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Not as Undecided as I Thought! October 31, 2008

Posted by gordonwatts in life, politics.

Apparently the editorial board of the New York Times is reading my blog:

AS we enter the final week of a seemingly endless election campaign, opinion polls continue to identify a substantial fraction of voters who consider themselves “undecided.” … Comedians and other commentators have portrayed these people as fools, unable to choose even when confronted with the starkest of contrasts.

I had no idea when I wrote that post that others were also making fun of these people. However, I pulled a “Bush” – I went off on the undecided’s without actually doing any research to see what was really going on. In my own defense: this blog is free!

The NYT’s, however, is not the same. They did some research:

Recent research in neuroscience and psychology, however, suggests that most 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 — or else just unaware that they have essentially already made a choice.

Without other information I would have guessed the latter. I’m sure it has happened to you before: someone drops by and asks for advice. After a while it becomes clear they have already decided in their head which way they want to go and are looking for confirmation or just trying to make sure nothing was missed.

They also point out why a common technique of people who are “efficient” (but perhaps not always right) works:

In measurements of decision-related neural activity, after there is enough evidence to reach a person’s decision threshold, his brain can ignore further input even when it might improve accuracy. The brain goes ahead and decides, freeing up mental resources to deal with other problems.

I suppose the key is knowing what decisions to take a long time with and what decisions to make quickly and move on with.

As far as the current contest is concerned: I moved on a while ago!



1. Don - October 31, 2008

Well, the fact still remains that until a ballot is cast, ‘deciding’ is merely the same as having a preference about who should win. It’s not a vote. It’s true that smarter people do keep their options open until the moment of choice arives, though. (Campaigners themselves excepted.)

2. gordonwatts - October 31, 2008

True — until it is vote. And I hope everyone is voting!!

But I’m not sure about the “smart people keep their minds open until the last minute.” If that was the case then we’d all be spending all our time thinking about upcoming decisions. It would be horrible!

3. Don - October 31, 2008

Yes, it is. In a way . . .

To not give such consideration is merely to react. The price of freedom is eternal vigilence . . .

4. Don - October 31, 2008

. . . and not a second sooner!


5. Don - October 31, 2008

BTW, “keep their options open until the moment of choice arrives” is different than “smart people keep their minds open until the last minute” — in a significant way.

6. Anonymous - November 1, 2008

Don — to give an extreme example — I assume a decision on whether you are joining the Nazi party or Al Qaeda is not imminent. But does that mean you are keeping your options open on the issue?

7. If He Looses, it will be my fault…. « Life as a Physicist - November 1, 2008

[…] really is a get-out-the-vote-contest now. Despite the fraction of undecided’s, probably the most important is getting people out to vote. I have to say that I’m kind-a relaxed […]

8. Don - November 1, 2008

Anonymous, you answered your question as you asked it: it’s not imminent.

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