populated just about every street corner. In concert with their “Never Trump” cousins, they remain the most important voices in America. Sure, they refuse to pick sides, but they have deeply held opinions about what they want and expect from the next President.
While I won’t predict the outcome of this election, I can pinpoint eight core characteristics of the people who will determine America’s future.