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So-called undecided voters may not be undecided after all

I recently commented on Facebook to the effect that voters who haven’t yet decided, at this late date, between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney for president are dimwits who should skip the process altogether.

But perhaps I was wrong about that, as Sam Wang suggests HERE:

Despite your likely incredulity that they even exist, undecided voters may be smarter than you think. They’re not indifferent or unable to make clear comparisons between the candidates. They may be more willing than others to take their time. It is even possible that they have essentially already made a choice, but are unaware of the fact.

In the natural world, self-awareness in decisionmaking is unnecessary. The true readout of a decision is action. Action gets us what we want right away: escape from a predator, access to food or a mate, and so on. In many cases, knowing what it is we want is only useful on longer time scales, for instance to allow explicit learning. So in some cases, undecided voters may have actually committed, but don’t know it yet.

This is why pollsters push “uncommitted” voters to state a preference: the answer gives a fairly accurate reading of a candidate’s support. In psychological studies, people who describe themselves as undecided often reveal a pronounced preference when they are forced to choose. My colleague (and Nobel laureate) Danny Kahneman’s collaborator, the late Amos Tversky, used to ask his colleagues who were offered a new job whether they were inclined to take it. He found that when they were even only “moderately sure” about their decision, their eventual choice was in fact all but certain.

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