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SPOTLIGHT
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The time has come to pick a side

Published on -10/25/2012, 4:16 PM

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Who are these undecided voters? The one thing that seems clear is there aren't many of them.

The harder question is how anyone who really does plan to vote could still be struggling with whom to vote for.

I always tell my students that for many people presidential elections are a lot like baseball is to me.

I root for the Red Sox. But if they're not going to be in the World Series (sadly, as a longtime fan, that's most of the time), then I don't pay much attention to which teams will be until the very end. And then, for reasons that are not always entirely logical (for instance, damn Yankees), I pick a team and join in the festivities.

It's time to pick a team.

And unlike some years when I hear a lot of "both parties are the same" or "what difference does it make," it's hard to make that case this year. That fact is revealed by the unusually high numbers of people who have made up their minds and aren't about to change them.

This is not an election in which Romney voters or Obama voters are telling pollsters they are still open to switching. Nor is it one in which people have neutral feelings as to the candidate they're voting for. Most Obama voters really don't like Romney, and vice versa.

And unlike some races in which both candidates have moved convincingly enough to the middle that it really isn't that easy to tell them apart, if you watch the debates, even while hitting the kitchen and the bathroom and texting on a frequent basis, you can't help but notice the differences.

Should the top 1 percent pay more in taxes? Should the Bush tax cuts be extended for everyone, or only for those making less than $250,000 (or maybe even a higher number) per year? If 93 percent of small businesses make less than $250,000 a year, is protecting small business a good enough reason to extend the tax cuts to high earning individuals?

Are you for or against a system in which every American is required to be insured, along with the limits on denial of coverage for pre-existing conditions and subsidies for those who can't afford private market prices?

Should folks in their 40s and 50s get a voucher option to Medicare? Will doing so give them more options, or result in the kind of cherry picking that lands the sickest people on Medicare, resulting in cuts to benefits?

What do you think about government support for wind? More drilling on federal lands?

Are you for or against allowing women and their doctors to decide (prior to viability) whether to carry a pregnancy to terms, or should that choice be limited to those who are the victims of rape or incest?

Should government spend more on defense? Romney says no cuts; Obama says the military doesn't want the additional spending Romney is proposing.

Is it possible to offset lower taxes for everyone and higher defense spending with (according to Obama) unstated spending cuts (except for Big Bird and public broadcasting) so that the deficit doesn't grow? Will economic growth be enough to offset those policies? Do you care?

Have the past four years been a step in the right direction on an agenda the president should be given four more years to complete, or are they proof that Obama can't do the job?

Do you blame Obama for failing to reach his goal of lower unemployment, or Bush for leaving him a bigger mess than anyone expected?

Just how disappointed (if at all) are you with the past four years?

Enough?

If you want to accuse me of stacking the deck in the president's favor, my only response is that I'm trying to be fair.

But the larger point is that it's hard for anyone who is committed to one candidate (as I obviously am) to be truly fair in this election, which is why it's so hard to understand how anyone could still be trying to make up their mind.

Economists will tell you ("Freakonomics" has a chapter on this) that one vote doesn't count. But even a relatively small group of voters can make the difference in a close election.

My mother called me in the middle of Election Day 2000 to tell me that a lot of the women in her condo building were afraid they had made a mistake on their ballot. Call Al Gore, she said. Sure, I'm going to call Gore and tell him what my mother said. My mother, may she rest in peace, lived in Palm Beach County, Fla. Sorry, Al.

Susan Estrich is a columnist, commentator and law and political science professor at USC.

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