McKinstry: Debates haven't given undecided voters much to go on

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and President Barack

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama spar during the second presidential debate at Hofstra University. (Oct. 16, 2012) (Credit: AP)

Gerald McKinstry

Portrait of Newsday editorial board member Gerald McKinstry Gerald McKinstry

Gerald McKinstry is a member of the Newsday editorial board.

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Now that the second presidential debate is history, you have to wonder: Have the swing voters made up their minds yet?

To hear the spinmeisters on either side weave it after Tuesday's forum at Hofstra University -- where President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney got in each other's faces and traded verbal blows -- their guy won.

That sort of sales pitch leaves far too many people scratching their heads.


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In fact, it's estimated that roughly 6 percent to 8 percent of voters still aren't sure whom they'll pick on Nov. 6.

Kenny Glantz of Chappaqua is one of them. The 42-year-old independent voter is still doing his homework. And despite supporting Obama four years ago, this go-round his vote is no gimme.

"I need to find the lesser of two evils," Glantz, a professional recruiter, wrote in an email to me Wednesday, adding that he is weighing each candidate's plans for the economy against their positions on social issues like abortion.

It shouldn't be a surprise if voters like Glantz weren't swayed by Tuesday's town hall-style debate. Consider the combative tone of the candidates, the complexity of issues and the difficulty of knowing who is actually telling the truth (or just fibbing less) on matters like job creation, budget deficits, energy policy and health care.

It would be great if we had instant fact-checking, a malarkey meter or boloney buzzer if you will, pop up on screen as the candidates argued.

"The back-and-forth makes it difficult; it's hard to fact-check," said Jeanne Zaino, a political science professor at Iona College in New Rochelle. Don't count on most of these voters making up their mind until they enter the voting booth, she said. "They really do feel they're not getting answers to their questions."

The debates are so scripted that only major gaffes or a good old-fashioned drubbing can change the dial, it seems -- like Obama's dismal showing on Oct. 3 in Denver. He appears to have recovered after Tuesday's debate, though it was no game-changer.

So we're right back to where we were, with two candidates in a relative tie and most of their attention focused on a small sliver of the population: undecided voters in places like Ohio, Florida, West Virginia and Colorado. (If you live in consistently blue New York or California or reliably red Texas and haven't made up your mind, you don't matter much to these guys.)

What's alarming is how few undecided voters there are in the swing states -- under 1 million. They'll be making the decision for most of this country's 146.3 million voters, most of whom have already made up their minds.

Despite the attention, there are actually fewer undecideds compared to past elections, according to Costas Panagopoulos, director of the Center for Electoral Politics and Democracy at Fordham University.

It's just that they are being showered with more attention this year and have much more sway given how close this race is, he said.

"I don't think we've heard enough [Tuesday] night to push them off the fence," he said. "It may not be such a bad thing to be undecided since the campaign is not over."

It won't be for another two-and-a-half weeks. So hundreds of millions of dollars will be spent on this coveted club of voters that likely won't know their choices until they show up to vote on Nov 6.

Gerald McKinstry is a member of the Newsday editorial board.

This is a corrected version of the column. An earlier version gave an incorrect age for Kenny Glantz.