Cosman: Election leaves too much at stake for uninformed voters

If there is one takeaway from the 2012 presidential election thus far, it’s this: Too large a percentage of voters remain deplorably uninformed on the issues. That a small number of undecided voters lacking necessary political knowledge will determine the election undermines the democratic process on which this country rests.

The newest Washington Post-ABC poll published Monday Oct. 15 shows President Barack Obama leading former Gov. Mitt Romney 49 to 46 percent among likely voters. This means that 5 percent of the individuals who plan to vote in the election remain, with approximately three weeks left until Election Day, unsure as to which candidate they will choose.

How is it that, after a long summer of campaigning, two party conventions, one presidential and one vice-presidential debate, 5 percent of voters have yet to decide for whom they will vote? Undecided voters tend to be less informed than partisan voters; the answer must be that they haven’t been paying attention. Is it likely that these voters will use the next three weeks to study up on the election and make an informed choice? Probably not.

The issue becomes more disheartening when taking into account the effects of the Electoral College – that is, one or two states may end up as the tipping point for the election. These states will be determined by their own select set of undecided – i.e., uninformed, politically ignorant – voters.

That means, according to adjusted polling averages from The New York Times’ FiveThirtyEight, 4.4 percent of Floridian voters or 6 percent of Ohioan voters may end up deciding the election for the whole nation.

This is a woefully tiny fraction of voters who have the ability to affect the rest of the country in a significant way. Perhaps they will remain undecided until Election Day, the last TV attack ad they saw swaying their vote. That is why so much money is poured into negative campaigning: To the politically ignorant, that attack ad may end up making all the difference.

But perhaps the voters aren’t to blame. From the same Post-ABC poll, 63 percent of voters believe Romney has not done enough to “provide details about the policies he would pursue as president,” and 53 percent believe the same of Obama. A majority of voters say neither candidate has been effective in communicating their respective policies.

It is no wonder voters find themselves uninformed, even this late in the game – and yet it is precisely these voters who may end up determining the outcome of the election.

It is a vicious cycle. Undecided voters are typically politically inactive and uninformed, so even if campaigns put out specific policy details, it is unlikely that these voters would be aware of such information. Therefore, campaigns don’t bother with policy details – the voters paying attention already have their minds made up, and the undecided are left with little chance to make an informed decision even if they want to.

What’s worse: The voters who, less than a month before Election Day, still know too little to make an informed decision or the voters who have had their minds made up for months, leaving zero opportunity for either campaign to do anything to change them? Neither group shows evidence of effective political discourse. Neither shows evidence of an effective electoral process. Yet this is the reality of the 2012 presidential election. In a word: ineffective.