DecodeDC is following four undecided voters as part of “Voters on the Fence,” a series of stories about people who are struggling to make a decision about which presidential candidate is right for them.
All eyes were on Republican nominee Donald Trump on Sunday for the second presidential debate, including those of DecodeDC’s undecided voters. The three voters on the fence who watched the debate felt the first 20 minutes, when the nominee defended the recently leaked tape that caught him talking about women and boasting he could use his fame to “grab them” where he wants, were the most telling.
“I thought initially [Trump’s] demeanor was so downcast it was kind of creepy. He wasn’t that normal Donald ‘larger than life,’ and I don’t know if that was his game face, or he felt that way, but he was definitely on the defense at the beginning because he knew it was going to come,” said Deb Morrison, 56, from Vevay, Ind., who is deciding between Trump and Clinton. “I definitely got from him, ‘Why did I say this, why do I have to deal with it.’”
Morrison said the tape, which was leaked by The Washington Post on Friday, definitely made her second-guess her leaning towards the Republican nominee, but after doing some digging into other claims of sexual harassment against Trump, she said she didn’t find enough to convince her of wrong doing. Even though Morrison said she has experienced sexual harassment herself on the job — or perhaps because of that experience — she said she didn’t find Trump’s comments shocking.
“I didn’t find a lot out there to back up the fact that he is truly a sexist. I think it plays into, again not having a filter, and I think stupid things come out of his mouth a lot. … I don’t categorize what he said as a sexual assault,” she said. “I think it was highly inappropriate and disrespectful, and for men of power and wealth and celebrity, women tend to allow those kinds of things to happen, and I think that men tend to take advantage of it.”
Morrison found the debate to not be very interesting otherwise, except for Trump’s comments on not paying federal income tax.
“I don’t see that as a problem. The tax codes are there; I would take advantage of them if I could so, too,” she said. “I don’t have an issue with that. He probably pays a lot of corporate tax and other things. I think that was the only area where there was new information from either side.”
Although the debate didn’t provide any shocking moments for Morrison, she said she has now shifted away from Trump and is back to undecided — a place she was before last Tuesday’s vice presidential debate. She now feels her vote will come down to a gut decision on Election Day.
“I guess I am going to look for the candidate who screws up the least. I am so disheartened by that. I don’t like either candidate. I don’t think we have a choice that is a good choice out there.”
Margaret Deluca, 64, of Lakewood, Colo., hasn’t been considering Trump for weeks, and she said his performance at the beginning of the debate was hard to take seriously.
“Trump’s response to his approach to women was just laughable. I was watching it with my daughter and she couldn’t contain it either. It was like painting a house on fire, he just couldn’t get out of it.”
She said that she wasn’t surprised at all by the leaked tape that came out last Friday.
“I only caught the tape briefly, and honestly it didn’t surprise me one bit. It’s just how he is. You kind of expect it from him. It didn’t make him look better,” she said. “I think he lost a lot of votes with that one, with women who might be on the fence. … I don’t know why any woman would vote for him to be honest with you. You’d have to be pretty suppressed.”
While Deluca agrees with Trump’s views on immigration, similarly opposes NAFTA and thought Trump seemed “stronger this debate,” she still had a hard time viewing him as presidential instead of “a third grader on the playground who was tattling on all of his buddies.”
Deluca thought Clinton won the debate hands down and decided she is committing to voting for her, even though she still doesn’t completely like Clinton, saying, “I don’t like all of her policies, but I just can’t see Trump being in office.”
Alon Sendowski, 27, of Prince Georges County, Md., was leaning towards Trump after the vice presidential debate but said the leaked tape on Friday really bothered him.
“The video that came out with Trump was really bad,” he said. “I thought the video was a little much, especially because it wasn’t just an isolated incident, especially for someone who wants to be president. Before they said he was anti-women, and there was never any concrete evidence, and that [video] was pretty big.”
Sendowski said that when the video leaked he thought that might be the end of Trump’s campaign, but was surprised that the candidate held his own at the debate, even though he thought Clinton was clearly in her element.
Now, though, he’s even more on the fence about how to vote Nov. 8.
“In terms of voting, I don’t know if I can vote for Trump. I don’t know if I can vote for Hillary, either,” he said. “I’m not excited about either candidate. I might vote for Hillary just because I don’t want Trump to win.”
He also laments the options that have been put in front of voters this year.
“Hillary pretty much had a free run to the presidency. It just felt really rigged this election. It didn’t really feel like a true democracy. It felt like it was served to us. Not that I’m a conspiracy theorist, but the Republicans having 17 (possible) nominees, and the Democrats only having 2.5, I thought was strange. But it is what it is. As an American, I just really feel like I didn’t have a true say in the election.”
Emily Werff, 38, of Cincinnati, Ohio, who was on the fence when DecodeDC first talked with her in late September, decided on Clinton by early October.
Werff recently told DecodeDC that Clinton “seems really put together. She knows what she’s doing politically. I know she’s got not that good of a past but I think that she does have enough connections and leadership quality to get it done.”
We are interested in talking with other undecided voters, so if you think that describes you, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, and tell us why.