Undecided voters in Greater Cincinnati struggle to choose between Trump or Clinton

'Both candidates just terrify me'
Posted at 5:00 AM, Nov 04, 2016
and last updated 2016-11-04 16:47:24-04

CINCINNATI -- Terrifying, divisive, morally challenged and lacking in leadership abilities.

That’s how a segment of the U.S voting population describes the 2016 major-party contenders for the White House.

They are undecided voters, people who are unable to make their choice despite 50 primaries involving 17 Republicans and six Democrats, about whom more than 121,000 stories have been written -- according to a recent Google search -- and for whom at least 21 debates were held.

WCPO asked five undecided voters to share their struggle by answering a series of questions, which we converted to a podcast where they discuss where they get their information, what issues are important to them and why they haven’t made up their minds.

We learned that some local voters are undecided not by choice, but by default. They find it hard to believe that a nation of 319 million people has produced two individual candidates they deem so unworthy of their vote.

“No matter who wins, half of America is going to hate their president,” said Chris Groh, an engineering student at the University of Cincinnati.

“Both candidates just terrify me,” said Vicki Prescott of Florence.

"It seems that the most common term in this election that people use is that they're choosing between the lesser of two evils," said Greg Litteral of Burlington. "It seems that we should be choosing between the greater of two goods."

Each of these voters represent key demographics for the political strategists trying to push Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton to victories in Ohio and Kentucky -- which represent 26 of the 270 electoral votes needed to become the next president of the United States.

WCPO asked each of them -- and two other local voters -- to keep video diaries in the weeks leading up to the election to share their thoughts. The audio from those diaries became the basis for WCPO Undecided, a series of podcasts available here

The millennial

Groh, 22, is a St. Xavier High School graduate who voted for Mitt Romney four years ago. But he finds Donald Trump rude, upsetting and “a very hateful person.” He doesn’t trust Hillary Clinton and thinks of Libertarian Gary Johnson as “a throwaway vote.” Where does that leave him? Frustrated.

And, perhaps, a bit atypical, said Dan Birdsong, a lecturer in the political science department in the University of Dayton.

“One of the recent polls that had Trump ahead in Ohio had Clinton winning 58 to 30 percent among voters under 30,” Birdsong said.

But young left-leaning voters were more inspired by Bernie Sanders, so Birdsong said there is a real question about whether they’ll turn out to vote in big enough numbers to make a difference for Hillary Clinton.

“They’re not thrilled about Trump and they’re not overwhelmed by Clinton,” he said.

If voter turnout is low overall but high within the millennial population, Birdsong said, young voters could be very decisive in the 2016 Ohio presidential race.

They’re the sleeper among age cohorts, he said.

But Gene Beaupre thinks millennial voters are more likely to be energized this election than at any other time he can recall.

Chris Groh

Beaupre is director of community and government relations at Xavier University, a longtime political observer and the father of a millennial himself.

"It's everywhere they go," Beaupre said. "I think this campaign, more than I can remember in recent years, touches people's conscience. Sometimes it's not about national policy. It's about the way you treat women or the way you treat your email. But that's gotten to people in a way that global issues don't."

The power of women

Prescott, 58, is a mother of two and a "maw-maw" of five.

"Both candidates just terrify me, and I don't trust either one of them to lead this country," Prescott said in one of her diaries. "I'm very concerned about the direction our country is heading in if this is the best we could do."  

Vicki Prescott (left)

She doesn't vote strictly with one party, and she doesn't like to talk with many family members or friends about the presidential election.

Rachel Creech also kept video diaries for WCPO. Creech, 29, is a mother of two. She lives in Hamilton and studied psychology at what is now Mount St. Joseph University.

Creech said she's undecided because it's still not clear to her what either major-party candidate would actually do for the American people. Even watching the third debate between Trump and Clinton didn't clear things up for her.

"It's just like a dog and pony show," she said. "What are you doing to do for the U.S. citizens? And Donald Trump saying that he respects women. Are you kidding me?"

Both Prescott and Creech represent what will be a critical demographic group of voters for Hillary Clinton, said David Niven, a political science professor at the University of Cincinnati who teaches about campaigns.

