Behind the numbers: ‘undecideds’ in the governor’s race

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(Host) When it comes to voting for a new governor, a large number of voters have not made up their minds, as a VPR poll showed this fall. The undecided Vermonters could have a significant influence on the strategy of the candidates. This week, VPR’s Bob Kinzel looks “Behind the Numbers,” at a profile of the undecided voter.

(Kinzel) The VPR poll, which was conducted the weekend after the September primary, found that 29% of all voters have yet to choose a candidate in the race for governor. This number has probably gotten smaller in the past few weeks, but it’s still much higher than the last few gubernatorial races in Vermont.

While many voters who identified themselves as Democrats or Republicans have made up their minds, about a third of those people who consider themselves to be independent are undecided. Women between the ages of 35 and 61 make up the majority of this group.

Why are so many voters undecided in the gubernatorial race ? Jack Hoffman, a former journalist who has covered elections in Vermont for the past 25 years, thinks the candidates have done little to distinguish themselves to voters:

(Hoffman) “I have been struck at how little enthusiasm there seems to be out there in the public toward the idea of a new administration. I think back to the mid-1980s after Dick Snelling had been in office for eight years. There was an exciting race and it turned out to be very close between Madeleine Kunin and John Easton. But there was a real sense of the state was going to go off in a new direction and I certainly don’t see much of that enthusiasm at this point.”

(Kinzel) Eric Davis, a political science professor at Middlebury College, thinks the large number of undecided voters will shape the strategies that the candidates use in the final weeks of this campaign.

Davis says there’s a good possibility that the election will be decided by the Legislature in January because no candidate will receive 50% of the vote and that it’s also likely that the Republicans will have a majority of the 180 lawmakers. Davis thinks Racine could face some serious problems in the Legislature if he comes in first but does not receive 50% of the vote:

(Davis) “What Racine needs to do is convince as many undecided independents as possible to vote for him. There are 36% of the independents who have not yet made up their minds. So if Racine could get two-thirds or three-quarters of those undecided independents to go for him, that’s about 6% or 7% of the entire electorate. So that gets him closer to 50%.”

(Kinzel) Davis says Douglas faces a different situation. If the GOP has a majority of members of the General Assembly, Davis says Douglas can receive less than 50% of the popular vote or even come in a close second, and still be elected by the Legislature:

(Davis) “If he wants to finish first, I would argue that what Douglas needs to do over the next month is not so much a strategy of converting independents, as a strategy of mobilizing his own core supporters – generating as high a turnout as possible from self-identified Republicans, particularly middle aged and older men. If Douglas can get a higher turnout among his core supporters than Racine can get among the Democratic supporters, Douglas can close some of that gap between himself and Racine.”

(Kinzel) Davis says independent candidate Con Hogan will have to make a strong showing in the remaining debates in order to improve his standing in the polls. If that happens, Davis believes Hogan and Racine may be competing for many of the same independent voters as the campaign draws to a close.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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