Saturday, September 6, 2008

Are Candidates Wasting Time and Money on Undecided Voters?

A WebMD article, "The Psychology of the Undecided Voter," boldly declares that candidates such as Barack Obama and John McCain need not pay much attention to undecided voters, and concentrate more on motivating their base.

In Thursday's issue of Science, researchers report that people who think they are undecided about an issue often have made up their mind at an unconscious level.

So while the latest national polls show that between 5% and 15% of Americans still don't know who they will be voting for in November, the percentage of voters who truly are undecided may actually be much smaller, social psychologist Bertram Gawronski, PhD, of the University of Western Ontario tells WebMD.

"It's not that people are lying to the pollsters," Gawronski tells WebMD. "It's that they may not consciously recognize the automatic associations that influence their decisions."

...Gawronski says a version of the automatic mental association test could prove useful to political pollsters for probing the unconscious biases of voters who declare themselves "undecided."

And since many voters who say they are undecided may not be, candidates for elective office may be better off focusing on keeping their declared supporters energized, University of Virginia psychology professor Timothy D. Wilson, PhD, tells WebMD.

"The lore in politics is that campaigns need to target undecided voters," he says. "But this research suggests that it may be much more effective to focus on your base by registering as many people as you can and getting them to vote on Election Day."

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