Lynn Vavreck on the movement of undecided voters, #TheGamble2012

Lynn Vareck, author of The Message Matters and co-author of our innovative forthcoming book The Gamble, writes at the New York Times’s Campaign Stops site about shifts among undecided voters. Who is moving from the undecided column to the either Romney or Obama, and why? To set the stage, she draws on data from December 2011:

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.

For such a small portion of the total voting population, they receive an awful lot of attention. But has all this attention and the efforts of the campaigns helped to move them into the decided column? And if so, do they actually stay there or do they pendulum back and forth from decided to undecided? Here’s what Vavreck writes,

Let’s start with the easy part – on average, half of the 1,543 initially undecided voters report that they are still unsure in 2012. But the closer we get to the election, the fewer people remain undecided. The latest two surveys (one after each convention) show that the share of still uncommitted voters (from that initial group) had dwindled to 25 percent.

Where are these voters going as they make up their minds?  On average, over the course of 2012, 28 percent of December’s undecided voters moved to Romney, and 26 percent to Obama.

But, there is a lot more to this as Vavreck makes clear. More undecideds are swinging into the Obama column as we get closer to the election. But, this movement is a two-way street. Some voters who were previously decided for Obama or Romney are moving into the undecided column, writes Vavreck:

So far, this seems pretty straightforward: the share of undecided voters is going down as the election gets close, and in the last few weeks as these voters make up their minds, they have started to break slightly for Obama. But just to keep it interesting, at the same time that more people are finally making a decision, other people are moving away from their initial choice.

Between 3 and 4 percent of early deciders abandon their initial choice and have not made another when we re-interview them in 2012. That’s right: They have become undecided.

For more on Vavreck’s findings, please go read her fascinating, data-rich article at the New York Times Campaign Stops blog:



Sample Free Chapters from The Gamble

John Sides & Lynn Vavreck




  1. It’s interesting that people are switching their vote, personally my decision is motivated by not wanting one person as opposed to wanting the other person, I would be interested to see a statistic based on that.


  1. […] people from the camp of undecided voters mostly swinging to Obama, or to Romney? Check out the Princeton University Press Blog to find […]

  2. […] author Lynn Vavreck wrote eloquently for the New York Times last week about the movements of “the undecided voter.” Perhaps SNL writers read Campaign Stops […]