Published September 28, 2012 in The Vindicator(Link)
Illustration by Richard Darbey/The News Outlet
By DOUG LIVINGSTON
Kate DeMay and Jodie Jacobson were undecided voters in early September.
Then they joined more than 3 million people who viewed a YouTube video of a secret tape of Republican candidate Mitt Romney talking at a fundraiser May 17 in Florida.
Now, they are decidedly voting for a candidate, just not the same one.
DeMay, 21, of Kent, will vote for the Barack Obama on Nov. 6, while Jacobson, 43, a native of Canfield, will throw her support behind Romney.
As the weeks wind down to the election, more undecided voters from Northeast Ohio are aligning themselves with a candidate.
The New Outlet is following eight such voters, some previously decided and others yet undecided. This is the second installment in a series reflecting these voters’ opinions and the events that influence them. The News Outlet will periodically follow up with these voters leading up to the presidential election.
Undecided voters’ opinions change as the campaigns heat up and private videos surface, such as the one Mother Jones released on its website and on YouTube.
The video portrayed Romney talking about the 47 percent of Americans who pay no taxes and receive government assistance.
This affirmed DeMay’s impression of Romney and everything that Jacobson has avoided talking about for the past three months.
“I appreciate the fact that he said that,” Jacobson said. “If you need help that’s one thing, but if that’s your lifelong income, I don’t think it’s right.”
But DeMay, who attends Kent State University and grew up in Poland, doesn’t pay income taxes because as a full-time student, she has no income.
She was offended by Romney’s comment that those on government assistance think of themselves as victims.
“By calling me a victim you’ve pretty much just solidified that I’m not going to be voting for you,” DeMay said.
Both women said they were undecided in early September.
When DeMay filled out her new voter registration form, she planned to keep a close eye on both presidential candidates.
She wasn’t ready to commit to voting for a candidate, when she could barely commit to buying a pair of shoes.
Around the same time, Jacobson was wrapping up the last day of the season at her parents’ produce stand along Belmont Avenue in Trumbull County.
Jacobson avoided political conversations that might reveal her true beliefs and potentially offend customers.
However early on, Jacobson was concerned about the government subsidies that placed a burden on providing for her family. At the same time, DeMay said she didn’t trust Romney.
It’s not unusual to hear self-proclaimed, undecided voters expressing partisan concerns. This is why some experts question the claim of being an undecided voter.
“Often times people who are leaning (toward a candidate) really are going to vote for the person for whom they’re leaning (toward),” said Leonard Steinhorn, a professor of public communication at American University in Washington, D.C. “They’ll find evidence that will confirm how they’re leaning.”
Steinhorn was a political speechwriter for 15 years. If he were working for the Republican Party on this presidential campaign, he would have advised Romney not to apologize for his remarks and remind the country that the jobless rate at 8.1 percent and this is the only percentage that matters.
That message may have worked for some people like Columbiana County resident Dan Warner, who said the economy and jobs continue to be a concern.
Warner said comprehensive fiscal reform is necessary to save the nation’s stagnant economy. Another possible round of stimulus money under Obama worries him.
So, now he too is leaning like other undecided voters before him.
“I do believe (Romney’s) business background and his past leadership experience give him a better shot at making the tough decisions necessary to fix what’s wrong in our nation, fiscally,” Warner, 30, said.
While most undecided or formerly undecided voters mentioned Romney’s comments about 47 percent of Americans as influencing their vote, some are giving less weight to the video.
Joe Sullivan has voted for both major political parties in the past.
The 60-year-old Boardman resident said that while Romney’s remarks were a “stupid thing to say, … If you depend on the government to take care of you, you will be sorely disappointed.”
Real Clear Politics, which aggregates national polls, shows Obama leading Romney by 4.1 points in Ohio as of Sept. 24. The average polling statistics, charting each campaign’s ups and downs like a heart beat monitor, show Romney’s vital signs as relatively unscathed by the video that so many undecided voters are talking about.
Prior to the video’s release, Romney commanded 44.3 percent of the Ohio vote, according to Real Clear. After the video, Romney lost a half a percentage point within a day but then quickly rebounded to 44.7 percent, higher than before the video first aired.
Steinhorn said the content of the video was damning for Romney’s campaign. But after Ann Romney’s attempt to humanize her husband during the Republican National Convention, the video did something the Romney campaign has been trying to accomplish for some time.
“The Republicans keep saying, ‘We want the people to know the real Mitt Romney, the genuine Mitt Romney.’ Well, here was the real Mitt Romney,” Steinhorn said, “unvarnished, in a way that he didn’t plan it to be seen.”
But even Steinhorn, who called the video more than just a speed bump for the Romney campaign, said everything fades in time.
“It may not be top of mind forever, but it has certainly created a frame around (Romney),” Steinhorn said.
Additional reporting by Kelsey Misbrener, Suzi Starheim and Caitlin Cook.
Read the first part of the series here: Undecided Ohio voters decisive in presidential election
TheNewsOutlet.org is a collaborative effort among the Youngstown State University journalism program, Kent State University, The University of Akron and professional media outlets including, WYSU-FM Radio and The Vindicator (Youngstown), The Beacon Journal and Rubber City Radio (Akron). TheNewsOutlet.org receives support from The College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences at Youngstown State University (CLASS), The Raymond John Wean Foundation, The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and The Youngstown Foundation.