Ga.'s undecided voters caught between Trump, Biden and a maddening race

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

In 2016, Cindy Lowrey very reluctantly cast her ballot for Donald Trump.

The Columbus resident couldn’t identify with Hillary Clinton and decided to listen to her husband and friends who said the Republican would be better for the economy.

Four years later, Lowrey regrets that vote but finds her current options less than optimal. And Tuesday’s presidential debate offered little by way of clarity.

“I lasted 53 minutes,” said Lowrey, 60, a retired postmaster. It “did nothing more than turn me off of the entire process.”

With recent polls showing the presidential race too close to call in Georgia, Lowrey is part of a narrowing pool of undecided or persuadable voters — particularly suburban women — whom the Trump and Joe Biden campaigns are fighting over with less than five weeks until Election Day.

Trump has emphasized his economic platform and warned of suburban crime to try winning them over, while nominating a solidly conservative female jurist to replace the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the U.S. Supreme Court. Biden has homed in on health care, Trump’s temperament and the president’s handling of the coronavirus.

Polling shows the increasingly small slice of the electorate over which they’re fighting.

A recent Atlanta Journal-Constitution survey of 1,150 likely voters found that only 4% of Georgians are undecided. A pre-debate Quinnipiac University poll suggested the playing field may be even narrower: Some 97% of Georgians have made up their minds, and only 2% are open to being persuaded.

“No matter what information comes out or what happens I doubt that many people are going to be moved one way or the other, except for this very small percentage of potentially persuadable voters that are undecided,” said Trey Hood, a University of Georgia political scientist who conducted the AJC poll.

Those undecided voters, he said, “could affect the outcome of the election” in Georgia if they break toward one candidate over the other.

In recent interviews with the AJC, several undecided or persuadable voters indicated they’re weighing issues as wide-ranging as health care, foreign policy, climate change and even the Postal Service. Some, such as Lowrey, are moderates who loathe the incendiary rhetoric that’s defined the presidential contest and this week’s debate. Others feel like the two main parties don’t represent their views and are struggling with whether to hold their noses and support Biden or Trump — or vote for someone else entirely.

Consider Bavard Rahdar a part of the latter category.

The 32-year-old Sandy Springs resident was an enthusiastic Bernie Sanders supporter but became disillusioned with the way the Democratic Party treated the Vermont senator in 2016.

“I don’t think either party truly has the interests of the American people at heart,” said Rahdar, who works in information technology and counts universal health care, climate change and police reform among his top issues.

Rahdar is leaning toward casting his ballot for the Green Party or a write-in candidate, but he said Biden could still win his vote if he makes an “amazing grand gesture that really shows good faith.”

The possibility of that happening, he acknowledged, is small. Tuesday’s debate performance did nothing to convince him.

“If Biden can’t promise progressive change as a part of his platform, then at least for myself I can’t vote for him in good conscience," Rahdar said.

Brenda Sevcik, meanwhile, has spent months agonizing over her decision.

The Milton mother of three has always identified as a Republican but prefers a divided government in which Democrats and the GOP check one another and compromise in the middle. That position puts her at odds with her husband, a fervent Trump supporter, and her left-leaning 20-something daughter.

“What makes me sad is I have people I love who are very angry at me for not exactly believing what they do, on both sides of the aisle,” said Sevcik, 56. “I have been told that being a moderate is a dangerous animal, and I need to pick a side.”

Sevcik was undecided in the 2016 presidential race until she entered the voting booth. A devout Catholic, she ultimately backed Trump to ward off the potential of a left-leaning Supreme Court.

But things are different this year. Sevcik feels free to look at other options given the court’s current conservative majority. She became a first-time grandmother this summer, which has elevated issues such as climate change and public health. She can’t stomach the way Trump has rebuffed scientific experts and his inflammatory style, which she thinks is unbecoming of the office of the president. At the same time, Sevcik still believes the GOP still handles the economy better and the Democratic Party often “makes me uncomfortable with their liberal views.”

Last week Sevcik was undecided. But this week she made up her mind. For the first time in her life, she plans to vote for a Democrat for president.

“There are too many instances I have read about (where) I tried to give Trump the benefit of the doubt,” she said. “I can’t do that any longer.”

Jan, a retired teacher, is leaning the other way. She just wishes Trump would “keep his mouth shut.”

“I think he’s insulting at times, too abrasive, but Joe (Biden) I don’t think is strong enough,” the Dunwoody resident, who declined to give her last name, said during a pre-debate interview in the parking lot of a local grocery. She cited the economy and public safety as top issues.

Like Sevcik, Lowrey’s family is also divided. She’s banished talk of politics inside the house to prevent fighting.

She was leaning toward Biden until the recent Capitol Hill hearings with Postmaster General Louis DeJoy. Democrats treated DeJoy unfairly for changes that were in the making long before Trump was in office, said Lowrey, a third-generation postal worker who spent four decades at the Postal Service before she retired.

Lowrey also can’t stand the president’s boastfulness, and she left Tuesday’s combative debate with one thing certain in her mind: that she couldn’t cast another vote for Trump.

Lowrey’s daughter recently told her about the Libertarian presidential candidate, Jo Jorgensen. Lowrey is intrigued but worries voting third-party could help Trump win the election.

“Now it seems like I am going to have to pick the lesser of two evils,” she said, referring to Biden and Jorgensen. “And that is sad.”

AJC poll

The survey was conducted Sept. 11-20 for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution by the University of Georgia’s School of Public and International Affairs. It questioned 1,150 likely voters and has a margin of error of 4.3 percentage points.

Whom do you favor in the presidential election?

Donald Trump — 47%

Joe Biden — 47%

Jo Jorgensen — 1%

Undecided — 4%

Undecided voters, by party:

Democrat — 3%

Republican — 2%

Independent — 20%

Undecided voters, by race:

White — 2%

Black — 8%

Other — 6%

Undecided voters, by age:

18-29 — 7%

30-44 — 3%

45-64 — 4%

65+ — 3%