The great mystery of the 2018 midterms is the undecided voter. Even in an era of hyper-polarized and historically divisive politics, as recently as last week, 10 percent or more of voters in critical House races said they don’t know which party’s candidate they’d vote for on Election Day.
Pollsters and electoral history tell us a lot about these undecided voters — they may not wind up voting, and if they do, they often don’t definitively break for one party or the other. Of the undecideds this year, they are more likely to be moderate or conservative, and the majority are women.
But polls can only tell us so much. So Vox reached out to about 30 undecided voters, recently identified as such by respectable pollsters, to ask them what they were thinking a week before Election Day and get a better sense of why they were feeling so unmoored in the current political climate.
We found voters who didn’t fit neatly into any boxes. They worry about health care and border security. They fear how angry the country seems to be, and they put plenty of the blame for that division on President Donald Trump.
One Arizona voter who highly prioritizes a progressive immigration policy wound up voting for the Green Party because the candidate she backed in the primary lost.
A member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said he probably wouldn’t vote because: ”The government persecuted us on the basis of religion so I don’t have any use for them.”
A registered Republican in Colorado who voted for Trump has soured on the president because she worries about the country’s anger: “I don’t think he’s helpful. He’s not a unifier. I wish he was.”
One man in Nevada who didn’t vote in 2014 or 2016 is trying to reengage even as he feels hopeless about our politics: “We all go into this kind of as idiots.”
Here are brief portraits of 10 undecided voters. These interviews were condensed and edited for length and clarity.
Karol Nordstrom, 73, Colorado: “The tenor of our nation is so hateful and ugly”
Nordstrom is a registered Republican who lives in rural Fremont County, to the southwest of Colorado Springs. Trump won the county by 30 points in 2016. Nordstrom voted for him.
Besides “this health care mess” and border security, Nordstrom worries Congress has broken and become unable to fulfill its most routine duties.
But more than anything, she sounds anxious about the divisiveness in the country — and, even as a Republican, she blames Trump and conservative media for that division as much as she blames Democrats.
Why do you feel undecided?
The tenor of our nation is so hateful and ugly, and people are not nice anymore. They’re very open about spreading untruths about each other. It’s everywhere. You listen to the news, the ads come on, and it’s terrible. How do you find somebody who’s okay to vote for? The thing it’s created in me is a real sense of distrust.
How do you feel about President Trump?
He just doesn’t think. I think he wants to be a good person. I don’t know that he’s doing any good for our country. I voted for him. I thought that would be something good. I don’t even know that it’s him. We’ve got such huge problems.
But I don’t think he’s helpful. He’s not a unifier. I wish he was.
Where do you get your news?
I like the Wall Street Journal, but I can’t afford it. I listen to CBS, but they don’t like the president and a lot of their stuff is skewed. But they do give some information.
Fox News, I used to like them. But they’re part of tearing down our country, I think. They can get you all worked up about nothing, and it has nothing to do with anything.
Brian Murray, 42, Virginia: “The ads seem to be trying to scare seniors for both parties and I don’t like that”
Murray has lived in the suburbs of Richmond, Virginia, for 20 years. He’s always favored Republicans, but over the past six years he’s sensed himself shifting away from the party. And this year he’s not sure who he’s going to vote for.
Virginia’s Seventh Congressional District has been represented by Rep. Dave Brat (R-VA) since 2014, and has a strong conservative history. But this year, the congressional race is a total toss-up between Democrat Abigail Spanberger, a former CIA operative, and Brat, who rose to power in a stunning primary upset, ousting Eric Cantor.
Murray, who prioritizes jobs, doesn’t hear anyone talking about the issues he cares about — he just sees the mudslinging.
Why are you undecided?
I don’t like the ads. The ads seem to be trying to scare seniors for both parties and I don’t like that. It’s just an uncomfortable thing.
