Tracking the elusive 'undecided' voter

Single, middle-aged suburban woman still has her heart set on Hilary Clinton.

September 30, 2012

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(Flickr/Ryan Wilson)
A 2008 Chicago presidential election ballot.

In Illinois, pollsters estimate that undecided voters make up only four to eight percent of the electorate. But national presidential campaigns spend a lot of time and money trying to reach that tiny slice of the electorate.

So what does it take to swing a swing voter? To find out, WBEZ is tracking a few of them up until Election Day.

After all, it’s not easy being an undecided voter this election season. Even Saturday Night Live recently lampooned the “Undecideds” with a fake campaign issues ad portraying them as clueless and out-of-touch.

Fifty-three year-old Bridget Kerans is, herself, an undecided voter. She says she’s used to getting flak from friends and relatives on either side of the aisle: conservatives call her a bleeding heart liberal, and liberals call her a right-winger.

“Basically, the one party will call me whatever slurs go with the other party,” Kerans said.

Kerans is a library technician from Schaumburg, where she lives in a house with her mom, four birds, a few cats and a dog. We met up recently outside a Starbucks, where I posed the kind of question political pollsters ask when they’re calling around, trying to figure out which candidate has the most support: If the presidential election were held today, which candidate would you vote for?

“Oh, geez,” she said, laughing when I ask her the big question.

But Kerans says she’s not completely undecided about who will get her vote.

“Yeah, I’m seriously considering writing it in,” she said. “But, I’m still looking at Romney, too. Because I really have nothing against Romney. He just wasn’t my guy.”

Kerans says her “guy” was veteran Texas Congressman Ron Paul, a Republican with a Libertarian bent. She likes that Paul has a lot of experience in public life – and that, like her, he votes his conscience.

The interesting thing is, four years ago, Kerans’ conscience was firmly with a Democrat.

“I mean, she’s probably my knight in white armor,” Kerans said.

“She” was New York U.S. Senator – now Secretary of State – Hillary Clinton.

“She was a woman. She was intelligent. She had everything I think it takes to become president,” Kerans explained. Kerans says her first political allegiance is to her gender – and she was crushed when Clinton bowed out of the 2008.

“There were so many of us that can’t – accept it,” she said. “You know, it doesn’t mean, like, I need to be in therapy or anything. It’s just – I was angry – I was mad!"

Kerans recalls there was a phrase for die-hard Hillary Clinton supporters like her – voters who didn’t give up their candidate, even after fellow Democrat Barack Obama got the party’s presidential nomination.

“PUMA,” she said, then explained the acronym: “Party unity my ass.”

In true PUMA fashion, Kerns says she voted for Republican John McCain in 2008 – in part, because she liked another woman – Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin.

In 2012, Kerans may not know who she wants to vote for, but she says it will not be President Obama. She says Mr. Obama went into office in 2008 with Democratic majorities in Congress, but still didn’t fulfill some of his campaign promises.

When I ask her for specifics, she brings up something unexpected.

“Well, okay the Horse Slaughter Act,” she said. “That was a big deal for me.”

Now, some supporters of President Obama have been upset that he didn’t overhaul the immigration system or shut down the detention center at Guantanamo Bay. But it turns out Kerans is big into animal rights. And she points out – correctly – that Candidate Obama said he’d support a ban on the slaughter of horses for human consumption.

President Obama allowed it to continue.

“I wasn’t as upset as some of the other people who had voted for him. But it still kinda, like, broke your heart in a way. You know like, Oh God, you can’t even keep that promise?” she said.

And so, that leaves Kerans thinking about writing in Ron Paul – who’s not on the ballot in Illinois– or voting for Republican Mitt Romney.

“I have till November,” Kerans said. “I don’t have to make up my mind today or a week from now. I have time.”

Thirty-seven days, to be exact, until November Sixth.

This story has been updated to note Kerans' correct age, which is 53.