"Women are slightly more likely than men to be undecided," Niven said. "This is overall a group that Democrats win, and Hillary Clinton is aiming for a historic win with women voters."

Rachel Creech

But women voters are important to both major-party campaigns, Beaupre said.

"Republican women are high-likely voters, at least historically. So does Trump need them? Yes," Beaupre said. "On Hillary's side, she must turn out as many women as possible. Are there a significant number of Republican women who not only won't vote for Trump but will cross over and vote for Hillary? I don't know the answer to that, but I suspect it's a significant number."

White male voters

There has been lots of talk in this election about how Donald Trump has been able to energize white, male voters -- especially working-class men.

"The people in the white working class who are employed, I think those are the more likely ones to vote," Beaupre said. "But what Trump appears to have been able to do is fire up people who are white, working-class but who aren't necessarily working or they're working jobs that aren't keeping bread on the table."

Greg Litteral

The white men who kept video diaries for WCPO have good, stable jobs that support them and their families. Both have voted Republican in the past, but neither feels good about casting a ballot for Trump.

Litteral, 48, is a "constitutional conservative" who has worked as a customs coating specialist for the same Northern Kentucky company for the past 20 years. He graduated from Dixie Heights High School in 1986 and did not pursue additional schooling. But he has educated himself about politics and feels strongly about the principles he holds.

"I've just matured since the 'Puff the magic dragon' stage in high school when 'everything's happy,' and 'we have to help everybody' to the realities of life," he said. "Ben Franklin said, 'If you want to help a poor person, you need to make them uncomfortable in their poverty.'"

Rick Witte, 57, is a traveling salesman who grew up in Price Hill and now lives in Hyde Park. He also considers himself a conservative but hasn't found a reason to support Trump.

"The two leading candidates running for the office of president seem to have one thing in common, and that is their clear lack of leadership abilities," Witte said to explain why he is undecided. "Where they differ is that Donald Trump has very little understanding of how our democracy works. While in contrast, Mrs. Clinton seems to be an expert at operating in the underbelly of our political system."

Conservative, white males are voters Trump will need to win the White House, local experts agreed.

Birdsong said working-class white males have been Donald Trump’s “bread and butter” in Ohio. It’s a group that’s responded well to Trump’s lack of political correctness.

Rick Witte

“Ohio has a whiter population than the national average and one that is more working class than the national average, so that group can sustain him in a state more than other places that have more diversity,” he said.

But Litteral and Witte fit into a different group of white men that Niven describes, who find themselves more likely to be undecided this election than in years past.

"A lot of those who are undecided are Republican-leaning, but are repulsed by Trump," he said.

Minority voters

Of course, minority voters -- especially African-American voters in Greater Cincinnati and across the country -- will be a critically important demographic in the presidential election, too.

WCPO tried to include an undecided African-American voter in this report but was not successful in finding someone who wanted to be part of the project.

That didn't surprise Niven or Beaupre.

"It's just a layman's point of view, but I think people in the African-American community recognize prejudice and bullying, recognize being mistreated," Beaupre said. "And I think Donald Trump did that on an international stage to Hillary Clinton."

It also could be more difficult for African-American voters to acknowledge publicly that they are undecided during this election, considering the sometimes racially charged tenor of the campaign, he said.

Niven agreed.

"There could be a small amount of Trump shame that would color people's willingness to be out there," Niven said of African-American voters. "It's hard to be undecided about Donald Trump."

No matter the demographic, though, the closer it gets to Election Day, the more difficult it will be for either of the major-party candidates to win over undecided voters, he said.

"The candidates are so well known," Niven said. "What's left for them to say to these folks who represent that rare breed, which is an available vote?"

For many of WCPO's undecided voters, it's not clear if either major-party candidate could say anything to win them over.

Click here to listen to all the episodes of WCPO Undecided, a podcast where undecided local voters discuss their thoughts on the presidential election.

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 -- 9 On Your Side's Kathrine Nero and Chris Riva and WCPO multimedia producer Brian Niesz contributed to this report.