The persuadables, say the Annenberg folks, are less conservative and more moderate than other Americans, and less likely to identify with either party. Demographically, they are whiter, less educated, less wealthy and less religious than other Americans.
"The survey plainly shows opportunities for Bush and Kerry among the 'persuadables,' the respondents who say they are undecided or who say they have a preference but there is a good chance they could change their minds, said Dr. Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center and of the survey. "But it also shows the difficulties the campaigns will face with this key slice of the electorate."
"Compared to the public generally," she said "The persuadables are less interested in the campaign or in watching or reading news about it and they talk about it less with their family and friends. Persuading them is only one part of the task ahead. First the campaigns have to get them interested, and then keep them interested so they to go out and vote."
"In aggregate, fewer of the persuadables are likely to vote than are those people who have picked a candidate and say nothing can change their minds," she said. "But these people are not non-voters. Two-thirds of them say they voted in 2000, compared to three-fourths of the public as a whole. Both of those figures are certainly exaggerations, since only 54 percent of the public did vote in 2000. But research has found that registration claims are reasonably accurate, and 68 percent of them say they are registered, compared to 79 percent of the general public. So most of them are eligible now, and both parties are trying to register more of them."
The survey focused on 832 persuadable voters in swing states out of a total of 8,314 adults polled nationally during May. The margin of sampling error for those persuadable voters was plus or minus three percentage points. For the whole sample, it was plus or minus one percentage point.
"They are so small a slice of the general public that most polls simply dont reach enough of these target voters to offer much precision about the results," said Adam Clymer, political director of the survey. "But since the campaigns are not spending millions to reach undecided voters in California or Texas, or for that matter those with their minds firmly made up in Ohio or Florida, we thought it was important to look at the attitudes and characteristics of the people whom the campaigns are trying to win over right now with television advertising."
The persuadable voters in the battleground states were particularly gloomy about the economy, now and in the future. Only 14 percent of them, compared to 24 percent of the general public, said the economy was excellent or good now. And only 36 percent of them, compared to 48 percent of the public, thought the economy would be better in a year.
On Iraq, a majority of this key group wanted to bring American troops home as soon as possible. Fifty-two percent favored that course, while 41 percent wanted them to remain until a stable government is formed. In the public as a whole, 46 percent wanted to move out now and 49 percent wanted to stay.
The persuadables in battleground states were also more likely than the public generally to think Bush lacked a clear plan to achieve success in Iraq. They were less likely to think the war had reduced the risk of terrorism against the United States, or to approve of his handling of the situation there, or to approve of his handling of the war on terrorism.