The University Record, November 6, 2000

Undecided voter? You’re not alone

By Bernie DeGroat
News and Information Services

A national poll taken last week by the Pew Research Center showed that as many as one in four American voters were still undecided about which presidential candidate would get their vote Nov. 7. If history is any indication, however, this is no big deal.

According to the National Election Studies (NES) at the University, 19 percent of Americans in 1996 and 25 percent in 1992 waited until the last two weeks of the presidential campaign or until election day itself before making their choice. In fact, dating back to 1960, anywhere from 12 to 26 percent of voters waited until the final days to make up their minds.

On the other hand, in the past 10 presidential elections, one-third to one-half of all American voters knew who they were going to vote for all along or as soon as their candidate announced his intention to run. The remaining voters (one-third to one-half) made their decisions either during or shortly following the political party conventions.

Such data on presidential and mid-term elections and campaigns—as well as on social and economic attributes of Americans, their opinions on social and political issues, and their values and predispositions—can be found on the NES Web site (www.umich.edu/~nes/) in its Guide to Public Opinion and Electoral Behavior (www.umich.edu/~nes/nesguide/nesguide.htm).

The guide provides immediate access to tables and graphs that display the ebb and flow of public opinion and electoral choice in American politics since 1952. Topics include: social, economic and religious characteristics of the electorate; partisanship and evaluation of political parties; ideological self-identification; public opinion on public policy issues; support for the political system; political involvement and participation in politics; evaluation of presidential and congressional candidates; and vote choice.

Established in 1977 by the National Science Foundation, the NES is a national resource that provides statistical data for basic research on voting, public opinion and political participation in the United States. It conducts national surveys of the American electorate in presidential and mid-term election years and carries out research and development work through special pilot studies in odd-numbered years.

The main series of NES studies (including a precursor series of national election studies done at the U-M from 1952 to 1976) now encompasses biennial election studies spanning five decades. Survey data from the current campaign and election will be available in spring 2001. For more information, contact the NES at (734) 764-5494 or nes@umich.edu.

Other findings from the NES include:

  • In 1998, 40 percent of Americans said they could trust the federal government most or just about all of the time, compared with 73 percent in 1958.

  • About a third of Americans in 1998 believed that the government is run for the benefit of all, while nearly two-thirds said that it is run by a few big interests looking out for themselves. The opposite was true in 1964.

  • In 1952, more than 60 percent of Americans believed that public officials cared about what people think, compared with only 25 percent in 1998.

    The NES is part of the Center for Political Studies at the Institute for Social Research (ISR). Established in 1948, ISR is among the world’s oldest survey research organizations, and a world leader in the development and application of social science methodology.