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On the One Hand, On the Other: 10 Million Voters Can’t Decide

November 2, 1996

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Here it is, the weekend before the election, and, doggone it, they still can’t make up their mind.

``One day I think I’m going to vote for this one, and the next day I think I’ll vote for that one,″ says Arlene Wormell of Petoskey, Mich. `I’ll go into the voting booth and then I’ll decide.″

Says another undecided voter: ``I’ll make up my mind this weekend. I have to.″

All told, voters who still haven’t made a choice in the presidential election may number between 10 million and 12 million, maybe more, pollsters say.

The undecided voters tend to be women, middle-aged, living on a tight budget. They lead busy lives and don’t have much time to focus on politics. Their political views are moderate. If they do vote, they are most likely not to vote for Bill Clinton.

In disproportionate numbers, the undecided are ``Clinton Republicans″ _ voters who left the GOP in 1992 to support Clinton but aren’t all that pleased with what they got.

A lot of them simply won’t vote at all, the experts say, and a larger percentage than in the public at large may be willing to give Ross Perot a tumble.

``Between 70 and 100 percent of them are going to end up voting for the challenger,″ said Democratic pollster Mark Mellman. In this case, the challenger is either Bob Dole or Perot.

He explains: Usually when people say they really can’t chose, ``they’re pretty sure they don’t want to vote for the incumbent but they’re not sure they want to vote for the challenger.″

``In the end, though, that’s what they usually do.″

If people are undecided this close to the election, Mellman said, little things can tip them toward one candidate or another.

``They don’t have time to do the work of sifting through all the information out there in the political environment,″ he said, and so they are influenced by a late piece of information _ a newspaper endorsement or a TV commercial or something said by an interest group like the American Association of Retired Persons.

Often the undecided are torn between conflicting values, said a political scientist, Sam Kernell of the University of California at San Diego. They might think they would be better off economically under Clinton but feel closer to Dole’s conservative beliefs.

Although most presidential polls report an undecided core of 5 percent to 8 percent of voters, Mellman believes they more likely constitute 10 percent to 12 percent. To make their polls look meaningful, pollsters push respondents into a choice they may not stick with.

In the end, says pollster Ed Sarpolus of Lansing, Mich., ``a lot of the undecideds will come down for whomever they feel comfortable with on election day.″

Mrs. Wormell, in a telephone interview, ran through her thought process:

She can’t forgive Clinton for his veto of the bill outlawing late-term abortions. And, ``I don’t like his personal life.″

But as for Dole, ``He said cigarettes don’t hurt your health and that set me against him.″

She’s open-minded about Perot, though she doesn’t know where he stands on abortion. ``He seems to have good morals,″ she says. But she figures Perot can’t win; ``I feel that if I vote for him then Clinton will get in.″

Pennsylvanian John Magnor, a computer analyst and registered Republican, puts himself down as undecided though, for the moment, he says, ``I guess I’m leaning toward Clinton.″

He elaborates: ``If Dole had come on a little stronger with the issues, rather than all the bickering and bashing, I might have held fast with him. He’s trying to win with name calling.″

``To be honest,″ adds a third undecided voter, Cheryl Drouillard of Wyandotte, Mich. who sells real estate, ``I dislike Clinton tremendously.″ But she says she has been influenced by ``all that negative advertising about Dole.″

``I’m not that up on the issues,″ Mrs. Drouillard confesses, and finally adds, ``I’ve got to find out more about Perot.″

Another undecided voter, a retired secretary in the Midwest who asked that her name not be used, says this about Clinton: ``He’s trying to help the people, I guess.″ But, she adds: ``I don’t know if you can believe half the stories you hear about him.″

Dole? ``Judging from my age, I think Dole is too old to be president. I’m 73 and people over 73 should all be retired.″

In 1992, when voters were interviewed as they left the polls, as many as 20 percent or 25 percent said they hadn’t reached a decision until the week before the election.

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