Undecided Voters Breaking For Obama?

UCLA Political Science Professor Lynn Vavreck takes a look at the recent polling and sees undecided voters starting to break for the President:

If you believe the conventional wisdom about elections, the pivotal moments in presidential campaigns come in the last 50 days or so. The only problem with this claim is that by the time Ronald Reagan chortled and said, ”There you go again” to Jimmy Carter, or Michael Dukakis hopped in that tank and ground the gears, nearly all of the people who would turn out to vote in November had long since made up their minds. So how pivotal can these moments be?

In a December 2011 YouGov poll for the Cooperative Campaign Analysis Project, 94 percent of those polled had already made up their minds about whom to support in a Mitt Romney-Barack Obama contest. Got that? Before the Republican primaries even began, before Romney was even the nominee, only 6 percent of voters were undecided.

YouGov interviewed nearly 44,000 people in December, after which my collaborator, John Sides, and I interviewed 1,000 people from the original set every week beginning Jan. 1. (We’ll keep it up through Election Day.) Thirty-seven weeks into the year, and with only 47 days left until Nov. 6, how many of those initially undecided voters are still up in the air? How do the previously undecided voters choose sides? And do people ever change their minds during the campaign once they’ve made a choice?

This chart summarizes what they found:

More interestingly, though, are the findings about people who changed their minds over the course of these interviews:

Interestingly, Romney is disproportionately losing women to Obama. Among those who are moving away from Romney and switching to Obama, 62 percent are women (47 percent of Romney’s initial voters were women). To make this clear, let’s say you are a woman who said you were going to vote for Romney when we asked you in December: You are twice as likely to change your mind and switch candidates (when we re-interview you in 2012) compared with women who initially chose Obama. Although to be fair, very few women are switching sides at all (4 percent leave Romney and 2 percent leave Obama).

And on an issue where the president’s position has changed, Obama has picked up 7 percent of Romney’s initial supporters who think same-sex marriage should be legal and 4 percent of those who are not sure about it, while Romney has nipped off 4 percent of Obama’s original set who think same-sex marriage should be illegal (and 1 percent of those who are unsure).

Obama picks up 10 percent of initial Romney supporters who thought the economy had gotten better over 2011, while Romney attracts 3 percent of initial Obama voters who thought the economy had gotten worse in 2011.

Perhaps most interesting are those voters who thought the economy had stayed the same throughout 2011: Obama pockets 4 percent of Romney’s voters who evaluate the economy this way, while Romney pilfers only 2 percent of Obama’s voters with this opinion.

If this is true, it would explain a good deal of the movement we’ve seen in recent polls, and it would be yet another indication that things have been going very well for the President over the past month.

FILED UNDER: Barack Obama, Campaign 2012, Politicians, Public Opinion Polls, Quick Takes, US Politics,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. C. Clavin says:

    After 292 weeks of campaigning…if your only remaining tactic, to convince the remaining few undecideds, is to blow Barrack Obama out of the water in a debate…you might have a big problem. I’m just sayin’…
    Looking at the Swing States…Romney’s path to 270 is nigh-on invisible.

  2. legion says:

    Everybody pretty much knows who Obama is & what he’ll do. Mitt Romney has been showing us just who he really is for the last few months (actually since 2007, but people who still call themselves “undecided” clearly haven’t been paying attention that long), and it’s finally starting to gel for them. Mitt Romney really is as good as the GOP gets.

  3. Tsar Nicholas says:

    What’s funny about this sort of headline and the underlying “analysis” is that, oh, hell, for 30-plus years the media-academe cabal has been saying “undecideds break for the challenger” so often, with such vigor, it became a hornbook law element of our political discourse. Now, however, in a shift as predicable as high rates of poverty and crime in big liberal cities, undecideds according to some UCLA prof. are breaking for Obama. Go figure. Color me shocked.

    In any event, people who truly are “undecided” don’t actually vote and those who simply haven’t thought about it yet either won’t actually vote, or they’ll end up casting “provisional ballots” that barring meteor strikes won’t ever be counted, or they’ll split their votes roughly down the middle, to a material extent by accidentally voting for the wrong guy. Seriously. Think about it. If you really haven’t made up your mind as of yet you’re just a skosh removed from a EEG flatline, aren’t you?

  4. MM says:

    @Tsar Nicholas: Conservatives can never fail. They can only be failed.

    Oddly enough, this is probably not dissimilar to the attitude that is costing Romney votes. Especially with women. I don;t know why the Ron Paul “success” hasn’t taught people this, but calling your potential voters stupid is not a very good way to increase your numbers of potential voters.

    All it does is make your strong supporters feel good about themselves.

  5. MarkD says:

    Bill Maher was right. Undecided voters are too stupid to for the task of voting. Nobody cares what dumb people think.

  6. wr says:

    @Tsar Nicholas: “Ironic,” ain’t it?

  7. OzarkHillbilly says:


    Everybody pretty much knows who Obama is & what he’ll do. Mitt Romney has been showingyet to show us just who he really is for the last few months

    FTFY. Although, the secret video was really revealing, it was not of Mitt’s doing.

  8. MBunge says:

    Women have really become the central problem for the Republican Party, haven’t they. There’s Palin, who would never even have been considered for the ticket if she weren’t a double Xer. There’s the Virginia ultrasound rape law, which clearly was formulated without a single woman in the room to say “Wait…what?” And then there’s whole “mine’s bigger than yours” neocon approach to foreign policy. So many of the party and the movements blind spots all seem to intersect with one particular gender.


  9. legion says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: Heh. I meant it in more of a sarcastic, he’s-showing-us-he-has-no-moral-center kind of way, but yes. You are not wrong about that video…