Lyons: Journalists can’t decide on indecision

No one’s perfected it, but as the presidential election approaches, many journalists try to get inside the minds of not just independent voters but undecided voters.

Yes. It’s as creepy as it sounds.

Meanwhile, it’s one thing to be an undecided voter in July or even August. It’s quite another to remain undecided by mid-October, but here we are and at least news networks are telling us that they’ve been able to corral them into an Ohio conference room.

How do they find them? Do they microchip people on airplanes who stare straight at the back of the seat with hands empty of reading material? Is it the guy in front of you at the convenience store who takes 10 minutes to select a scratch-off ticket or the woman at the drive-thru paralyzed by the conflict between french fries or onion rings?

So many questions come to mind, the key one being: You don’t know who you’re voting for in the presidential election, but you’ll gladly sit in a chair for 90 minutes and let TV producers hook you up to electronic doohickeys so the nation can watch your brainwave activity?

Like the flat-line brainwaves of undecided voters watching candidates discuss the finer points of tax codes, mine go flat when commentators begin speaking pre- or post-debate, so it doesn’t really matter what network I watch.

I happen to have been watching CNN, slightly delayed on DVR while my children at least provide the illusion of sleep.

Part of me doesn’t want to watch the squiggly lines across the bottom of the screen, yet I can’t look away. That’s mostly because journalists know that in theory those squiggly lines that often rise and fall based on little more than well-exhaled blasts of hot to tepid air represent how the next four years of the nation will be determined.

In a close race, undecided voters in swing states are the ultimate replacement refs who want to drag the rest of the country out of their respective locker rooms and back onto the field.

They have the power to deal an ace on the river for the nut flush at the poker table. These voters are the ones who determine whether you even have the option of getting fries with that.

So journalists try, and often fail, to determine what gaffes, sound bites, body language or campaign style or substance will push these voters one way or the other because it’s vital to predicting the outcome of the election. A worthy goal but a nearly impossible task.

We’re generalists. It’s obvious that most of the world is divided into camps, which is what makes these creatures so vexing. The camps simplified things for journalists, but out of laziness, we’ve oversimplified the world we cover. We often miss the subtleties and some waste time on who scored a point in a 10-second exchange that is little more than semantics.

As important as the minds of independent voters are in a tight election, it might be the case that foresight is blind and hindsight sometime in November will be 20/20.

• Kevin Lyons is news editor of the Northwest Herald. Reach him at 815-526-4505 or email him at

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