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SCOTT DREYER: Yes, Virginia, There IS Such A Thing as An “Undecided Voter”

Elijah came near to all the people and said, “How long will you hesitate between two opinions? [….]”     -Elijah 18:21a

The Road of Life is Paved with Flat Squirrels Who Couldn’t Make a Decision. –unknown

Unless you are wise enough to have sworn off social media or never got sucked in to begin with, you have probably seen recent posts that go something like what a friend of mine stated near the end of summer (paraphrased). “I’m going to take a break from social media for the next couple of months until the election is over. I know everyone has already made up their mind and no one is persuading anyone, so I’ll check back in after November 3.”

His thinking is by no means unique. For over a month now a chorus of the professional “chattering classes” on TV, radio, and in print have been proclaiming that everyone has firmly decided who to vote for.  As late as the night of the final debate on October 22, many commentators were confidently proclaiming:

  • no one changed their minds;

  • this did not move the needle;

  • everyone has already decided;

  • there are no ‘undecided voters’ left.”

I deeply trust and respect my well-educated, professional, successful friend, but when I read his post, I mentally disagreed. I believed there were undecided voters last summer, and I still believe the same today.

As mentioned, this friend is bright and fair-minded, so he clearly knows what he stands for, what the candidates stand for, and whom he will vote for. Unfortunately, not everyone else is as clear about their own evaluations and what the candidates believe.  Let me share two stories from autumn 2008 to illustrate.

Do you remember the 2008 campaign? All spring there was the ongoing drama between then Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton as to who would win the Democrat nomination, then that fall we observed the high-stakes campaign between Obama and his Republican challenger Sen. John McCain.  When it was over, that was the costliest presidential campaign ever to date, with a record-shattering $5.3 billion spent. The campaign was on everyone’s lips and political ads filled the airwaves and mailboxes.

A few weeks before the election I was chatting with a friend about the upcoming vote. We were discussing the two candidates when I mentioned, “What most concerns me about Barack Obama is how radically pro-abortion he is. He is the most pro-abortion candidate ever to run for president.”

Upon hearing that, a look of shock came over my friend’s face and his eyes almost popped out. “Pro-abortion?” he gasped. “I thought Barack Obama was pro-life!”

At that point it was my turn to be shocked.

I was stunned to think that my pro-life, Christian friend had been so misled, and I wondered how that had happened.  Here was an intelligent, church-going, highly-educated family man with a master’s degree and love for language, yet he somehow had the impression that the pro-abortion candidate was pro-life. Right to Life is a basic issue.  If someone like my friend had been misled, how many other voters without his education, language skills, or church involvement had been tricked into believing false information about the candidates?

That encounter showed me: take nothing for granted. We do not know what people know, or don’t know, until we ask and listen.

Fast forward a few weeks, to after the ‘08 election. Thanks in large part to the enthusiastic, emotional frenzy the media had helped whip up, Barack Obama won in a landslide, and brought in super-majorities of Democrats to control both houses of Congress too.

In the aftermath of the election, as millions of Americans were jubilant but millions of others felt bamboozled about what had just happened, I was speaking with a woman who taught one of my children.

We had both voted at the same elementary school. I still remember the unprecedented lines that day; my wife and I had waited about an hour to vote. The teacher told me this story: “I waited in line about an hour to vote there too, and you know when you’re in line, you often start to talk with people who are in line with you. I had struck up a conversation with a woman and we had had a friendly talk. Then, as we approached the voting booth, she told me, ‘You know, it’s just so hard.’

‘What is so hard?’ I asked her.

‘Knowing who to vote for,” she replied.

‘Well,’ the teacher calmly told her, trying to hide her shock: ‘you’d better decide quickly, because I think you’re next.”

When the teacher told me her story, I was stunned again. How is it possible, I asked: after a months-long campaign, with record-breaking spending, 24/7 media coverage, and voluminous information online, that an adult could be undecided until the moment she stepped into the voting booth?!

When I asked the teacher about what age that woman was, she replied, “She looked like she was in her 70’s.”

My response: “She is old enough to know better.”

If that “low-information voter” was unclear about a high-profile race for the presidency, how confused might she have been about “down ballot” choices for Congress, city council, proposed constitutional amendments, etc.

All of us in life believe and act as we do, based on our life experiences to date. Those two conversations from the 2008 elections showed me, despite what some may claim, that “Yes, Virginia, there is such a thing as an undecided voter–sometimes, even till the moment they step into the voting booth and make their pick.”

That’s why I say, keep engaging, keep promoting, keep educating, until the last ballot is cast.

Scott Dreyer in his classroom.

– Scott Dreyer

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