Undecided voters are no myth. So who are they?
Blanca Morales, like 84 million others, tuned in last week to watch the first debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. But it didn’t help her decide who she’ll pick on Election Day. If anything, it complicated matters.
“I was like, Oh this is real. This is so real,” she says. “And I can’t … I mean, I’m going to do something. I’m not going to sit here at home. I’m not going to not vote.”
Morales, who’s 27, lives in San Antonio. (Full disclosure, she and I briefly worked at the same company.) Morales say she’s never found a presidential candidate who’s a great fit, but that’s especially true this year. She won’t vote for Trump. She doesn’t trust Clinton. So … Jill Stein of the Green Party?
“I don’t want to vote third party based on my principles and then find by doing that I actually voted in somebody that just doesn’t align with my ideals at all, not even close,” Morales says. “So I don’t even know how to feel, man.”
She’s not alone. Josh Thompson and his wife own a real estate business in Tyler. Business is good, but he’s worried about the country’s slow rate of growth. He’s not sure there’s a candidate out there who will help.
“I’m a guy without a candidate. And because of that, who do you vote for?” Thompson says. “Do you go vote for a guy like Gary Johnson who doesn’t have a chance to win? Or just throw your vote away and vote for somebody like Jill Stein just as a way to stand up and try to shake your fist at the man?”
Thompson favors small government. Usually, he votes for the Republican presidential candidate, even though he doesn’t agree with much of the party’s social platform. That’s especially true for Trump.
“I don’t believe in deporting illegal aliens. I think that’s crazy. I’m in the real estate business. And if we deported people who were questionable on whether they were illegal aliens or not, I may or may not have anybody show up to work,” Thompson says. “That’s one of the reasons I struggle even with Donald Trump – because this candidacy is built on being fearful of Mexican immigrants, saying he wants to build a wall, saying he wants to send all these people back. I welcome him to come out on the job site with me and tell that to these people.”
Though Thompson may not support Trump, many of his neighbors will. Tyler is one of the most solidly Republican parts of Texas. Another is Sweeny, 60 miles southwest of Houston. Dawn Pekar lives there. She’s a 50-year-old stay-at-home mother of six.
“I have a lot of people around me who say they’re going to vote for Trump, members of my family,” Pekar says. “It’s been very disheartening. A lot of people I know and love.”
Pekar’s still officially undecided – but she’s decided on one thing. She won’t be voting for Trump. “I have loathed the man since the ‘80s,” Pekar says.
She thinks Trump is a misogynist, a racist, and unfit to be president. Pekar has voted libertarian in most presidential elections. But this year, anyone not named “Trump” has a shot with her. That includes mythical sea creatures – her Facebook profile picture says: “Cthulhu for President – Why Choose the Lesser Evil?”
Mostly though, Pekar’s just ready for the election to be over, like Richard Keller.
“It’s a circus,” Keller says. “That would be the best way of describing it. It’s a circus, but it’s not very funny or entertaining.”
Keller, who’s 30, works in sales. He lives in Fort Worth with his wife and three kids. He typically supports Libertarians, and he won’t vote for Trump. But his main quibble is with politics itself.
“It’s really hard for me to watch people blindly root for their team: ‘This is my team and this is what I like,’” Keller says. “And if you have any other thoughts, you get automatically get lumped into this other group. So I’ve become more vocal because I feel like you have to fight for this nuanced point of view, because that’s really what’s not getting out there.”
So he’s split between Clinton and Johnson, but really he’s unsure how much his vote will matter in Texas. That doesn’t mean he’ll just write somebody in – although the thought may have crossed his mind.
“I could almost literally write in ‘Mickey Mouse’ and it’s probably not going to be that big of a deal,” Keller says. “It’s sad to say that. It sounds like a very nihilist point of view, like nothing matters so why do it. I still feel like I need to vote because I’ve got children, I’ve got three kids. Whoever’s going to be our next president, is going to determine some policy that is going to affect them.”
Keller, Morales, Thompson and Pekar have 33 days to decide who they’ll vote for. We’ll check in with them each week to see what they’re thinking.
Because even though Texas will almost certainly back Trump, the small percentage of undecided voters could frame the state’s future as a Republican slam dunk or a real opening for Democrats. Even if four votes don’t make the difference between a win and a loss for one candidate, individual votes matter to individual voters.