By Ann Therese Palmer
Since June, BusinessWeek has been talking to voters who said they were undecided in this Presidential election. Some folks didn't like President George W. Bush's policies but weren't quite sold on Massachusetts Democrat John F. Kerry in the White House. Some liked Bush's economic policies but worried about his motives for committing troops to Iraq. Others endorsed Bush's foreign policies but thought domestic issues -- notably health care and education -- had been shortchanged. Still others were turned off by Bush's close ties with the Religious Right and other conservative groups.
On Nov. 2, these fence-sitters had to choose -- and some of them shared their final decisions with BW Online. These interviews don't reveal any particular trends, other than that a surprisingly high number of these folks didn't decide until they entered the polling booth today. But their motivations are revealing nonetheless:
For Al Panyard, 55, a global account manager for a French automotive supplier who lives in New Baltimore, Mich., in Macomb County, the deciding factor was Rudy Giuliani's speech at the Republican National Convention. "He was compelling about the terrorists, the threat that terrorists are bringing upon us, and how George Bush will respond to the terrorists," Panyard says. "I feel comfortable with Bush because he's predictable if things get bad in Iraq and how to address the changes that need to be made in Iraq. Iraq is a tenuous situation."
Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch's Bush endorsement convinced George Clarius, 54, a Brooklyn native and current Chadds Ford (suburban Philadelphia) electrical engineer, to go with the President. Clarius' biggest concern: domestic security. "Koch is very liberal," says Clarius. "If the former mayor feels comfortable with someone on the right, I felt I should feel comfortable on the right. I needed a little push. I don't endorse Bush wholeheatedly."
Waseca (Minn.) florist Rick Morris, 56, who voted for Bush in 2000, opted for Kerry this time to put domestic issues in the spotlight. "I voted for Kerry's domestic plan, particularly it's focus on health care," he explains. "It has been an issue that has sat on the table for way too long. It needs to be addressed."
Another Minnesotan, Erik Shetney, 33, a manager with a computer-network company who lives in northeast Minneapolis, chose Nader, citing his disgust with Bush's "close association" with the Religious Right, a group he deeply distrusts. "That offends me the most about the Bush Administration," says Shetney. "I support his actions in Iraq and Afghanistan. I think his domestic policy is sorely lacking. I don't like his anti-abortion and anti-gay policies."
Not that Shetney is a big Kerry fan, either. "I believe Kerry is a flip-flipping populist. Kerry and Edwards both will say whatever they have to to win." And he's also deeply distrustful of trial lawyers, citing Democratic Vice-Presidential candidate John Edwards' background as a successful one. Another Kerry disadvantage for Shetney, a hunter and hobby rifleman, is Kerry's pro-gun-control record.
On the way to an Ohio polling booth on Nov. 2, two previously undecided voters from the Buckeye State who we had spoken to cited the same reason for deciding to vote for Bush.
Roe Green, 56, an Aurora (suburban Cleveland) foundation executive who said she didn't much like either candidate, and retired suburban Cincinnati car dealer Frank Labmeier, 85, talked about the benefits of dealing with "the devil you know than the devil you don't know."
Philadelphia waiter George Silli, 65, and Michelle Starling, 34, a Denver hospital administrative assistant, both ended up voting for Kerry. The reason: They were upset with Iraq war spending. "We're throwing all of our money away for other countries," said Silli. "We should be strengthening America. I'm looking out for my six grandchildren."
Starling's husband lost his job as a manager at a digital imaging company last year. The job he found this July in nursing pays $4 less than his old one. I'm not totally convinced Kerry can do better," says Starling. "But I don't think he can do any worse."
Michael Woyach, a psychotherapist from Mequon (north suburban Milwaukee), however, may have made the most radical decision. Sitting down? When he voted early on Nov. 2 in Cudahy, Wis., Woyach wrote in John McCain's name. He says he made his decision about six weeks ago. "I really was disgusted with Bush's inability to be any different about Iraq and Kerry's flip-flopping," he explains. "As I heard John McCrain speak in the campaign, I realized he had the most integrity of anyone in our political process."
Asked if he thought he hadn't thrown his vote away, Woyach says no way. "I was trying to make a statement for the next Presidential election. I was looking ahead. I was pretty sad by the whole process."
All in all, these undecideds present a pretty good cross-section of what's on the minds of Americans this Election Day.
Palmer is a contributing correspondent for BusinessWeek Online