They are just trying to scare each other, by saying the other will cut Medicare, take medicine away from seniors. They’re just trying to scare people — and I don’t like that.
What’s the most important issue for you?
To me the most important issues are to keep everyone employed. Keep everyone working and making money. That’s really important to me. Nobody seems to talk about that at all.
Guy Jessop, 36, Arizona: “I don’t think that me voting is going to fix anything”
Jessop, a small-business owner in Colorado City, Arizona, thinks the government went off the rails a long time ago, and he doesn’t see his vote changing things that much. He identifies himself as “independent from all others,” though he notes that he’s leaned Republican in the past.
Colorado City is part of the Fourth Congressional District, which covers an expansive western section of the state and is heavily Republican. It’s currently represented by Freedom Caucus member Rep. Paul Gosar and went for Trump by more than 39 points.
Jessop is a member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — a religious sect that broke from the Mormon Church — and notes that much of his negative sentiment toward government stems from institutional efforts to seize the church’s land.
“The government persecuted us on the basis of religion so I don’t have any use for them,” he says. “When we can come back to the principles of religious freedom, then we can probably get somewhere.”
Why do you feel undecided?
Where did we lose the Constitution at? It’s gone. I don’t think that me voting is going to fix anything. I don’t think voting is going to fix anything for anybody.
How do you feel about President Trump?
You know, he’s done a lot of good things. I can’t say he’s done anything wrong as far as anything he’s done. The economy’s positive. He’s done a lot of good things there.
Why aren’t you planning to vote this cycle?
Because I have other things for my life to do.
Sharon Cortez, 78, Arizona: “Sometimes I don’t make up my mind until the last minute”
Sharon Cortez is an independent from Phoenix who’s voted for both Republican Sen. John McCain and Democrat Hillary Clinton in the past. She notes that she leans Democratic but doesn’t really pick her candidates along party lines. Instead, her top two considerations are health care and veterans issues, given her husband’s five tours in Vietnam.
“My husband is 100 percent disabled from the military, so when they have a candidate talking about how they are going to react to medical issues, I listen to that real well, she says. “[Republican Rep. Martha] McSally seems to be a little less inclined to support military disabled and even people with preexisting conditions.”
While she was previously undecided on the Senate race, Cortez has already submitted her ballot for this year’s election. “I did not vote for anyone who endorsed Trump. I’m not a fan of his,” she says.
Why were you undecided?
I vote based on who it is that’s running and what I heard them say. And sometimes I don’t make up my mind until the last minute. I like to get the most knowledge I can and make my decision at the time.
What do you think of Trump?
I don’t like him. I don’t think he’s a very feeling man. I think he sees dollar signs and looks at how he can make more money. He’s not too interested in taking care of the country as much as he is in taking care of Trump.
What do you think of the Democratic and Republican Parties?
I don’t think that they’ve accomplished so much. I don’t think it’s necessarily because they are Republican or Democrat. They’re not working together for the betterment of the country. I think they’re too party-oriented.
McCain was more of an independent than straight party-line person. That’s the kind of person I like to see in office. I’m not interested in the ones that carry their Republican placard and their Democratic placard and they can’t see anything else.
Julian Hart, 43, Nevada: “It’s not like I’m angry at somebody”
Hart isn’t registered with either party and didn’t vote in 2016. He also didn’t vote in the 2014 midterms and remembers “not being interested” in politics that year.
He was previously undecided mostly because, he says, he hadn’t yet done his homework. But over the weekend, after educating himself, he went in to vote early and pulled the lever for Democrats.
What are the particular issues that are most important to you?
It’s hard to tell whether people are liars, but if people are bending their truths all the time, I think there is enough fact-checking out there where you can tell if a person does that or not.
We all go into this kind of as idiots. Some of us read as much as we can. It’s hard for me to really know whether the person will be able to technically execute their position. That’s I guess what I’m going for.
I probably lean toward socialist infrastructures. So somebody who’s overtly trying to burn down a social safety net, it’s hard for me to want to support that person.
