Why haven't undecideds chosen their candidate already? Some voters like to mull
"I'm a very strong independent," he said. "I choose the best candidate."
ARE THEY EVEN PAYING ATTENTION?
Professors have a euphemism: low-information voters. The bulk of registered voters who are still undecided fall into that group, researchers say.
"They're basically not that interested in politics," Vavreck said. "They pay less attention to news in general."
Her image of the typical undecided American, based on her research: "the single mom with a couple of kids who just doesn't have time to be attuned to politics but feels like it's her civic duty to vote, and may or may not show up at the polls."
Yet the still-deciding who are committed to voting don't see themselves as out of touch.
In the AP-GfK poll, 85 percent of the persuadables said they have a "great deal" or "quite a bit" of interest in following the campaign, almost as high as among other likely voters.
Rita Kirk, a communications professor at Southern Methodist University, seeks out these involved-but-undecided voters in swing counties of states with close presidential contests. She gathered the groups that recorded their live reactions on CNN during the debates. They are following the race, she insists.
"They know that they're in a county that's going to make a difference," Kirk said. "They're wanting to make a good choice, and they kind of feel the weight and gravitas of that."
SO WHAT DO THEY THINK?
They're of two minds.
Persuadable voters are more likely to trust Romney to do a better job handling the economy and the federal budget deficit, the AP-GfK poll shows. And they're about as comfortable with Romney as they are with Obama on foreign policy.
They are more likely to say Obama has a clear vision for the future, however. They tend to say he understands the problems of people like them better than Romney does. They also give Obama a broad advantage on making the right decision on women's issues.
They're worried about the future.
Only 3 in 10 persuadable voters think the economy will improve in the coming year, compared with 6 in 10 decided voters.
"I'm not sure that either candidate is going to be able to correct the issues," said Cox, 43, who watched California's Central Valley suffer through recession and drought. "I'd like to get the jobs back in the United States. I'd like to quit owing China everything. Put the farmers back to work."
WHAT'S TAKING THEM SO LONG?
Some see virtue in refusing to rush.
Victoria Cook, a 27-year-old psychology student at Arapahoe Community College near Denver, leans toward Obama. But she stood in line to see Romney and Ryan at a rally with rocker Kid Rock this week.
"I don't want it to get to the point where you just write off the other guys right away," Cook said as she waited. "So I'll listen to what they have to say."
Professor Kirk said many undecided voters are so annoyed by months of TV commercials and punditry and news coverage that they just tune it all out until Election Day nears.
"They want to pay attention at the time they're ready to make a choice," she said. "It's like someone buying a car. That's when they start looking at the consumer magazines and all the attributes and how many airbags do the different models have. Not months in advance."
WILL THEY DECIDE THIS ELECTION?
"That small group of people can make a difference if the vast majority of them swing in one direction," said Rutgers University political science Professor Richard Lau, who studies how voters decide.
But that would be unusual. Late deciders tend to be divided, not vote as a block — unless they are swept up in a bigger wave, Lau said. In 1980, for example, October polls showed President Jimmy Carter in a tight race with Ronald Reagan.
"It was very close up until the last few days and somehow everybody just decided, 'Enough. We're going to change courses here,'" Lau said. "Usually what happens is that the independent voters change in the direction that somehow the nature of the times is already going."
Still, an advantage among procrastinators could swing the race in a hotly contested state.
In the last two presidential elections, about 1 in 10 voters surveyed as they left polling places said they'd settled on their candidate within the previous week. About 5 percent decided on Election Day.
No word on how many made up their minds while standing in the voting booth.
Associated Press News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius in Washington and Associated Press writer Philip Elliott in Denver contributed to this report. Follow Connie Cass on Twitter: http://www.Twitter.com/ConnieCass. Follow Jennifer Agiesta on Twitter: http://www.Twitter.com/JennAgiesta
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