Debates not doing much to sway undecided voters

To borrow a phrase from the late comedian Rodney Dangerfield, undecided voters aren’t getting much respect these days.

Last month, “Saturday Night Live” did a humorous skit on the estimated 5-7 percent of voters who say they still are undecided in the presidential race, portraying them as dunderheads asking questions like, “When is the election?” “What are the names of the two people running – and be specific,” and “Who is the president right now (and) is he or she running?”

If that weren’t bad enough, on the eve of Tuesday night’s presidential debate, MSNBC’s Chris Matthews went off on what he called the “bonehead” undecideds.

“People say, ‘This election’s hard for me to decide,’” he said. “You’d have to be a bonehead not to be able to decide between these two guys. It is so easy.”

Matthews isn’t the only political observer flabbergasted by what’s keeping millions of American voters on the fence. To their way of thinking, the choice between Democratic President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney couldn’t be more stark.

We suspect some of the undecideds may indeed be voters who just started to pay attention to the race in anticipation of the rapidly approaching Nov. 6 election, either because they are too busy with their daily lives or disinterested in the shenanigans in Washington.

But no doubt, there are others who are undecided not because they don’t care or haven’t been paying attention, but because they have yet to determine who is the best candidate to lead the nation for the next four years. After all, if you believe only half the things the candidates are saying about each other these days, you wouldn’t be inclined to vote for either of them.

So who are these voters?

Well, according to Reuters/Ipsos polling data, these highly prized voters tend to be white, don’t have a college education and are earning less than $25,000 a year. Slightly more than half of them (54 percent) are women.

A strong majority believe the nation is on the wrong track (75 percent) and are likely to respond “neither” when asked which of the two candidates is the more eloquent, likeable or presidential.

For these voters, the first two debates may not have helped. In the first, Romney scored a convincing win over an incumbent president who looked like he didn’t want to be there. In the second more contentious debate Tuesday, Obama bounced pack with a much stronger performance that highlighted the differences between “primary” Romney and “general election” Romney.

Still, the candidates’ best debate moments have tended to come while pointing out the weaknesses of their opponent – Romney when chiding Obama on jobs; Obama when challenging Romney’s math on his tax and budget plans – rather than detailed pronouncements of what they will do to make everyone’s life better.

There also hasn’t been much serious talk about the major drivers behind the trillion-dollar deficits and debt, namely the skyrocketing costs of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Overall, entitlements account for about 62 percent of all federal spending.

And that isn’t expected to change much Monday night at the third and final debate, which is dedicated exclusively to foreign policy.

So unless their votes hinge on our role in the Mideast or relationship with China, these voters may remain undecided for a little while longer – much to Matthews’ dismay.