When an election looks to be close, naturally there is great interest in the direction the ‘undecideds’ will select. The respective sides, of course, present emotional arguments why the undecideds will choose their guy. So, while I happen to believe this election will not, in fact, be close when the votes are counted, I have some thoughts about past elections, and how this year might shake out.
In 1940, as World War 2 raged in Europe, the question of American involvement was a hot topic. President Roosevelt found Wendell Willkie closing in a bit close to him, to within 4 points by mid-October. The question of possible U.S. involvement in that war made undecideds swing to Willkie, almost enough to change who would be President when Pearl Harbor was attacked.
In 1948, Tom Dewey had been effective in casting President Truman as ineffective and aloof. Considered by many experts to be beyond the point of no return, Harry’s late campaign by train (the same one, by the way, that Kerry and Edwards used in their post-Convention attempt to convince America they are somehow just like Harry) swayed the fence-sitters.
In 1952, General Eisenhower had enjoyed a lead all summer long against Adlai Stevenson. But Stevenson’s performance in the debates was impressive, enough that the final Gallup poll only showed the two men 2 points apart. Eisenhower took the undecideds, enough to take 55% of the PV, by reminding people of the need for National Security emphasis, as the cease-fire discussions in Korea, and the first televised viewing of a nuclear test on November 1.
In 1976, the final poll was very close, just 1 point apart. Governor Carter got that extra nudge, as voters saw the succession of Hua Guofeng to Premier of China, and Prime Minister Rabin’s peace efforts in the Middle East, as evidence that the U.S. needed a subtler hand, and a more diplomatic one.
In 1980, President Carter led Governor Reagan by 3 points in the final Gallup poll. But the actual election results were nothing like that, with Reagan winning easily. The blow-up of fighting between Iraq and Iran into full warfare emphasized the need for decisive leadership and an energized military.
In 2000, the late October polls had Governor Bush comfortably ahead of VP Al Gore, but Gore managed to take the Popular Vote. The DUI story dropped on Bush during the last week hit him hard, because it struck directly to the heart of his claim to be qualified to be President. The undecideds found Gore’s position more believeable than Bush’s, as a result of that story.
So, here we are in 2004. I happen to believe that the situation in the Middle East, along with the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, will remind people that we cannot afford to assume our enemies will leave us alone. Also, Kerry’s inability or refusal to answer plain questions about his record and intentions, cannot help him, and in the end, if the race is close, will work to the advantage of President Bush.