The XX Factor

The Loneliness of the Undecided Democratic Voter

Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders during a Democratic debate on Feb. 4 in Durham, New Hampshire. 

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

I am a registered Democrat in deepest bluest Brooklyn, and my people are tired. They are war-weary; they are frayed and unfriended. They are stumbling into verbal brawls about Goldman Sachs speaking fees and the exact parameters of the Federal Reserve’s regulatory authority with people on the subway or in the coffee shop or with a guy on Twitter they maybe went to high school with. Steeling themselves, they call hoarsely to their allies in the thin dawn light of the Grand Army Plaza Greenmarket, willing their brethren to fight on just one more day, like Henry rallying his troops before the Battle of Agincourt. They believe, and how they suffer for it.

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I envy them, though, because it is morning in America on the day of the New York primary, and I still don’t know who I’m voting for.

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It’s not entirely clear to me how I got myself into this situation. Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have battled over the course of a year of campaigning, nine debates, and 37 primaries and caucuses. What could there possibly be left to decide? I’m not still weighing the candidates’ policy positions, which strike me as largely similar or the same. I’m not comparing their general-election prospects, which would trouble me more profoundly if the Republicans had yet located a more plausible nominee. (“OK,” you 100 Hillary supporters and 1 million Bernie supporters are saying simultaneously right now, “but what you don’t understand about this race is … ” And I need to stop you there. I’ve read all your Facebook posts. No, I have.)

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Time was, I scoffed at the concept of the “undecided voter,” a mythical person often conflated with the bewildered and drooling “low-information voter.” During the 2012 general election, Saturday Night Live erased any distinction between the two with a PSA in which undecided voters posed hard-hitting questions typical of their ranks, such as “When is the election?” and “What are the names of the two people running—and be specific?” In a 2011 Truthout post, former Republican congressional staffer Mike Lofgren convincingly presented such voters as not just obtuse but as the malevolent mutant mindchildren of the GOP, which, he wrote, actively stokes an “ill-informed public cynicism”: “These voters’ confusion over who did what allows them to form the conclusion that ‘they are all crooks,’ and that ‘government is no good.’ ”  

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I happen to like government and think America should have much more of it, so it’s particularly galling to me that I have become the person I disparaged, the low-information voter, making crucial electoral decisions based on which candidate I’d rather have a beer with or whether I think I saw a picture of them windsurfing one time. Maybe I’ll vote for Bernie because he was so adorable on The View. Maybe I’ll vote for Hillary because she was so charming at Mikey Likes It Ice Cream. Maybe I’ll print out two smiling pictures of the candidates, set them in front of my 17-month-old, and vote for the one whom she adorns with more stickers. 

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Projected winner: Hillary Clinton
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My dithering notwithstanding, I’m assuming—perhaps naïvely!—that any Democrat in her right mind will wholeheartedly support her party’s nominee, whoever that may be, in the general election. I’m also assuming that many Democrats think it’s likely that Hillary will become that nominee, and thus a Bernie vote in the primary will function as an expression of gratitude for how he has nudged the campaign conversation leftward and pushed so hard on his signature issue, wealth inequality. If my assumptions are correct, then a vote in this primary has less to do with ensuring your preferred candidate makes it to the general and more to do with how your vote reflects on you and your identity. Are you a pragmatist or an idealist? Do you want to regulate the corpocracy or pulverize it? Do you want reform or do you want revolution? Do you want the Establishment or the underdog?

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On the last of those binaries, at least in Brooklyn, the script has flipped: Bernie signs vastly outnumber Hillary’s in the windows of Ditmas Park, Cobble Hill, and Park Slope. Over the weekend, a colleague spotted a female Hillary supporter and a male Bernie supporter get into a shouting match after Bernie’s Prospect Park rally and overheard the woman telling her friend afterward, “I know I’m in the minority in Brooklyn, so I feel I have to stand up.” There’s another voting minority, though: the ambivalents, like me. I know there must be more of us out there. We might look like we’re just sucking our thumbs and staring into space, but maybe what we’re really doing is waiting out this little spring squall until we can start preparing in earnest for the big storm ahead.

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