GAMBIER — Knox County has 21,985 undecided voters, those with no party affiliation. This number includes independent voters who may vary in their voting habits on local and national issues, and on whether the vote will be cast for Democrat or Republican candidates.
Officials at the Knox County Board of Elections said the number of registered voters changes daily, and the number of undecided voters will adjust after the May 4 primary. Currently, the number of registered voters claiming affiliation with the Republican party are 8,875; for the Democratic Party, the number is 8,677.
“Lots of Americans are Republicans, lots of Americans are Democrats, and lots of Americans are in-betweens,” said John Elliott, political science professor at Kenyon College.
One of the reasons the in-betweens, also called swing voters, may be undecided is their partiality to particular policies. They may swing their votes depending upon which issues the parties are addressing at the time of the election.
“And in some degree, this affects which level of election [the in-betweens] will vote on, which level of office, and which issues are the most prominent at the time,” said Elliott. “They can be split ticket voters that may vote for a Republican for president but a Democrat for Congress, or the other way around, depending what they think are the best array of people to serve their differing ideas.”
Adapting has been a key reason the two main political parties have been able to survive for so long, but it’s not the only reason, according to Elliott, who said political parties can differ from city to city, state to state and even region to region. They do, however, carry a semblance of congruency on the national level that links them together as a whole.
“What Democrats are like in Knox County is not the same as what Democrats are like in Chicago, or Nebraska, or Los Angeles, and the same is for the Republicans,” said Elliott.“So we have again the same two parties every where in the country that have to adapt to the area, but since the parties partially come from the bottom up, they naturally adapt to the kinds of people that are living in Los Angeles, or the kinds of people living in Knox County.”
This diversity is particularly reflected on national levels, such as in Congress, Elliott said, but can present a challenge.
“Because they have people [in Congress] from California, Wisconsin, Mississippi, and Connecticut, their views can vary,” said Elliott.
With the number of issues and public offices that can be on a ballot, having a party affiliation can make a difference. When uncertain, some voters, Elliott said, are inclined to decide on the party in which they have the most interest.
“For swing voters it can be preference — whose candidates do I like most of the time or agree with most of the time,” he said.
“How many voters know something on every person they are voting on? None,” he continued. “No one knows a lot about every candidate on every office, so parties are used, for what some people say as a crutch or as a cue for a weak partisan: ‘If in doubt, I vote for the candidate of my party,’ or ‘If I don’t know anything, I’ll vote for the candidate of this party.’ This is very helpful for some, but for those real independents who don’t like either party, it can be really hard.”