- Associated Press - Sunday, September 23, 2012

With six weeks left in the presidential campaign, just 7 percent of likely voters have yet to choose a candidate, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll. When combined with those who are leaning toward one candidate or the other, but far from firm in their choice, about 17 percent of likely voters are what pollsters consider “persuadable.”

That includes 6 percent who give soft support to President Obama and 4 percent for his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney.

Donna Olson, a 66-year-old semiretired truck driver from Oskaloosa, Iowa, who calls herself a former Democrat, expects to wait until November to make up her mind, just as she did four years ago when her vote ultimately went to Republican John McCain.

“I don’t like either one of them,” Ms. Olson says of Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney. She cites as objectionable Mr. Obama’s support for gay marriage and Mr. Romney’s proposed tax breaks for wealthy Americans.

So how will she make up her mind?

“I’m just trying to watch a little bit of everything,” she says. “It probably will come down to November, but I’m open to see what happens between now and then.”

At least Ms. Olson is still tuned in. One huge hurdle for both candidates during the next six weeks will be getting the attention of the undecideds.

While 69 percent of likely voters report they are paying a great deal of attention to the race, the figure drops to 59 percent for persuadable likely voters. Among the larger group of all registered voters, just 31 percent of persuadable ones show much interest in the campaign.

That’s one reason both campaigns are pouring so much money into advertising in the most contested states, and why so many ads focus on the campaign’s central issue: the economy.

Persuadable voters are deeply negative about the current state of the economy. Almost two-thirds call it poor, and only 28 percent expect the economy to improve in the coming year.

That is far more pessimistic than other voters. Fifty percent of likely voters who have settled on a candidate think the economy will improve in the next year.

While the campaigns are trying to secure every vote they can — through early voting whenever possible — there’s always a segment of the electorate late to make up its mind.

The campaigns are intent on firming up those persuadable voters who already lean their way, and then hope to pick off undecided voters in the swing-voter groups they’re already making a priority.

Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg says truly undecided voters are particularly hard to come by this fall, attributing that to an increasingly polarized political climate and a race that ramped up unusually early, with big advertising budgets on both sides.

“There’s still a fair amount of time left in this election, but the voters don’t act like it,” he says. “They look pretty decided.”

Even independents are “more partisan in their behavior” these days, Mr. Greenberg says.

Republican pollster John McLaughlin, however, says there’s still plenty of room for volatility in voters’ choices, with the debates yet to come and the race especially close in certain states.

He says that to get on track after recent distractions, Mr. Romney’s message to undecided voters must be a forward-looking economic pitch — not just that people aren’t better off after the past four years, but that the economy will be much better off after four years under Mr. Romney.

Overall, the race is neck-and-neck in the AP-GfK poll, with 47 percent of likely voters supporting Mr. Obama and 46 percent Mr. Romney.

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