How do you feel about the Democratic and Republican parties these days?
I feel hopeless. I’m trying to participate because I haven’t really been a big participator in my life. I’m trying to do a better job of engaging.
I have no idea what structures are going to persist, political and otherwise. There seems to be very, very intense crazy changes that are coming around to civilization, and I don’t know that any politicians are going to be able to navigate us through the waters.
Denee Rodriguez, 48, Arizona: “I feel like corporate America has taken over our government”
Rodriguez, who lives in Surprise, Arizona, near Phoenix, is a diehard progressive Democrat in one of the reddest parts of Arizona, a dynamic that she’s well aware of. “In 2014, in my district, we didn’t have anybody in the Democratic side for most of what’s available,” she says.
This year, however, things are different. “We’re really excited in my district because we have a lot of progressive Democrats and this is the first time we’ve had Democrats in every box,” she says. Surprise is part of Arizona’s Eighth Congressional District, which backed Trump by 21 points.
Rodriguez wasn’t exactly undecided about many of her ballot picks, but she grappled with the Senate election for a bit after her candidate didn’t advance in the primary.
She is a huge proponent of immigrant rights and had mixed feelings about Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, the Democratic nominee who’s voted with Trump on several immigration bills. Rodriguez says she ultimately decided to go third-party.
What are some of your most important issues?
My top one is immigration because it affects my family on so many different issues. Number two is Medicare-for-all. I’m 100 percent for the Medicare-for-all bill and what they want to drop in Congress after the election. It would be extended to anybody who resides in the US regardless of their status. My third one is probably the education issue that’s going on here in Arizona.
What do you think of the Democratic and Republican Parties?
I feel like there are some good people in the Democratic Party but I feel like corporate America has taken over our government. I wish we had a third party that could be a contender in the race because I think it could reflect what the population wants.
Juan Molina, 78, Arizona: “It doesn’t make any difference who’s up there”
Molina is a retired Republican veteran in Apache Junction, east of Phoenix, Arizona, and he’s had it with the negative campaign advertising and what he sees as “narcissistic” politicians on both sides of the aisle. Apache Junction is in the state’s firmly Republican Sixth Congressional District, which supported Trump by nearly 10 points.
Molina is fed up with both parties and says he took some time to land on a final decision for the Senate race, given his skepticism of how much one candidate can accomplish anyway.
“They can’t do anything by themselves. It doesn’t make any difference who’s up there,” he says.
How did you decide on who to vote for in the Senate race?
I didn’t vote for either one. I went for the Green Party. They cut each other so much. I wish they would just talk about themselves. The way I saw it, one is dirty and the other one is nasty.
Why do you vote?
I vote because it’s a public duty. It’s somewhat of a fallacy because we don’t vote for the people, we vote for the [Electoral] College. You vote for somebody and somebody else wins.
How do you feel about Trump?
I like him. The reason I like him is because they don’t like him. Because he’s not a cultured politician. He’s a businessman. And a businessman being a politician is like a mile runner trying to run and win a marathon.
George, 72, Nevada: “With the Democrats, they’re at least stating what their plan would be”
George (who declined to provide his last name) is an independent voter who lives in Henderson, Nevada, one of Las Vegas’s biggest suburbs. He is a registered independent, who says he voted for George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton for president. He was previously undecided in the 2018 midterms, though he says he has since gone to polls and voted largely for Democrats.
While he likes to be bipartisan, George said he was breaking for the Democrats this year over two issues: guns and health care. Las Vegas was the site of the worst mass shooting in US history last year, and even as a gun owner, George worried America is too captive to the National Rifle Association.
Why were you feeling undecided and how did you make up your mind?
The closer we came to actually going and voting, not a lot was changing with the major issues like insurance and some form of gun control.
