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Undecided Voters Look To Presidential Debates For Answers

Jose Valdez hasn’t been paying much attention to the presidential campaign and is still undecided about who he will vote for in November. He’s been waiting for the debates to make his decision. He said he wanted to hear the candidates’ positions on key issues.

“I’m looking for something,” said Valdez, a Chicagoan who was on his lunch break in Millennium Park. “I’m not exactly sure what I’m looking for.” He paused. “I’m looking for reassurance.”

In the first presidential debate of the 2012 campaign season held Wednesday, candidates focused mainly on economic and domestic issues.

In Chicago, a Democratic stronghold and residence of President Barack Obama, most voters have made up their minds to bring the president back for a second term. Yet there are still those who are looking for answers. Those undecided voters are who the candidates will be paying attention to in the next few weeks.

Noah J. Kaplan, assistant professor of political science at the University of Chicago, said the debates are most relevant for the 8 to 9 percent of voters who have not yet decided. “This will be an opportunity for them to think about things they haven’t thought about before and gives them confidence in the decision that they will make.”

Kaplan said that on the whole the debates “reinforce perceptions rather than reshapes them.” He said that for those who have made up their minds it’s rare for the debates to change how they will vote.

On the streets of Chicago people seemed to prove Kaplan’s point. Those who are decided will watch the debates to see their candidate win. There is nothing, short of some unforeseen disaster, that could happen in this debate that will change their minds, they said

At Columbia College, Louis Silverstein, who watched the debate while in class Wednesday night, agrees that the events are very important for undecided voters because those are the people who will decide the outcome of this election. For the rest, their experience will be determined by their preconceived notions. “They will see what they want to see,” he said.

“I wanna see Obama win [the debate]. I wanna see what Romney has to say,” said Jevon Vivrette, 36, a fruit vendor with Neighborhood Capital, “I don’t think the debate will change my vote.”

Jay Rubinic, a photographer in Chicago, hopes to see more light shed on to the topics under discussion, but knows that there is nothing that would change his mind about how he is going to vote. “I want to see how our guy stands up against the other guy.”

Outside her office in the loop, Helen Goldasich, who is still undecided, said she would not watch any of the debates coming up. “I don’t think the debates are relevant,” she said. “I’ll read the Wall Street Journal and hear what details the reporters pull out.”

Dan Notvni is another undecided voter who will not be watching the debates. “The presidential debates won’t help me,” he said. “It’s going to be more of the same stuff we’ve been watching for the last few months.”

Kristin Schroeder, 45, who is unemployed, is very excited about the debates. “I always watch the political debates. It’s what I look forward to,” she said. “It’s funny because I call myself a Republican but morally I’m a Democrat.”

“Yes, I will be watching it,” said Robert Nelson, who is a collection supervisor. “I’m undecided; I don’t know who I’m going to vote for, but the debates will help me decide.”

Mike Gaines, who lives in Michigan, is in Chicago for the Federal Plaza Farmers Market where he has a stall, said he will watch the debate but knows he won’t change his mind he said he watches because it’s “good political theatre.”

Jalil McGee, 22, a film student, said he will be watching for the entertainment aspect of the occasion. “I like hearing the arguments on both sides regardless of whose leading the polls.”

Janet Czarnecki, a self-described political nut, knows there is nothing that could happen on that stage Wednesday night that would change her mind. “To tell you the truth, I’m watching to see the other guy choke,” she said.

Eva Quinones, Sarai Flores, Trevor Greig, Brandon Kuesis, Kaitlyn Cubacub, Tatiana Walk-Morris, Karla Venegas, Aaron Bulnes, Jessica Lang, Brian Tabick, Lynsey Mukomel, Michelle Phelan and Trevor Conley contributed reporting.

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