True Unaffiliated Voters About As Rare As This Creepy Fish
Tonight, Thom Tillis and Kay Hagan will go head to head in their second live debate.
Hagan has held a consistent lead over Tillis in the polls, but that lead is small, which is why both camps may use tonight’s debate as a chance to hunt for the most elusive of political groups.
A lead, is a lead… right?
Not in the world of political polls, says Jason Husser, assistant director of an Elon University poll that shows Hagan with a four-point lead. But, he says, "Our margin of error is 3.9. It could be considered a tie still."
There’s less than a month to go in this polarizing race. Democrat and Republican voters are–so far– sticking in their respective camps. However, both candidates are lagging in key demographics, says Husser. "Hagan has a substantial advantage among single females. Tillis is doing much better among married men."
This race is essentially still tied because those leads cancel themselves out, which means both Kay Hagan and Thom Tillis may need to look to an almost mythical group, says Michael Bitzer, political scientist at Catawba College: "The folks that are going to go in and at the last minute decide to move an election one way or the other."
It's a group we’ll call the "uns," for unaffiliated, undecided or both. They are the voter equivalent of the Coelacanth, a dinosaur-age fish scientists once thought was extinct, yet in 2007 a guy in Indonesia pulled one into his boat.
Politically, there’s no doubt the uns exist. Take the unaffiliated: officially they make up 27 percent of North Carolina’s electorate. "But for the vast majority of them, they are indeed as partisan as a strong Democrat or a strong Republican," says Bitzer.
And data backs that up. "Parties are unpopular. Parties are associated with Congress. Congress is not something people think that highly of," says the Elon poll’s Husser. "So it makes people feel better to say they are not part of a party one way or another." But in practice, Husser says, around 10 percent are true independents.
Like the Coelacanth, true unaffiliated voters exist, but they’re rare. In a race as tight as Hagan-Tillis, they can be valuable. So how do Kay Hagan and Thom Tillis court the unaffiliated? The Elon poll has been working on just that. Unaffiliateds' top three issues are foreign policy, the economy and, says Husser, the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. "Partisans have made up their minds about the Affordable Care Act. Independents are still sort of in the dark about whether or not the ACA has been a good thing for the country."
So don’t be surprised to hear Hagan defend and Tillis attack government-run healthcare throughout their second debate.
Now what about the other uns: the undecided? Historically, they wait until the last few days to make up their minds. And those who vote tend to follow a predictable pattern. "What we generally tend to see is those undecided break for the party out of power," says Michael Bitzer. "This year it would tend to be the Republicans." But, Bitzer adds, they're not the most reliable bunch. "If they’re truly going into election day undecided, the likelihood is they might not show up to vote to begin with."
Which means tonight, Kay Hagan and Thom Tillis may chose to play it safe–hope the uns come on board on their own, and leave it to their respective political bases and voter turnout efforts to bring them victory come November 4th.