Battleground Counties, “Independent” Voters and Super Lazy Reporters

The Washington Post takes a deep dive (2600 words) into four Battleground Counties that will help decide this year’s election.  Incredibly, they greatly diminish this extensive work by first, including the state of Missouri in the analysis — a state Obama isn’t even contesting. Second, before delving into each state/county they offer polls including an admitted month-old poll in Ohio showing Obama leading by 11 percentage points. Besides using incredibly stale data, they even got the poll #s wrong.  In the cited Quinnipiac poll from June, Obama was only leading by 9 percentage points, not 11.  And there were a ton of issues with that poll like Obama having a 3 point advantage among male voters? There is no chance that is accurate in 2012. With plenty of other polls available, how does an ostensibly reputable newspaper use data from a month ago when election preferences change almost daily.  Lastly, this talk of independent voters is nonsense.  Most of the interviews were with complete partisans.  Of course, the Republican partisan’s concerns were minimized by the reporter in classic liberal journalistic fashion, but regardless this article is allegedly about Independent/persuadable voters. Unbelievable.

With that as our lead in, we will focus on the worthwhile aspects on this opus like the three actual Battleground counties where the outcome is actually relevant: Wood County, Ohio; Henrico County, Virginia; Hillsborough County, Florida

In these next 100 days, President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney and their political allies will spend hundreds of millions of dollars trying to sway uncommitted voters in a few key states. These are the people they’re after. Interviews with dozens of voters in Florida, Missouri, Ohio and Virginia illustrate just how complicated each voter’s decision can be and, sometimes, how very far removed it is from the election strategies being mapped out in campaign conference rooms in Chicago or Boston or Washington. The conversations with voters also show how little the daily media circus of gaffes and campaign ads and surrogate attacks actually moves its intended targets. After months of heavy advertising by Romney, many voters knew only that he is Mormon, rich and not Obama. This weekend, the Obama campaign kicks off the last 100 days of campaigning with 4,600 small events around the country, including Olympics-watching parties, house parties and “Barbecues for Barack.” The Romney campaign is taking a different approach. The candidate is in Israel this weekend as part of an overseas tour designed to enhance his image as an international statesman.

As it turns out, the fight is for an extraordinarily small slice of the U.S. electorate. In one recent poll, more than two-thirds of voters said they already had all the information they needed to make their choice. So a few undecided people, in just a few places, could swing an entire country. Washington Post reporters visited four counties that could be decisive. All four voted for George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004 and then for Obama in 2008, and each is in a state that will be crucial to the outcome in November.

Wood County, Ohio

In Wood County, part of the Toledo suburbs, many undecided voters seemed to be nurturing some little dream — a small business, a new job, a farmers market stand. They were trying to figure out which candidate might help bring this to fruition.

For Linda Lambert, 66, that dream is cookies and bread. And that candidate is Romney. Probably. Lambert knows little about Romney. But she’s afraid that Obama loves regulation too much and that this could complicate her business selling cookies at farmers markets across northwest Ohio.

For Judi Vale, 65, the dream is a small jewelry business. Her candidate might be Obama. Maybe. Vale is a part-time water aerobics and yoga instructor from the Cleveland area. She voted for Bush in two elections before favoring Obama in 2008. Her at-home jewelry business took a big hit in the recession. Romney’s campaign is aimed exactly at people like Vale, those uncertain about Obama’s economy. But Vale has doubts about Romney and how he acquired his wealth. On the other hand . . . she is unsure where Obama’s health-care plan leaves her. She said she purchased a supplemental policy that would pick up the tab where Medicare left off. Now, she said, she is not sure what will become of her insurance coverage. She’ll decide, she said, just as soon as she figures out “what this health-care thing is all about.”

Other interviews in Ohio made it clear how much work remains for Romney in this vital swing state. Even after months of heavy advertising here, many voters said they don’t know him. Or that they don’t like what they know.

Pam Nickel, for instance. She voted for Bush in 2000 and 2004, then didn’t vote at all in 2008. Now Nickel, 55, is unhappy with Obama’s health-care law, believing that its mandate to buy coverage is too onerous and that the new system might lead to waiting lists and bad doctors. But that doesn’t make her a Romney voter. Not yet anyway. Nickel said she fears that the wealthy candidate is too aloof to recognize the needs of middle- and working-class voters.

