According to Daniel Adler, that is number of people who may decide this election. As we have all heard recently, most independents aren't really independent at all, but identify with one party or the other. When you subtract them and voters in solidly Blue or Red states, we are left with about 916,643 swing voters in a handful of battleground states that can be persuaded and are likely to decide this election. And these are the lest politically engaged people in the nation. These are the people who only voice an opinion when they are asked. When a pollster asks them for their opinion on a given subject, it is likely that they have not formed an opinion or even thought about it until they are asked. But, they feel that they should have an opinion, so they form one on the spur of the moment. These are the people who will make up their minds on the day of the election, and not on a clear ideological basis. Rather then doing the math, so to speak, they will use heuristics shortcuts.
It is on those heuristics that this election hinges.
As Louis Menand puts it in her 2004 New Yorker article The Unpolitical Animal
voters don’t have the time or the inclination to assess them in depth, so they rely on the advice of experts—television commentators, political activists, Uncle Charlie—combined with their own hunches, to reach a decision.Those hunches often are of a very superficial nature. Think about Dukakis and his helmet, George H. W. Bush showing astonishment at the existence of scanners at supermarket checkout counters, or Ford and the tamale.
Visiting a Mexican-American community in Texas, Ford (never a gaffe-free politician) made the mistake of trying to eat a tamale with the corn husk, in which it is traditionally served, still on it. This ethnic misprision made the papers, and when he was asked, after losing to Jimmy Carter in the general election, what the lesson of his defeat was, Ford answered, “Always shuck your tamales.” Popkin argues that although familiarity with Mexican-American cuisine is not a prerequisite for favoring policies friendly to Mexican-Americans, Mexican-Americans were justified in concluding that a man who did not know how to eat a tamale was not a man predisposed to put their needs high on his list. The reasoning is illogical: Ford was not running for chef, and it was possible to extrapolate, from his positions, the real difference it would make for Mexican-Americans if he were President rather than Reagan or Carter. But Mexican-Americans, and their sympathizers, felt “in their gut” that Ford was not their man, and that was enough.Seamus might be the deciding factor in this election. But, even Seamus might be undone by the weather.
Findings about the influence of the weather on voter behavior are among the many surveys and studies that confirm Converse’s sense of the inattention of the American electorate. In election years from 1952 to 2000, when people were asked whether they cared who won the Presidential election, between twenty-two and forty-four per cent answered “don’t care” or “don’t know.” In 2000, eighteen per cent said that they decided which Presidential candidate to vote for only in the last two weeks of the campaign; five per cent, enough to swing most elections, decided the day they voted.There will be close to 3 billion advertising dollars spent on these 916, 643 voters this election cycle. But, the truth is, they are not likely to be persuaded by those ads. More and more political ads are aimed not at the voter, but at the pundits and Uncle Charlie.
Seventy per cent of Americans cannot name their senators or their congressman. Forty-nine per cent believe that the President has the power to suspend the Constitution. Only about thirty per cent name an issue when they explain why they voted the way they did, and only a fifth hold consistent opinions on issues over time. Rephrasing poll questions reveals that many people don’t understand the issues that they have just offered an opinion on. According to polls conducted in 1987 and 1989, for example, between twenty and twenty-five per cent of the public thinks that too little is being spent on welfare, and between sixty-three and sixty-five per cent feels that too little is being spent on assistance to the poor. And voters apparently do punish politicians for acts of God. In a paper written in 2004, the Princeton political scientists Christopher Achen and Larry Bartels estimate that “2.8 million people voted against Al Gore in 2000 because their states were too dry or too wet” as a consequence of that year’s weather patterns. Achen and Bartels think that these voters cost Gore seven states, any one of which would have given him the election.
As Daniel Adler points out in his article for Rolling Stone, Political Ads: Overpriced, Inefficient, Essential
So while TV advertising might not be a terribly efficient means of reaching swing voters, it’s probably more efficient than any alternative, since TV still has the broadest reach of any medium. "[Advertising] does have an impact, even if it’s a marginal one,” says Joe Heim, a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. "And that marginal impact is worth it."This election will not be decided by the polarizing issues, which Morris Fiorina thinks is mostly a myth. In his book Culture War? he says “The simple truth is that there is no culture war in the United States—no battle for the soul of America rages, at least none that most Americans are aware of.”
And even that might be understating things. "Ads now are not just aimed at voters," says Geer. "They are aimed at journalists." Whether or not an ad influences TV viewers directly, it has the potential to "shape the narrative of the campaign." "Probably no more than 1 percent of the American public saw the Swift Boat ad" sliming Democratic Sen. John Kerry’s Vietnam war record, he points out. But come the 2004 election, "80 percent knew the term 'Swift Boat.' That’s coming from the news media."
Sure the pudits are polarized, but not these voters. They are too busy living their lives, a life which does not include deep political calculations. This election will be decided by social networks. Who the 916,643 vote for will be decided by a heuristic largely based on what the pundits and their friends tell them … and that hunch. The battle might be better fought on FaceBook rather than the T.V. screen. And even then, the election might come down to what the weather is like in Wisconsin and Florida on November 6.
So, Uncle Charlie, do the math so your friends don't have to and have a good Seamus joke at hand. Be ready to offer your nephew an umbrella come November 6th, because it is that umbrella that might swing this election.