EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

November 4, 2012

Undecided voters worried about economy, turned off by negativity

By Douglas Moser dmoser@eagletribune.com
The Eagle-Tribune

---- — Donna Watts, of Derry, N.H., said she and President Obama “have the same values” on many issues. She’s pro-choice and likes his stances on women’s issues. Her brothers are in a labor union. She seems like she would be a vote Obama could count on in a swing state with four electoral votes up for grabs.

But earlier this year, her bookstore, Gardenia’s on Birch Street, closed. She was worried about the economy, and its weakness led to second thoughts about voting to re-elect the president.

“I’m hesitant because of my experience in the last four years,” she said.

For Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the Republican nominee for president, closing the deal with the few remaining voters like Watts will be key to winning a tight and hard-fought election Tuesday.

Watts, who lived in Massachusetts when Romney was governor, remembered a stronger economy and thought his business experience may help nationally. “I won’t know until I go into the voting booth,” she said, repeating that she definitely intends to vote.

Several races in Massachusetts and New Hampshire are expected to be close on Tuesday, from the president down to Senate, Congress and the New Hampshire governor. The polls have found only a sliver of the electorate say they are undecided.

Conversations with dozens of voters in the Merrimack Valley and southern New Hampshire yielded a few consistent reasons why those voters are still sitting on the fence, and they range from the personal, like Watts, to the practical to plain old frustration and disgust.

Watts said she has made up her mind for the New Hampshire governor’s race, between Manchester attorney Ovide Lamontagne on the Republican side and former state Senate majority leader Maggie Hassan on the Democratic side. “I’m probably going with Ovide,” she said. “He stands on his own and he doesn’t do the attack ads. I like that. I think it shows insecurity (to go negative).”

Other undecideds in New Hampshire and Massachusetts echoed a similar sentiment, saying that a campaign season seen as negative and agonizingly long frustrated them and led them to distrust all the candidates.

Kim Reynolds, of Haverhill, said she generally was turned off to politics, and pointed to the negative campaigning this year . She has not decided on Obama versus Romney, or on Massachusetts U.S. Sen. Scott Brown vs. Elizabeth Warren. “It’s the lies and the fakeness,” she said. “I’m not convinced either one of them is fit for the job (of president). Same with the Senate.”

Another woman, Evelyn Cruz, of Haverhill, agreed. “I’m confused because of all the commercials and negativity,” she said. “I probably will vote because it’s my duty. I’m just procrastinating.”

Flushing out undecideds was not easy. According to two recent polls of New Hampshire, conducted by NBC News/Wall Street Journal and by Public Policy Polling at the end of October, only between 3 and 5 percent of voters are undecided in the presidential race.

In Massachusetts, the presidential race is all but a foregone conclusion, with several polls showing a margin for Obama of between 25 and 30 percentage points. Neither candidate has campaigned in the commonwealth, save for the occasional private fundraiser. But a Suffolk University/7News poll conducted at the end of October still showed 3 percent of Bay Staters undecided.

Robert, a business owner from North Andover who did not want his last name used because he wanted to keep his politics and his business separate, said he had made up his mind about Mitt Romney and Barack Obama: He planned to vote against them both.

“I haven’t decided whether to vote for the Libertarian (former New Mexico governor Gary) Johnson or Ron Paul,” he said.

Robert agreed with Obama’s social positions and feared Romney may rush into another war in the Middle East, but said the president represented an overbearing and overregulating federal regime that has made starting a new business difficult and costly. He also disliked Romney because of his close corporate and Wall Street ties.

“Both parties are concerned about the corporations of the United States rather than the people,” he said.

Amy Wilson, a Hudson, Mass. resident who was in North Andover Wednesday, said she was still undecided, though she leaded toward Obama. “For president, I’m afraid of Romney because of (possible cuts to) education, but we haven’t gotten too far with Obama,” she said.

In the Senate race, she leaned toward Brown but shook her head because of the character attacks from him on his opponent and the attacks from Warren on Brown’s votes and stances on women’s issues. “I don’t know what to believe,” she said.

Being undecided left voters who had made up their minds, many of whom decided long ago, scratching their heads. And such is the state of a close election in a polarized country, where both parties this year have counted on a minimum of 45 to 47 percent support, according to news reports.

Despite the negativity voters have reported and the partisanship evident in Washington, on television and online, two men chatting outside the North Andover post office Wednesday may have provided a hopeful glimpse into Nov. 7.

One was a Fox News fan and a strong Romney supporter; his friend leaned Obama and was undecided in the Senate race. Both declined to give their names. But after razzing each other – “You should listen to Sean Hannity,” one said; the other guffawed, “Yeah, there’s an unbiased source of information” – they waved to each other and said, “See you around,” as they parted ways.

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