'SNL' depicts undecided voters as dumb. Is that right?

'When is the election?' and 'Who is running?' are two of the undecided voters' questions in an 'SNL' parody. The truth is these voters are less partisan, less engaged, and just now making up their minds.

Saturday Night Live” has a new video out that lampoons undecided voters, and it’s pretty harsh.

Done in the style of a public service announcement from a good-government group, the skit starts with “This election will determine the future of our country, and this election will be determined by the Undecided Voter” on-screen.

Then “Catherine” appears in an office setting, saying “some of us are just a little harder to please. We’re not impressed by political spin or 30-second sound bites. Before you get our vote, you’re going to have to answer some questions.”

Cue the questions.

“Dave,” from his kitchen: “When is the election? When do we have to decide?”

“Andrea,” on an outdoor path: “What are the names of the two people running? And be specific.”

“Jonathan,” a hipster in front of a stoop: “Who is the president right now? Is he or she running?”

And so forth. You can see where “SNL” is going here. The questions get more outlandish, ending with a student working on his computer asking the camera, “where is my power cord”?

OK, we’ll bite. Are undecided voters really this clueless?

Well, not THAT clueless. It is unlikely that many of them wonder what oil is used for, as one character does in the skit. But the fact is that another term political pros use for determinedly undecided voters is “low-information voters”. (SNL gets to that too.) Most of them do not follow politics at all closely and have little to go on to make their electoral decision, as hard as that may be for news junkies to understand.

A recent NBC/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll took a deeper look at the undecided voters in three battleground states, for instance, and concluded that “these are voters who simply aren’t paying attention.” One third did not feel they knew enough to give President Obama a job rating, for instance.

Sixty percent of self-described undecided voters could not identify Speaker John Boehner as a member of the House of Representatives, according to a YouGov poll done for the Cooperative Campaign Analysis Project.

Undecided voters are less partisan, less engaged, and only now starting to make up their minds for the 2012 vote, GOP pollster Whit Ayers said on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday. Democratic pollster Anna Greenberg told CNN’s Candy Crowley these voters may not even make it to the polls as they focus on other parts of their lives.

“They’re taking care of their kids, they’re working,” said Greenberg.

Right now the undecided share of the national vote is running at between five and seven percent, depending on the poll. Interestingly, that share may remain fairly constant.

Last December, the Cooperative Campaign Analysis Project found that six percent of the electorate was undecided in a contest between Mr. Obama and (then potential) GOP nominee Mitt Romney. That’s about the same percentage that’s unsure of voting preference today.

But the six percent from recent polls and the six percent from last December are in fact different people – or at least, voters move in and out of the undecided category more often than many pollsters might assume, according to Lynn Vavreck, an associate professor of political science at UCLA and a co-principal investigator of the Cooperative Campaign Analysis Project.

By the beginning of September, about half of the voters who last December had proclaimed themselves undecided had moved to choose a candidate, wrote Vavreck in a post on the New York Times Campaign Stop blog. Of these, slightly more chose Obama than Romney.

Their choices seem to have been driven by their own party identification. “Even though undecided voters tend to be weaker partisans than those who make up their minds very early, party is still a potent force for them,” wrote Vavreck.

At the same time, about three to four percent of voters who said they’d made their choice abandoned it over the months, and moved into the undecided camp, according to interviews conducted by the Cooperative Campaign Analysis Project. That has kept the undecided category constant at six percent of total voters.

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