. . . Friday June 11, 2004

The Enigmatic Undecideds

When I was in junior high, I sort of bought into the notion that girls really liked and gave attention to guys who were enigmas. So for awhile, I cut out the class-clown act, stopped being vocal at social events, perfected a subtle yet effective facial twitch, walked with a limp that I alternated between legs, answered even the most simple yes or no question with a quote from a Robert Plant interview on Rockline, and even began wearing pants that weren’t corduroys (in my day at my school, this, I thought, would make me the equivalent of James Dean).

I tried it for weeks. Nothing.

Then one day after school while shooting baskets in my front yard I saw my friend Steve zoom past my house on his new minibike with the best looking girl in school who clutched her arms around his waist, lost in a state of overwhelming rapture. At that moment, I realized that being enigmatic was not the way to get the girl. The way was to own a minibike. (Long story short: Jewish mothers don’t let their sons get minibikes. So I put my corduroys back on, dropped the twitch and the limp, and spent the remainder of junior high playing Intellivision football.)

So being an enigma may not be best way to get the girl. Being enigmatic is, however, certainly the second best way to attract a political campaign (the best way is to have a large wad of cash and a working phone).

These enigmatic targets of the Bush and Kerry affections may not even see themselves as mysterious or confounding. They simply view themselves as “undecided.”

As Adam Nagourney writes: “They are more likely to be white than black, female than male, married than single, and live in the suburbs rather than in large cities. They are not frequent churchgoers nor gun enthusiasts. They are clustered in swing states like Ohio, Michigan and here in Pennsylvania. And while they follow the news closely, they are largely indifferent to the back and forth of this year’s race for president.”

Translation for political operatives and campaign officials: They are friggin’ nuts. They are off the social grid. And in saying so, I risk offending no one. There is no way they are reading this. You won’t tell them I wrote it because you don’t know them. These people are the Keyser Sozes of American life.

As is the case with all things enigmatic, the fewer of them there are, the more attention they’ll get. This year, only about five percent of prospective voters describe themselves as undecided. And of those, the only ones who really matter are those who reside in one of the swing states (if you’re undecided in a state like California, forget about it, you’ll dance alone).

While the post-first term presidential elections are often a lot less close than we think they’ll be, this one remains amazingly tight so far. So the Kerry and Bush campaigns must spend an inordinate amount of time trying to connect with these confusing (or confused?) people with whom they probably have nothing in common. This is a voting block for whom massive differences of opinion on topics ranging from war to religion to science to taxes to healthcare to values to military affairs just don’t seem to help clarify their decision.

How do you get to this voter? Who knows? I’m not even sure we could find them to ask them.

And how will we know who got to this voter?

Come November, they’ll only be on the back of one guy’s minibike. And as was the case with my friend Steve in junior high; that guy wins.

Concentration is important!