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People want to know how we’re going to vote…run!

Mitch H., proud owner and operator of Blogfonte, sung by the Castle and had a barside chat with us on the Czar’s wonderful piece on the weirdness of recent polls.

The thing is, my experience doesn’t map to this supposed shortage of undecideds. I’ve been doing the GOTV thing in Pennsylvania the last couple weeks, making calls and knocking on doors, and I’ve encountered a significant number of self-described undecideds. Maybe as many as a third of the respondents who don’t just tell me to take a hike (although it’s usually phrased over the phone as “I’m just on my way out the door”; if you took these people at their word, Pennsylvanians almost never stay at home for more than five minutes at a time before they’re heading back out the door again) claim they’re undecided.

Now, a lot of those people probably aren’t going to vote, and the calling lists are probably tilted by the party programmers towards persuadeables and low-interest punitive Romney voters, but from the worms-eye view of the campaign, there’s a fair number of them. More than in 2008 and 2004, I think – but maybe that’s an artifact of better screening by the campaign programmers – you shouldn’t be pestering strong supporters of either party, right?

Probably not. But Mitch touches on something the Czar has been hearing a little bit about: the fake undecided.

This theory has been espoused by a desultory few, perhaps most notably by Dennis Miller. Basically, when the phone rings or when the doorbell chimes, quite a percentage of people get tense when it turns out to be a political survey. They have an aversion to polls: what if it is some crazy Democrat looking to threaten you for voting Republican? What if it’s some right-wing lunatic who will lecture you on letters of marque if you lean toward Obama? You have no idea who this person is—or what will follow in this day and age—so you say you’re undecided. Or independent. Or whatever will get this person away from you.

Polling is different from political GOTV contact, or at least it ought to be. The scripts they hand us are phrased as “surveys”, and that’s something I’m uncomfortable with to be honest. I try to be straightforward as to who I am and whom I’m calling for, from the jump. It helps me get over my disinclination to invade the subject’s privacy.

Anyway, the independent/undecided gambit is peculiarly designed to *invite* unwanted attention and further contact – if he’s “undecided”, I pretty much am obliged to hit him or her with the reasons why I think he oughtn’t be. There’s not much I can say that will get a firm Obama supporter off her resolution over the phone, and agreement with a Romney supporter (aside from making sure they’re getting to the polls/have an absentee ballot form/finding out if they’re interested in doing volunteer work) is morale-boosting but not particularly fruitful. But talking issues with an undecided? Yeah, that takes precedence – and if they’re just shamming to get out of a confrontation, they just backed themselves into a minor sort of one as I try to talk them off the fence.

That’s exactly right: undecideds and independents paint a bullseye on themselves by declaring themselves thus for two reasons: first, as you state, they confess to being a possible swing vote, and two, as the Czar believes, everyone knows they’re lying. They already have a good idea or at least a sneaking hunch for whom they’ll be voting all along.

An interesting study was done a couple of months back asked “How do you think your neighbors will vote?” With the pressure of confession gone, people suddenly answer more honestly (and use transference) to reveal their actual thoughts. “Oh, around here? They’re all Republicans around here.” The psychology there is pretty simple: ”don’t blame me if I vote against your guy; we all are around here and I’m just going with it.” By the way, Romney had a commanding lead in that poll.

“How do your neighbors vote” is more likely to reflect the subject’s fear/love/anger towards their fellow-man than true knowledge, I think. Are you an optimist? Are you a doom-swallowing Derbyshiresque pessimist? Are you Pauline Kael?

Certainly the methodology would not be a good substitute for actual polling data—but then, lately, no one is sure good polling data is any better a methodology. The idea behind the study, as we understood it, is that Romney-over-Obama leads open up right in line with other models when the subject is asked how others would be voting. As you know, it is a short step from should to would.

What a crazy election.

About The Czar of Muscovy

Божію Поспѣшествующею Милостію Мы, Дима Грозный Императоръ и Самодержецъ Всероссiйскiй, цѣсарь Московскiй. The Czar was born in the steppes of Russia in 1267, and was cheated out of total control of all Russia by upon the death of Boris Mikhailovich, who replaced Alexander Yaroslav Nevsky in 1263. However, in 1283, our Czar was passed over due to a clerical error and the rule of all Russia went to his second cousin Daniil (Даниил Александрович), whom Czar still resents. As a half-hearted apology, the Czar was awarded control over Muscovy, inconveniently located 5,000 miles away just outside Chicago. He now spends his time seething about this and writing about other stuff that bothers him.