Franklin & Marshall College Franklin & Marshall College

Center for Politics & Public Affairs

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Pennsylvania's Undecided Voters

The Crucial Vote, October 2000

No group of voters has been more scrutinized, with less certainty, than those voters who are undecided about their vote choice in the upcoming presidential election.  What these voters do, including whether they vote at all, will decide whether Gore or Bush becomes the next president.  Conventional wisdom regarding undecided voters leads to two different conclusions about how they might vote.  In the past, vote choices in presidential elections have turned largely on domestic matters when no major foreign crisis existed.  Historically, the candidate of the party controlling the White House benefits from a good economy, which means Al Gores reelection should be a slam-dunk.  This years presidential election, however, may be a major exception to that historical precedent.  There is evidence in survey research that in seven out of ten races involving an incumbentconsider Gore an incumbent herethe challenger is likely to win more undecided voters than the incumbent, notably when the incumbent does not earn at least fifty percent of the popular vote.  The 1980 presidential election could be a parallel.  In the Carter/Reagan contest, undecided voters broke heavily for challenger Reagan in the final days of the campaign, giving him a decisive victory.  The economy, however, was in disastrous shape and the Iran hostage crisis was in full force, something obviously very different from the current environment.  But, if voters believe that the Clinton scandals, Gores personality shortcomings, and the character and integrity dimensions of the campaign override the positive economy, then the incumbent advantage Gore holds could work against him.

Another way of assessing undecided voters is to examine their demographic and attitudinal characteristics.1  Table 1 displays some characteristics of undecided voters.  Among these groups, Bush and Gore have distinct advantages, but none seem particularly decisive in determining the outcome of Pennsylvanias presidential election. Among undecided voters, there are more registered Republicans than Democrats.  Bush seems to have a slight advantage among those voters who consider abortion and gun control important issues in the campaign.  Among decided voters, only the staunchest advocates of gun control and abortion rights prefer Gore to Bush (those who "strongly favor" more gun laws and those who believe abortion should always be legal).  Decided voters who are more moderate in their views on gun control and abortion rights are more likely to support Bush, as are those who "strongly oppose" gun control and abortion.

On the other hand, Gore has advantages as well.  Among females who make up a huge block of the undecided vote, Gore wins convincingly.  In ideological terms, moderates tend to support Gore, and moderate voters comprise almost one-half of all undecided voters.  Finally, many undecided voters indicate that issues, and not personality, will drive their final presidential selection, which benefits Gore, since more of his support comes from those concerned more about issues than personality.

Neither candidate seems to have a definitive edge among undecided voters.  While both have advantages and disadvantages among the undecided pool, neither seem positioned to win a substantial proportion of the undecided vote.  Put another way, undecided voters might narrowly split their votes between Bush and Gore proportionate to the way decided voters indicate they will vote.

The analysis of undecided voters comes from the October 31, 2000 Keystone Poll.  The results of the poll can be found at October 31, 2000 - Keystone Poll. Caution should be exercised when generalizing about the demographic and attitudinal characteristics described above, largely because the individual cell sizes for these groups are quite small.  The proportions used herein should serve as a guide and should be recognized as rather imprecise.

Table 1.  Characteristics of Undecided Voters in Pennsylvania

Group Percent 
Undecided Voters
Party Registration . Bush
Republican 52% .
Democrat 21% .
Independent/Other 27% .
Voting History . Even
More Democrats 15% .
Equally for Both Parties 48% .
More Republicans 26% .
Gender . Gore
Male 25% .
Female 75% .
Current Leaning . Even
Gore 28% .
Bush 22% .
Undecided 44% .
Favorables . Even
View Gore Favorably 26% .
View Bush Favorably 23% .
Unfavorables . Even
View Gore Unfavorably 21% .
View Bush Unfavorably 10% .
Political Ideology . Gore
Liberal 11% .
Moderate 45% .
Conservative 28% .
Deciding Factor in Vote . Gore
Issues 73% .
Personal Qualities   9% .
Favor/Oppose More Gun Laws . Bush
Strongly Favor 30% .
Somewhat Favor 21% .
Somewhat Oppose 19% .
Strongly Oppose 19% .
Abortion Position . Bush
Always Legal 17% .
Legal Sometimes 55% .
Always Illegal 26% .
Race . Even
White 83% .
Non-White 17% .


G. Terry Madonna, Director
Center for Politics & Public Affairs
Millersville University

Berwood Yost, Director
Center for Opinion Research
Millersville University