Targeting the undecided voter

Floating voters are at their most buoyant right now.

undecided 88 (photo credit: )
undecided 88
(photo credit: )
Floating voters are at their most buoyant right now. The number of undecided voters usually jumps dramatically in the last few weeks before the election, according to pollsters and politics experts. "People are bombarded with a lot of messages," explained Tel Aviv University statistics professor Camil Fuchs of the home stretch before Election Day, when television ads begin and campaigns pick up steam. "Before that they had more or less made up their minds. Then there is a lot of propaganda and talk." And Dr. Mina Zemach, of the Dahaf Institute, said, "In the three weeks before the election, they are starting to reconsider and they are making decisions." But Fuchs said that doesn't mean their votes are entirely up for grabs: "A lot of those people do return to what they had chosen before." Still, floating voters do pose a challenge for Kadima. According to Fuchs's polls, those deciding between Kadima and an old party indicate they are more likely to vote for the latter. The large number of undecided voters, he concluded, "is bad for Kadima." Last week's polls found 20 percent to 22% of voters undecided, which translates to roughly 24 or 25 mandates. But both Fuchs and Zemach said that many of those voters acknowledge leaning toward a certain party, for which they tend to end up voting, so the actual number of undecideds is significantly lower. As is typically the case, women, new immigrants and those eligible to vote for the first time are the most open to reexamining their votes. Hebrew University political science professor Abraham Diskin estimated that twothirds of floating voters are female. He said that "there are gender differences, for better or worse. Maybe it shows more seriousness on the part of women." Immigrants and young voters, however, share a different characteristic: They have less experience of voting in Israel and therefore feel less party loyalty. "The roots and the history and the long periods of affiliation don't exist here," Diskin said of immigrants, and pointed to the tremendous changes in the Russian vote after the mass immigration starting in 1989. While Russians tend to be to the right of the general population, in the early '90s they voted in large numbers for Labor, which Diskin attributes to dissatisfaction with how the right-of-center government handled their immigration. Later, they voted in significant numbers for Natan Sharansky's Yisrael B'Aliya, only to essentially abandon it in later elections. Dr. Gideon Rahat, a lecturer in Hebrew University's political science department, has watched campaigners roll out Russian signs and bar hop to attract the immigrant and younger vote. "Young people and new immigrants are known for being more open and being able to change their minds," he said. "If you want to invest your money in changing people's minds, you probably focus your money on these [populations]." Still, much of campaigns' efforts to attract swing votes consider political distinctions more than demographic ones because these are seen to be the most significant, according to Fuchs. "People who are undecided are never undecided between Shas and Hadash," he said. "They're undecided within the group of parties on the Right or the Left." Diskin noted that parties have adopted campaign strategies tailored not to the wide swath of voters, but to those of a certain political orientation debating between two parties on the same part of the spectrum. He pointed to Shas targeting Likud voters by deemphasizing religious issues and stressing economic ones. For its part, the Likud has been attacking Kadima right and left in an effort to get its voters, he said: "I didn't see even a single one of the Likud ads attacking the right-wing parties." In general, Rahat described a trend away from party loyalty among all voters. He said this is prevalent throughout the Western world and attributed it to "the decrease in solidarity, the increase in more individual and less collective culture." While the trend is strongest among young people - "younger people are affiliated less with parties and more with single issue groups" - Rahat said older voters are being touched by the same social forces. And the parties themselves are leading the way. Diskin noted that Kadima boasts political figures, such as Tzahi Henegbi and Shimon Peres, who were deeply identified with the Right and Left respectively and now have suddenly teamed up. "They themselves are very flexible. When the leaders are very flexible, what conclusion should be drawn by voters?" he asked. "They say they [politicians] are not loyal to parties or to ideals, and therefore they [voters] can change their vote from one election to the next."