Candidates ramp up aggressive tactics to win undecided voters, professors say

USF professors hypothesized about strategies, wedge issues and battleground states Floridians could see in the last week of the campaign. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE

With only about 2% of voters left undecided, the upcoming week is make or break for the presidential candidates in an election which is bound to be eventful, to say the least. As a way to sway this group, USF professors anticipate state hopping and advertising antics as Election Day gets closer.   

President Donald Trump and former Vice President and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden took to the debate stage one final time Oct. 22 which, according to Joshua Scacco, associate professor in the Department of Communication, did little to impact future election results. 

“Debates don’t really influence vote choice as much as they potentially mobilize the respective supporter bases to get out and vote,” he said. 

At the time of the debate, 47 million Americans had already voted, according to data collected by the United States Election Project. This same organization reported a total of 139 million voters in 2016, leaving potentially 92 million voters who had not cast their ballots prior to the debate. 

Only 2% or less of these voters are actually undecided, according to a survey commissioned by online news outlet Florida Politics that asked 2,527 likely voters where they stood on either Biden or Trump. For those who are still undecided, professor in the Department of Government and International Affairs J. Edwin Benton said the last debate may have actually made a difference.

“I think those people who wait until the last minute are the headier, if you will,” he said. “They want to wait to gather as many facts as possible in order to say, ‘I have assembled everything there is to help me make a decision.’ 

“To a degree, they found something of substance, good or bad, about the candidates [in the debate] and I think it may be the last opportunity they had unless something unusual happens in the next seven or eight days.”

The remaining undecided voters, according to Benton, could decide the results of the election.

“In a close election, even with most people already voted, they could be the critical decider in states where the vote is going to be so close,” he said.

The path to swaying these voters is clear to some professors, and it largely begins with television, according to senior instructor at the Zimmerman School of Advertising and Mass Communications Wayne Garcia.

“We are going to see more effective attacks, more pointed attacks and more brutal attacks,” Garcia said. “That will be mainly through television commercials.”

This will be a result of massive campaign spending from both candidates, according to Garcia.

“There is going to be hundreds of millions of dollars spent in the next 10 days to convince a very small amount of people to vote,” he said. “The world of broadcast television station ownership is just ecstatic because they are making so much money.”

Scacco said the aggressiveness of the advertisements will tone down as we approach the final few days of campaigning.

“We are almost outside the window now for the really negative contrast advertisements and we are now entering that particular phase where candidates are going to continue to try and mobilize their bases,” he said. “One of the ways in which to mobilize their bases and give them something to vote for is to put out positive advertising.”

Another major way both candidates will be attempting to reach their supporters, according to Garcia, is traveling to battleground states.

“Most of the states are pretty solidly red or blue, so this is a campaign for five or six states, and in those five or six, only for people who vote,” Garcia said. 

Those states will most likely be Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, Georgia, North Carolina and Arizona, according to political science professor Steven Tauber. These states are considered swing states because they vary each election in terms of what political party they lean toward. In order to win the election, candidates have to focus on winning these states to get the number of delegates they need to win the Electoral College. 

Over the weekend, both Trump and former President Barack Obama traveled to Florida to campaign in hopes of winning the swing state. Trump cast his own vote in Florida on Friday following a rally in Pensacola and a visit to The Villages. 

“The road to Florida is going to be a beaten path over the next eight or nine days,” Benton said.

Trump held a rally in The Villages, connecting with many members of Florida’s senior citizen population, which was an important strategy, according to Benton.

“If the president doesn’t do as well winning senior citizens as he did four years ago, that could make the difference between him winning and losing Florida,” he said.

Benton said that Trump is losing senior citizen votes because of his administration’s handling of the pandemic.

In a survey of 600 Floridians by USF researchers Scacco, Stephen Neely and Elizabeth Strom, both associate professors in the School of Public Affairs, 26% said the handling of the pandemic was the main deciding factor in their choice of candidate.

Tauber agreed that COVID-19 is going to be a major issue dictating who gets the remaining votes of those undecided all the way up until Nov. 3.

“I think the one issue that is still in play is going to be the pandemic, and it seems to be getting worse by the day,” he said. “It is going to put the president in a tough spot. This is where I see the late-breaking voters saying, ‘He keeps saying we’re rounding the curve but it is just getting worse.’”

Historically, late-breaking voters will lean away from the incumbent or the incumbent party, according to Tauber. Now, as Trump loses senior citizens, he has to find new groups to make up for that loss.

“I understand that what the Trump strategists are attempting to do is to offset what they know is going to be a drop-off in votes for him from senior citizens and make up for it with Cuban Americans,” Benton said.

Once Election Day arrives, Scacco said it is important to remember there may not be a winner announced right away due to states like Pennsylvania and Wisconsin not being able to count mail-in ballots until Nov. 3.

“We might not have a winner on Election Day, and that is OK,” he said. “There is nothing that says the winner has to be crowned on Nov. 3.”

Regardless of whether or not the results are announced on Election Day, Garcia said that people must come together after the winner is announced.

“This is a decision the country will have to live with for four years,” Garcia said. “I am hoping that after the election that, no matter who wins, we can figure out a better way forward than we have in the last four years. 

“As a society, we have a lot of work to do.”