Dissecting The Undecideds

Check out this page of Zogby internal numbers from an August 11-24 poll. It’s a rundown of the subset of undecideds. There were only 501 of them, out of a poll of over 19,000 likely voters. The results are counter-intuitive at first glance. Bush’s job performance number is abysmal: 23% approve, 77% disapprove. His re-elect number is better, but still not good, at 43% for and 53% against.

But he’s still favored over Kerry by 15 points, 35%-10%, with the various wannabe third parties collecting 16% and 38% of the undecided still really undecided.

While this poll, like any single poll, ought to be taken with many grains of salt, I think it’s an instructive look at this vanishingly-small cohort of remaining undecideds. They think things are generally gloomy (59% pick the “wrong track,” vs. only 19% for “right track”), they’re in agreement with the media by a large plurality (47%) that Iraq is Bush’s “most significant failure,” but they’re still trending his way by a very considerable margin. Why?

Check out this number: when asked whether they like Bush “as a person,” the numbers are staggering: 68% like, only 15% dislike. Those numbers are virtually reversed for Kerry, 52% dislike, only 16% like. That large of a difference, paired with Bush’s overall lead, suggests these voters are making their choices based on emotion, and a gut reaction of “who do I like better” that isn’t necessarily grounded in any ideology or policy stance. And frankly, what do you expect of people who’re still undecided in a race this polarized? Let’s face it–they’re not likely to be policy junkies.

On the other hand, even this cohort of the terminally undecided have apparently decided that the 2004 race is going to turn on foreign and defense matters. Interestingly, the only issues that really stand out in the policy questions are Iraq (see above)–and September 11, which is named by a large plurality (46%) as Bush’s “most significant achievement” (one must assume they mean Bush’s response to the attacks, and not the attacks themselves). Even more intriguing, Iraq is number two on that list, at 20%.

UPDATE: In the comments, a couple of readers have come up with a possible explaination that would keep Bob Schrum up at night: What if they’re dissatisfied with Bush’s job performance because they think he hasn’t been tough enough in Iraq and elsewhere?