Segmenting the U.S. population by political party and ideology reveals some stark contrasts in American sentiments, on a wide range of topics.
In many cases, political divisions are wider than those of generation, gender, and income. In fact, Americans today are just as likely to be at complete ideological odds with direct neighbors than someone on the other side of the country.
To anyone spending too much time doomscrolling these past few months, it could seem like there aren’t any moderate Americans left.
But for those of us looking to understand this crowd, it’s important to use 2016 as a learning opportunity.
2016 delivered a popular vote decision within 3 million votes. One of the smallest margins ever, it came as a surprise to many who misjudged the size and feelings of undecided voters around the country.
Although the country seems at odds with itself, data from GWI USA reveals there are many who’ve yet to decide which direction they’re voting come November.
There’s enough undecided voters to make a difference.
Looking back, it’s clear undecided voters turned the tide in a few key states in 2016, and there’s ample evidence to suggest they could do so again in 2020.
This year, 11% of Americans intending to vote in November are undecided.
With the vast majority of the voting population decided on how they’ll vote come November, the remaining 11% still represents a significant enough portion to seriously affect the outcome, much like we saw in 2016.
Especially when we understand that undecided votes effectively count double, as a decision for one party means a lost vote for the other.
Winning over undecided voters means catering to a diverse crowd, spanning the country. There’s many ways to categorize this audience, but here are a few key things we know:
- 53% live in a suburban neighborhood.
- 50% have a college degree.
- 45% have children.
- 40% are under 35 years old.
- Nearly 1 in 5 are Hispanic.
They represent many different subgroups of the modern american populace, and connect with both sides of the aisle on different issues.
With vast swathes of the population expected to vote by mail this year, time is ticking to convince these voters to register and request a ballot in time.
They’re moderate on many issues, except the economy.
Galvanizing undecided Americans may be easier said than done, as undecideds are generally less radical in their beliefs than both Democrats and Republicans.
But, there’s plenty of opportunity to reach voters on issues they may care about.
Even though there’s a slight conservative skew, the bulk of undecided voters see themselves as moderate or unsure. A quarter say they lean left or right, and only 5% say they’re either very liberal or very conservative.
For this reason, both candidates will have to decide whether to double down on their more radical stances in the hope of driving more of their base to vote, or to slide into more moderate positions in the hopes of winning over this small but crucial group of undecided voters.
The tendency towards moderation for undecided voters can be seen most clearly in the issues they care about.
Unlike Democrats and Republicans, who’ve strong feelings one way or the other on issues such as equality, gun control, healthcare, and supporting the USA, undecided voters find themselves in the middle or uninterested by these debates.
Overall, undecided voters are less worried about most of the issues that will be a focus in the coming weeks ahead of the debates.
Compared to the average American, they’re over 20% less likely to say they worry about immigration levels, 17% less likely to worry about the stock market, and 15% less likely to worry about gun regulations.
While these may be hot topics for decided voters, undecideds are going to be less swayed by radical stances on either side.
The only issue that undecided voters are more concerned about than both democrats and republicans is their own job security. In fact:
Personal economic concerns may be the deciding factor for many undecideds.
Undecided voters are less likely than both Democrats and Republicans to have a college degree, and in all likelihood have been more affected by economic shutdowns.
In June, nearly one third of undecided voters describe their financial situation as “tight” or “struggling”, 44% find themselves in the lowest income segment, and one quarter expect their personal finances to get worse in the next six months.
So, as the candidates debate the economic impacts of COVID-19, and unveil their own plans to stem unemployment and ease the economic hardship felt by everyday Americans, it’s likely undecided voters will pay attention to candidates who can promise the best financial future.
They’re not a homogenous group.
As undecided voters weigh their options, both individuals and the collective appear quite torn – especially over the issues most prominently argued over between Democrats and Republicans – with the split falling largely along generational lines.
While older undecided voters tend to be more likely to side with conservatives on issues like immigration and taxes, younger generations show more concern for topics typically championed by the left, such as diversity, equal rights, and climate change – although there are definitely exceptions.
For candidates looking to win over undecided voters, a one-size-fits-all approach won’t work.
Even though undecided voters are overall more moderate than decided ones, many subgroups within the whole are beginning to break that mold.
For instance, undecided baby boomers are 21% more likely than the average American to say they’re worried about immigration levels, 30% more likely to say they’re worried about the national deficit, and 22% more worried about the stock market – slightly more so than the average Republican.
On the other hand, Gen Z undecideds show concern for issues in ways reminiscent of Democrat-lead climate and COVID-19 stimulus legislation.
42% of American Gen Zs say they’re worried about pollution (compared to 47% of Democrats and 21% of Republicans) and only 15% say they’re concerned about immigration levels (compared to 11% of Democrats and 40% of Republicans).
Even with these differences, both Gen Zs and baby boomers sometimes share distress for issues like gun violence, and tensions with foreign powers like Russia and China. At the end of the day, these voters are undecided in large part because they hold views that seem incongruous with just one party.
For either candidate, a winning strategy will likely involve messaging specifically targeted to even more granular segments of the undecided population.
They’re a hard to reach audience.
With that said, specific targeting is a lot more complicated than it sounds, and both campaigns will likely need to turn outside of the traditional channels to do so.
Only half of undecided voters currently subscribe to cable TV, and only one in five use social media to keep up with the news.
In a given month they’re less likely than both Democrats and Republicans to read any news content whatsoever, with the exception of baby boomers who engage with printed news sources as much, or less frequently than their Democrat and Republican counterparts.
While they aren’t searching out news content, they’re likely running into the same political commentary as their peers, as each age segment spends similar amounts of time on the same social media platforms as decided voters.
It holds true across political parties and among undecideds that over two-thirds of Gen Zs are on Instagram, and over 6 in 10 are on snapchat; over 7 in 10 Gen Xs are on Facebook, and over 6 in 10 are on YouTube.
But as we explained in our first election blog, Democrats and Republicans seem to put their trust in different institutions entirely; while the left is more comfortable with traditional media, the right places more trust in social media.
With undecided voter segments, it may be significantly harder to get past their inherent mistrust in most institutions.
If these sentiments have held true since 2016, it explains why so many undecided voters at the time sided with the “outsider” candidate, yet as Trump is now the incumbent candidate, there’s no telling whether this mistrust will swing these voters left or right.
What can we expect in the coming weeks?
Ultimately, each undecided voter will vote in their own way.
Altogether they’re a diverse, widespread audience with views that often overlap with the sentiments held by one party or the other.
With less than 60 days to the election, and a minimum of four debates standing in between, many in this group can still be pulled one way or the other. And if 2016 is any guide, this group will be extremely influential in the final vote count.
We’ve seen they show concern for a wide range of issues, and total apathy for others. They often side with Democrats on one issue and with Republicans on another, and the final decision for many will be driven by emotion and gut.
In any case, undecided voters are running out of time to make their decision.