As coveted as they are, truly undecided voters such as Nickel are increasingly rare, said David J. Dent, a professor at New York University who has studied the 272 counties in the United States that voted for Bush twice and then went Democratic, switching to Obama in 2008. It is here that voters are most conflicted. “People do not feel like [Obama] has lived up to those very high expectations,” Dent said. “But, on the other hand . . . a lot of people feel that Romney has not provided a strong-enough alternative.”

Henrico County, Virginia

Henrico County makes a semicircle around Richmond, fanning out to the northeast and northwest. It has grown from a mostly white, rural area in recent decades to one of the more populous and racially diverse areas of Virginia.

Trip Roberts’s head and his gut disagree on what to do in this election. Roberts, 34, is a former professional bowler who is now a manager at Bowl America, a bright place set among the malls and big-box stores in Henrico County outside Richmond. This is the argument from his head: He likes Obama’s stance on immigration. Roberts has a Korean grandmother and a girlfriend who is a Colombian immigrant — a legal one, he noted. He approved when Obama announced in June that his administration would stop deporting some illegal immigrants who were brought to the country as children. And Roberts, who buys his own health insurance, might also expect to benefit from Obama’s health-care law.

But that’s not the end of the story. For one thing, Roberts doesn’t really think that things will be better after the health-care law. His father, a Vietnam War veteran who suffered a serious stroke, gets government care at a VA hospital. Roberts is not impressed.  And then there’s his gut. It’s pointed him toward Romney. There’s just something he doesn’t like about Obama. Something he can’t get over. “I’m kind of leaning more toward Romney for the simple fact that I don’t trust Obama,” Roberts said. “He just seems too good a talker. It’s too suave.”

In the same county, 37-year-old preschool director Sharonda Jones said she felt a surge of pride when Obama — a fellow African American — became president. But, to the surprise of her friends, she’s wavering. It’s the economy. Jones was out of work for six months. Her husband had to get a new job with a 90-minute commute. So far, she’s seen nothing in the barrage of negative presidential TV ads that makes her want to vote for Romney. Jones is not impressed with his business record. “That doesn’t sway me at all,” she said. But Jones, interviewed over a strawberry Frappuccino at Starbucks, said she’s at least considering voting for Romney. Just to give another guy a chance at the job.

Hillsborough County, Florida

If you think the undecided are confusing, listen to the decided of Hillsborough County, surrounding Tampa.

This, for instance, is how Barb Frisco, a 53-year-old crossing guard, made her choice: She’s not very excited about Obama’s handling of the economy. But she is an abortion rights advocate. She and her family depend on food stamps for some meals. She barely missed being laid off by the city of St. Petersburg this year and worries that the next budget cut could mean her job. And, finally, Frisco worries that her own Mormon church might meddle in the decisions of a President Romney. “Somehow, I think the church is going to get involved, and I don’t think that’s how our country should work,” she said. She is for Obama.

Mark H. Smith, 52, is an architect from suburban Ridgewood Park. He’s been unemployed since about the time Obama took office. “It’s devastating and frustrating,” Smith said while picking up his two children, ages 7 and 10, from summer camp at the Kate Jackson Community Center in Tampa. “It’s hard to get up every day. There’s not a lot to look forward to.” Smith said his wife is still employed as an architect, which has kept his family out of dire straits. He doesn’t blame the president for the sputtering economy. “Obama inherited so much that’s not his fault,” he said. Smith said he might have found work by now if not for Republicans such as Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who helped kill a proposed light-rail line between Tampa and Orlando. “I might have been hired to design the stations, or it could have opened up other jobs as firms became busy,” he said. “Those projects have a trickle-down effect.” Obama again.

David Norrie, 39, works in orthopedic sales. He worries about the medical-device tax from Obama’s health-care law because it will affect his employer. Norrie also worries about another Obama proposal: The president has asked Congress to raise tax rates on anyone earning more than $250,000 per year. So far, however, neither of Obama’s ideas has done Norrie any measurable harm. His job is still there. And his income isn’t high enough to be affected by the proposed tax hike. Norrie goes on worrying. What if he does ever make that much money? “What’s the incentive when the more you make, the more they take?” he said. And what if the company already has secret plans to lay him off? “If they do, they’re not telling us,” he said. “They wouldn’t want to worry anyone. People might start looking for new jobs if they did.” He’s for Romney.

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