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Jewish World Review Oct. 27, 2000 / 28 Tishrei, 5761

Mark Lane

Mark Lane
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Decided by the undecided -- EVERY ELECTION makes stars out of some electoral demographic. In 1994, it was the Angry White Males. In 1996, it was the Soccer Moms. In 1998, it was The Return of the Moderates.

Who holds the balance of power in this year's election? The Undecided Voter. The I-Guess-I-Don't-Know vote.

By now, most of the adult population not only is familiar with George W. Bush and Al Gore but can recite their most-used sound bites. ("I trust the American people." "A lockbox for Social Security.") Neither will be in office for months but most of us are ready for both of them to retire.

Yet, here is a large group of Americans for whom both major-party candidates seemed to have just parachuted from out of the sky last week. Where have these people been for the past, oh, six or seven years?

How large is this collection of undecided people? Their number shifts survey to survey depending on how hard pollsters push for a choice. Undecideds are between 4 and 12 percent of likely voters, according to polls released last week. Add the wobbly decideds, and they could be almost a quarter of the electorate.

Because the presidential candidates are running neck and neck, the votes of these undecided voters will determine the race - if they eventually come to a decision, that is. Realizing the importance of this group, television news programs have gone to the trouble of rounding up some of their number, sitting them down in front of monitors, making them watch debates and speeches and asking them what they think after that ordeal.

The results have made for cringe-inducing television.

The undecideds hem and haw and seem not to have been listening too hard to what was put in front of them.

Moderator: "You said you wanted to hear more about health care. Al Gore has outlined a 29-point health care plan and estimated how much a year your sinus pills would cost over your lifetime and offered to come over and personally sweep your garage. George Bush, on the other hand, has said that in his heart he wants a private-public health care program and will find smart guys who will figure out the rest of details and knows a place where you can get the same sinus pills for half of what you're paying now. Plus, he's willing to give you season tickets to the Texas Rangers, right near first base. So, whose approach do you like?

Undecided: "Oh gosh, I don't know. They sure used a lot of big numbers. And I'm getting tired of the way they always wear the same red ties. I guess I can't decide. I'm bored. Can I go home now? "

How did these people find their way to television studio? One can image them parked at intersections in front of blocks of honking cars, wondering which way to turn. Left? Right? Forward?

Of course, there is another unspoken factor at work here, too. Once these people actually decide on a candidate, they don't get to be on television anymore. The news shows don't care about decided voters. The attention would vanish. So maybe they aren't tipping their hands so they can stay on the panels.

Still, this sounds like something more than the undecided vote. This is the doofus vote. The coin-flip vote. People who shouldn't operate heavy machinery.

Am I the only one who is just a little frightened that these are the people who are going to pick the leader of the most powerful nation on our planet?

My advice to anyone who hasn't made up his or her mind this week is to just excuse yourself and leave the election up to the millions of Americans - liberal, conservative and in-between - who actually care a little bit about the outcome.

When The People speak, we really should be saying something other than "eeny, meeny, miney . . . mo."

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© 2000, M. R. Lane