Indecision is part of life, but it's mystifying why it continues to be such a significant part of the presidential election process.
For six months national polls have consistently shown that over 12 million people, remain "undecided." In fact data from the CBS News/New York Times poll indicate 12 percent now claim to be undecided compared with six percent in June.
Undecided! A less kind but more fitting term would be comatose.
A sorry aspect of our election system - other than the fact that U.S. voter participation ranks embarrassingly low among the world's democracies, and that our modern campaigns take far too long - is that the chief executive is essentially picked by the laziest, least informed segment of the citizenry. This year, more than any in recent memory, being "undecided" is both unfathomable and unacceptable.
"Swing voters" are bad enough. With approximately 40 million people registered as independents, it's safe to assume many of them are prepared to swing from one party to the other in any given election. But at least by now they have presumably made up their minds.
Undecideds, on the other hand, simply don't know - or enjoy telling pollsters they don't know - which candidate they prefer. And the news media adore these people. After all, they are what the election is all about: voters who must be wooed, interviewed, and then interwooed relentlessly until election day.
CNN asked self-proclaimed undecideds, "Why?" Bob Sheppard of Philadelphia, explained, "To be honest, neither (Obama nor McCain) is worth the vote I will cast." Equally articulate was Roy Crisp of Durham, North Carolina, who said, "I'm really at a loss who to vote for." And Nicole Baugh of Dublin, Ohio, who believes neither candidate is qualified and will therefore probably not vote at all.
When the first presidential debate is held next week, TV outlets will continue a practice started during the primaries by rounding up a batch of publicity-seeking know-nothings and giving them electronic gadgets with which to "react" to every word the candidates say. These voters, who have been without a meaningful reaction through 18 months of nonstop campaign coverage, will be called upon to tell the nation who seems "sincere," "believable," and most important, who has "a good plan."
Counting their votes is punishment enough for society; listening to them analyze the race is more than most of us can take.
Adding to the folly of the undecideds is the simple fact that the U.S. is more than ever a government of parties not people. Opinions may differ about what to do in Iraq, how to repair the economy, and where to drill for oil, but party lines are quite clear on these issues - and even more solidified when it comes to abortion rights, tax breaks for the wealthy, and other fundamental questions facing government.
Yet "undecided" voters continue to dwell on whether Barack Obama is a "celebrity," or whether John McCain is too old for the job. Shades of personal differences may have had limited relevance during the primaries, but they are now quite beside the point.
Perhaps a better system for America's electoral process would be for each party to issue a written statement on a dozen key positions - a simplified platform. On Election Day, voters would select a party. And two weeks later, delegates from the winning party would meet to choose a president.
It's likely that many of the befuddled undecided voters would form a clearer conclusion if personalities were removed. Britain's system, although more cumbersome, utilizes some elements of this approach.
But since election reform - certainly on such a sweeping scale - is not on the horizon, it would be useful if media paid less attention to the ramblings of undecided voters between now and Nov. 4. To the extent undecideds must be interwooed, it might help if they were required to answer a few questions, posed by someone using a bullhorn at close range:
Letterman or Leno? Original or crispy? Paper or plastic? Tastes great or less filling?
Any would-be decider who can't answer all questions within 30 seconds gets voted off the island until 2012.
© Peter Funt. This column first appeared in The Monterey Herald.