The swing state

By Brian Bloom

As a native Iowan I learned to love election season. That time of year when leaflets fill your mailbox, door hangers clog the screen and television commercials forecast the doom that will be if we, as voters, fail to support one particular candidate over another.

This year the Hawkeye State, home to the nation’s first political test each year, falls even more in the cross hair of politicians as it was identified as a “swing” state by the media.

What does this mean?

Thousands of television commercials at a cost of millions of dollars all designed to sway the opinion of handfuls of voters. And sadly, that’s not an exaggeration.

Studies suggest the undecided represent less than four percent of the voting population. Consider Iowa has less than 2.1 million registers voters, tens of millions are being spent to reach 84,000 potential voters. Now figure a generous total of 50 percent voter turnout in a presidential election year and more than $63 million has been spent at a cost of $1,500 per non-committed voter.

Amazingly enough, numerous national studies have shown the advertising messages don’t make a difference.

Why is that?

According to Lynn Vavreck, a political scientist from UCLA, it’s because the undecided voter has more important things to do than read the propaganda and watch television commercials.

“It isn’t that they’re looking at Mitt Romney and looking at Barack Obama and weighing them. They’re not looking yet,” Vavreck claims.

In a story reported by Guy Raz of National Public Radio’s (NPR) “All Things Considered,” Vavreck claims to have checked in with this demographic once a week since Jan. 1. She says those who still consider themselves undecided are split evenly among Democrats, Republicans and independents. About seven percent have changed their minds (from Obama to Romney or from Romney to Obama).

About 60 percent of undecided voters are women, she says.

In key swing states — Virginia, Florida, Ohio, Iowa, New Mexico and Colorado — the number of undecided voters comes out to about 900,000 people.

As former Clinton White House adviser Paul Begala said, “the American president will be selected by fewer than half the number of people who paid to get into a Houston Astros home game last year.”

Palm Beach Post columnist Frank Cerabino, in questioning the validity of the undecided voter believes they area myth.

“I think (undecided voters) may be just like the unicorn or something,” he says, “this character we like to imagine exists because it makes us feel good.”