I have my own weapons, but I believe we need to put guns in the hands of good guys and have some type of testing to get it out of the hands of bad guys. We’re becoming governed by the NRA and gun manufacturers. Of course, we had the largest disaster in United States history right here in Nevada, and we’re still doing things the same old way.
What are the most important issues to you?
Health care is right up there, almost at the top of the list. The thing about it is, nobody from the conservative side is coming forth with a map. “We’re gonna do this, we’re gonna do this.” They’re saying nothing, which is very, very dangerous.
When Republicans start talking about potentially canceling the present insurance and giving you vouchers, that’s just a way for them to charge you for preexisting conditions and our country is gonna be in deep trouble if that happens.
Glenn Geiger, 50, Nevada: “I would be in a world of hurt if I didn’t have Medicaid”
Geiger, an independent, is Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV)’s worst nightmare. The last time Heller was up for reelection was 2012, and Geiger voted for him because he liked how bipartisan the Republican senator was.
But after Heller voted with Senate Republicans to overturn the Affordable Care Act, Geiger says he will not vote to reelect the senator. Health care is one of his most important issues — he’s on Medicaid and both of his parents are on Medicare and Social Security, two programs he’s afraid Republicans will try to gut. He doesn’t know a lot about Heller’s Democratic challenger Rep. Jacky Rosen, but he wants to send Heller a message; stand up to Trump and your party, or face the consequences.
“If he had gone up against Trump and voted against the health care bill that got beat by McCain, I would probably vote for Heller again,” Geiger told Vox.
Do you consider yourself undecided?
For the most part I’m probably going to go Democrat in this race. I try to be independent; you want to be a centrist, but both parties tend to go so far to the base that they’re not worried about the center. There are some things I’m conservative about, and there are some things I’m more liberal about. Right now, the way things are, especially with health insurance, I would have to stay with the Democratic side.
How have you voted in the past?
I almost voted for Trump, just because I thought that the House and Senate might go Democrat. But then I didn’t, which I’m glad I did not vote for him.
I don’t want to say he’s lied, but a lot of things he did say he was going to do, he hasn’t done. My mom was born in Juarez [Mexico]. I’m a first-generation immigrant, let alone a Mexican American, and he’s doing everything he can to keep Mexicans and Latin Americans out.
It seems like you are concerned about the Republican vote against the Affordable Care Act?
Not just that, I’m 50. My parents are retired, they use Social Security and Medicare. And not just them, it’s a nationwide thing that if Republicans get control and they try to get rid of Medicare and Social Security, I don’t think they realize what they’re doing to the nation.
Maria Valtierra, 54, Arizona: “I didn’t vote for any of the popular ones. I voted for the Green Party.”
Valtierra, a Democrat in Yuma, Arizona, says that social security and health care are her top issues, but notes that negative advertising drove her to vote for the Green Party candidate in the state’s Senate race.
Yuma is situated in Arizona’s Third Congressional District, a Democratic-leaning district that sits along the US border to Mexico and is currently represented by Democratic Rep. Raul Grijalva. Valtierra isn’t happy with Trump’s presidency, but she wasn’t particularly inspired by either Kyrsten Sinema or Martha McSally as a Senate option, either.
“I wanted to stay away from both of them because neither of them had good things to say for the elderly and social security,” she notes.
Who did you end up deciding on for the Senate race?
I didn’t vote for any of the popular ones. I voted for the Green Party. I didn’t like any of the two. I didn’t like McSally and I didn’t like the other one. I saw how bad the propaganda was for both of them.
What are your top issues?
I depend on Social Security a lot. I’m disabled and I’ve been on Medicare for many years.
My husband is wondering if Medicare will even be around when he’s due to receive it. We worked all our lives to receive it and they want to take it over.
What do you think of Trump?
I really think President Trump discriminates a lot against Mexican people. He’s voiced that we are like animals to him, we’re not even human beings to him. I feel really bad, he’s very racist. He doesn’t support people who have worked really hard and we do it for low pay, too.