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October 18, 2000 Contact: Melissa Ring (617) 496-9761

One in Seven Likely Voters Still Undecided on a Presidential Candidate

Voter Involvement Index Survey Methodology

About one in seven Americans likely to vote on Election Day say they have not yet picked a presidential candidate. With the polls showing a close race between Al Gore and George W. Bush, the choices made by these as-yet-undecided voters could well determine the outcome.

  Voter Involvement Index
October 11-15 44%
October 4-8 46%
September 27-October 2 37%
September 20-24 36%
September 13-17 35%
September 6-11 25%
Source: Shorenstein Center Poll
Sampling error: ±6%

According to the latest Shorenstein Center weekly national poll, 14% of registered voters who say they will definitely vote on Election Day claim they haven't picked a candidate yet and do not lean towards either Bush or Gore at this time. This finding is at odds with many national surveys, which show a much smaller percentage of uncommitted voters. But these surveys nearly force respondents into a choice by reading them the names of George W. Bush and Al Gore and asking them to select one. The Shorenstein Center poll posed the question differently: "Which presidential candidate do you support at this time, or haven't you picked a candidate yet?" The respondents who said "no candidate yet" were then asked whether they leaned towards one of the presidential candidates.

George W. Bush was the preferred candidate in the Shorenstein Center poll. He was the choice of 42% of the registered likely voters, while 40% backed Gore and 5% said they supported Ralph Nader. No other candidate received the support of 1% or more of the respondents.

Gore can take consolation in the fact that groups that normally lean Democratic have a higher proportion of undecided voters at this point in the campaign. The undecideds are more numerous among women (17%) than men (10%), and among minorities (19%) than non-minority whites (11%).

The high percentage of undecided voters this year reflects in part Americans' ambivalence about the 2000 campaign and its leading candidates. The presidential debate audiences have been much smaller than in past elections, and neither Bush nor Gore has been able to establish and hold a substantial lead.

The large number of undecided voters this year reflects in part Americans' declining attention to presidential campaigns. The debate audiences, for example, have been much smaller than in the past. "When people's interest lags, so does the impulse to choose among the candidates," says Thomas Patterson, the Shorenstein Center's survey director and Bradlee Professor of Government & the Press at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. "Even though the election is close, interest in the campaign is relatively low. We're likely to have a low turnout election and an unusually high proportion of voters who make their candidate choice in the last few days of the campaign."

The results reported here are from nationwide telephone surveys of approximately 1,000 adults conducted November 14, 1999 October 15, 2000. The surveys have a sampling error of ±3%. The Vanishing Voter Project is a study by the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government. Funding for the project is provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts. The project is co-directed by Thomas E. Patterson, Bradlee Professor of Government & the Press at the Shorenstein Center at Harvard, and by Marvin Kalb, Executive Director of the Shorenstein Center's office in Washington.

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