Patrick Campbell worries Barack Obama will raise his taxes but thinks John McCain will send people off to war. He says that leaves him leaning toward Obama … maybe.
"I’m split right down the middle," said the 50-year-old Air Force Reserve technician from Amherst, N.Y. "Each one has things that are good for me and things that are bad for me. And people like me."
With the sand in the 2008 campaign hourglass about depleted, Campbell is part of a stubborn wedge of people who, somehow, are still making up their minds about who should be president. One in seven, or 14 percent, can’t decide or back a candidate but might switch, according to an Associated Press-Yahoo! News poll of likely voters released Friday.
Who are they? They look a lot like the voters who’ve already locked onto a candidate, though they’re more likely to be white and less likely to be liberal. And they disproportionately backed Hillary Rodham Clinton’s failed run for the Democratic nomination.
For now, their indecision remains intact despite the fortunes that have been spent to tug people toward either McCain, the Republican, or the Democrat Obama. Fueling their uncertainty is a combination of disliking something about both candidates and frustration with this campaign and politics in general.
"We have a lot of candidates who have never really hurt, have never had to struggle" economically, said Jeff Wofford, 28, a pastor and Republican from High Ridge, Mo., who may back McCain. "A lot of candidates are interested in working the political system but aren’t really interested in changing things."
Overall, the share of these voters — sometimes referred to as "persuadables" — has barely budged from levels measured in June and September AP-Yahoo! News polls, conducted online by Knowledge Networks.
But the survey — which has repeatedly quizzed the same group of 2,000 adults since last November — shows considerable churning below the surface. Of those now changeable, nearly three-quarters said in June their minds were made up, and half said so just last month.
"These tend to be people with a lower level of knowledge about the election; they don’t follow politics as closely," said Michael McDonald, a political science professor from George Mason University who studies voting behavior. "If they can’t distinguish between the candidates at this stage, the question is if they will vote."
Election Day is Tuesday. The survey found Obama leading McCain among all likely voters, 51 percent to 43 percent, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
Almost four in 10 persuadables lean toward McCain, and about as many are considering backing Obama, while the rest are either undecided or lean toward other candidates. Viewed another way, about one in every 10 supporters of Obama or McCain says he could still change his mind.
Even so, persuadable voters could be especially fertile hunting ground for McCain in the closing days of a contest in which most polls show him trailing.
These people trust Obama less than decided voters do to handle the economy, the Iraq war and terrorism. They are less accepting that the Illinois senator has enough experience to be president. And by a 17 percentage-point spread, more see Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin favorably than unfavorably, unlike the narrow majority of voters already backing a candidate who dislike her.
On the other hand, these wavering voters can be equal-opportunity skeptics. A quarter don’t trust either Obama or McCain to deal with the economy and a third are uncomfortable with both on the federal deficit.
"I don’t have a feel for either one of these guys," said Jeff Condatore, 47, an independent and computer analyst from Ringwood, N.J. "I don’t like any of the choices."
Nearly two-thirds express frustration and a quarter anger over the campaign, far broader disaffection than decided voters voice. Only 12 percent say they are excited about the race, one-third the figure for voters backing a candidate.
Just four in 10 persuadables report being contacted by political workers urging them to vote in the presidential contest, compared with just over half of those who’ve made up their minds. That could reflect the campaigns’ targeting their resources to more motivated voters or to problems locating these less involved people.
Asked where they disagree with Obama, changeable voters most frequently mention taxes and the economy, health care, abortion and social issues such as gun control, and personal traits including his race and his honesty. For McCain, it’s the economy and taxes, health care, foreign policy and abortion.
"I don’t think anything will change if Obama is elected. If McCain is elected, I don’t think anything would change either," said Susan Miller, 42, a Los Angeles accountant tentatively backing Libertarian Bob Barr.
Persuadable voters don’t differ noticeably from those who have made up their minds by gender, age or education, though more of them report feeling stress from personal debt, according to the poll.
Half are independents, more than double their proportion among decided voters. But, as with decided voters, more persuadables are Democrats than Republicans. Four in 10 supported Clinton’s candidacy this spring.
"She got cheated, I thought," said Chris Markle, 25, who’s from Schenectady, N.Y., and now leans toward McCain. "I’m kind of upset about that."
The AP-Yahoo! News poll of 1,040 likely voters was conducted Oct. 17-27. It included interviews with 147 likely voters considered persuadable, meaning they’re either undecided or back a candidate but say they might change their mind, and 893 likely voters considered not persuadable. It has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 8.1 percentage points for persuadable likely voters and 3.3 points for those considered not persuadable.
The poll was conducted over the Internet by Knowledge Networks, which initially contacted people using traditional telephone polling methods and followed with online interviews. People chosen for the study who had no Internet access were given it for free.
AP Director of Surveys Trevor Tompson and News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius contributed to this report.
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Polling site: http://news.yahoo.com/polls