Polls Suggest Undecideds Won't Help Romney (If They Show Up)

Benjy Sarlin

Undecided voters have been focus grouped, split up into tiny subdivisions, and above all, relentlessly mocked this election. And now, after hundreds of millions of dollars spent to win their vote, there's finally some evidence from pollsters that they're reaching a decision.

The latest WSJ/NBC national poll puts Obama up over Romney by the narrowest margin, 48 percent to 47 percent. But it's the poll's breakdown of respondents who are either undecided or still willing to consider switching that stands out. According to NBC, the 9 percent of voters who fit the bill are overwhelmingly warmer to Obama. They approve of his performance by a 48-41 margin and like him personally by a 46-29 margin, both better than his national averages. Romney, by contrast, fares much worse with a 22-46 favorability rating.

It's a small sample size, but as long as they don't break strongly to Romney -- and those numbers seem to suggest they won't -- Obama is in good shape. Neil Newhouse, Romney's pollster, recently predicted victory in key states like Ohio in part because Obama often polls below 50% and the remaining undecideds are likely to flock to the challenger. If that shift doesn't come, Obama's leads are likely to hold up.

The Obama campaign has been making the opposing case to Romney's for months, arguing that the available data on undecided voters suggests they're less friendly towards Romney even if they're aren't fans of Obama. Based on their current polling, campaign officials are expecting something resembling a 50-50 split.

Looking at the latest numbers, there's little indication that undecideds are turning to Romney this week and at least some signs that point the other way. Pew's final election poll used a regression model to game out where the remaining undecideds were headed based on their demographics, ideological leanings, and feelings towards the candidates. The result was an even split: Obama led 48-45 without the model, 50-47 with it.

"Other than being less politically attentive and politically oriented, haven't seen any particular profile associated with them that points to one candidate or the other," Michael Dimico, associate research director at Pew, told TPM. He added that they found similar results when they prodded undecided voters at the end of surveys to just "guess" which candidate they planned on voting for. About 60% stuck to their undecided label while the others showed no significant lean towards Obama or Romney.

Democratic PPP came to similar conclusions as Pew after conducting dozens of polls over the final week of the campaign across red, blue, and purple states alike.

UCLA political scientist Lynn Vavreck surveyed undecided voters at regular intervals from December 2011 on and concluded last week that those who had made up their mind since then tended to favor Obama.

Many strategists from both parties are skeptical that the remaining undecideds will even show up to the polls at this point. But the trend of relatively even movement among undecideds, or even a slight tilt to Obama, looks plausible in the TPM Polltracker Average of the national race. Over the last week, the two candidates have ticked upwards in tandem. And in all-important Ohio, Obama is moving steadily towards 50 percent even as Romney largely holds onto his post-debate gains: