Undecided voters running low on time

In modern history, no pair of major-party presidential candidates has been so unpopular to voters as poll after poll shows Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have been in this 2016 election season.

At this point, little more than a week until Election Day, the question of how America got to this point is one to answer after the votes are counted.

Now, the question for voters of varying degrees of uncertainty is how to choose between the two, vote third party — or not vote at all.

And if you're a voter in South Carolina considering writing in a name on the presidential ballot, don't bother: The state doesn't allow it.

What's a voter left to do?

"I'll hold my nose and vote like the rest of us," said Jennifer Medlock, a Greenville mother who says for once she finds herself in the category of undecided voter at a time when people question her about how anyone could be undecided at this point.

The choice, she said, is between either "a womanizing jerk or someone who laid out national secrets for everyone to see."

"For me," she said, "I've got to tell my kids later. How do I justify to my children who I voted for in this terrible situation?"

The undecided voter is an elusive category to define particularly in this election cycle, political scientists say.

"The people who are legitimately undecided right now probably aren't trying to decide between Hillary or Trump," said Brent Nelsen, a Furman University political science professor who six years ago ran for state Department of Education superintendent as a Republican. "They're probably trying to decide whether they're going to vote at all."

The USA TODAY Poll Tracker, rolled out this election year and powered by Real Clear Politics, on Friday showed about 7 percent nationally who haven't committed to voting for either Clinton, Trump, Libertarian Gary Johnson or Green Party candidate Jill Stein.

The Poll Tracker, which tracks state and national polls that date back to June 1, shows Clinton with a 45.1 to 40.7 percent advantage over Trump nationally.

In South Carolina, the poll shows the number of voters not committed to any four of the candidates is just under 10 percent. Trump leads Clinton 45.3 to 37.7 percent in the state.

This year, the winner of the presidential election could very well fail to receive a majority of the vote nationally.

However, while Johnson has reached highs just below 10 percent nationally, the number of people voting for a third-party candidate won't be as high as, say, Independent candidate Ross Perot in 1992, when he received just under 20 percent of the vote, Nelsen said.

Kristi Inglis, who says she typically decides on a major-party candidate shortly after primaries are finished, said she is considering voting for a third-party candidate and in any case will go to the polls.

Inglis, who lives in Greenville, said she is a moderate who in her lifetime has been a dedicated voter but managed to never pick a successful presidential candidate.

Inglis said she prefers to pick based on policies, but that this election has been more about fundamental fitness for the office. She said likes candidates who are tough and are willing to "get their hands dirty."

However, Inglis said, "this time around I just look at everything that's at stake and maybe they're just too dirty."

The option to write a person's name in for president isn't available in South Carolina, said Chris Whitmire, spokesman for the State Election Commission.

The state Legislature amended the state's election laws in 1982 to specifically bar voters from writing in names for president and vice president, according to the South Carolina Code of Laws.

The reasoning for the provision isn't clear, Whitmire said.

"We get this question in every presidential election," he said, "but the question has definitely been asked more this year than ever."

Real Clear Politics polls this week show both candidates are viewed unfavorably by voters — Clinton at 52.4 percent unfavorable, Trump 59.1.

"The real question is how does it affect turnout?" said David Woodard, a Clemson University political science professor and GOP consultant. "I do think turnout is defined differently now. There will be some diminished voting because of the two candidates, but I don't think it's going to affect the outcome."

The split between Republican and Democrat in South Carolina elections is typically about 55-45 percent, Woodard said. This year, he said, it could be about 52-48.

The undecided voter bloc is difficult to define, but it's generally not a group that is as large as voters who claim they are undecided would indicate, said Scott Huffmon, a Winthrop University political science professor who identifies as a "moderate anti-partisan."

In fact, Huffmon said, a number of undecided voters likely won't vote at all.

"The folks who are undecided at this point and actually intend to vote tend to be pretty small," he said. "You're talking about a slice of a slice of a slice. The things that are driving them from voting for neither of the two party candidates when they aren’t usually a third-party voter are the same things that tend to drive people from the polls in general.”

The driving force behind voting, then, often comes down to a sense of civic duty and not reason, Huffmon said.

"The cost of time and effort to go vote always outweighs the probability that your single vote is going to make a difference in a national election," he said. "There's this visceral dislike of their choices that is kind of leaving them with malaise, ennui, whatever you want to call it — just this existential discomfort about what they see they have to do, because they clearly feel it's a duty."


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