One in 20 likely voters is still undecided, according to polling averages there are three likely possibilities why, and how they could ultimately affect who wins

Hillary Clinton appears to have rebounded in popularity according to a new ABC/Washington Post poll, which shows her leading 47%-45% against Donald Trump. However, another poll from the LA Times shows Trump ahead by five percentage points, so the overall average support for each candidate has remained unchanged since yesterday at a 1.7 point lead for Clinton. Clearly, measures of national opinion are poles apart.

Those top-line horse-race figures are important, but they ignore two groups of voters: the undecideds and those who plan on voting for a third candidate. Tomorrow, Ill look at the Americans who are planning to vote for someone other than Clinton or Trump. Today, Ill take a look at the undecideds.

Back in March, in the midst of primary season, there were a lot more Americans who seemed to be still making up their minds one in 10 likely voters said they were undecided. Since then, that figure has slowly (but not so steadily) declined to about one in 20 likely voters, according to the Huffington Posts polling averages.

Undecided voters
Undecided voters

Nationally, the 5% of voters who claim to be undecided seem capable of swinging the election if they all vote for Clinton, she would win the popular vote, according to polls; if they went for Trump, hed win. Although they wont all swing in the same direction, its worth considering the intentions of these Americans.

As a group, undecideds arouse cynicism (how could anyone in this election possibly be undecided?) and/or skepticism (are they keeping their real votingintention secret?). The Brexit result, where undecided respondents in the UK seemed to make a last-minute decision to leave the European Union, has only deepened suspicion of these voters.

Broadly speaking, there are three possibilities here: 1) the undecideds truly dont know who to vote for; 2) the undecideds dont know whether to vote at all; and 3) they know exactly who they will vote for but dont want to disclose it with nosy pollsters. Ill briefly examine each of these.

1) If individuals havent made up their own minds, its pretty difficult for analysts to anticipate their actions. Some electoral theory suggests that when people arent sure, they opt for the safer option of preserving the status quo as was the case in the 2014 Scottish independence referendum. That would work in Hillary Clintons favor as she would preserve her vote share in states like Pennsylvania that have been Democrat for decades but which now appear to be leaning increasingly Republican.

But voters in 2016 might break with history. A majority of US adults dont trust elected officials (or the media for that matter). The rise of Donald Trump, with his anti-establishment rhetoric, suggests that many Americans may now consider the status quo a worst-case scenario.

2) Turnout will be crucial in this election and there is a real chance that many of these undecideds will simply not show up. In August, survey firm YouGov changed their respondent group to better understand undecideds 14% of their respondents said they would not vote.

Though YouGov did not find a substantial partisan divide among these non-voters, current campaign strategies would seem to suggest that low turnout will work in Trumps favor. Clinton has been repeatedly trying to boost turnout, particularly among minority voters, whom she will need in several swing states. Meanwhile, Trumps campaign advisers have claimed the Republicans strategy is now to suppress Clintons turnout rather than encouraging potential undecideds to vote Trump.

3) Theres also mixed evidence when it comes to understanding whether undecideds are actually secret Trump voters who are hiding their intentions from pollsters. In the primary season, polling averages matched pretty closely with final results in most states. But voting in the primary season and the national election are pretty different partly because the individuals who show up to pick a nominee are more politically engaged voters.

In reality, respondents who say theyre undecided are some mix of all of these three groups. For example, early voting suggests that some black undecideds might decide not to show up on election day. But the geography of being undecided also matters. Thats why Barack Obama visited North Carolina on Wednesday, where he told a crowd: The fate of the republic rests on your shoulders.

North Carolina is worth 15 of the 270 electoral college votes required to win the White House and voters here are deeply split about which way the state should go. Current polling averages show Trump beating Clinton by 0.2 percentage points a meaningless lead because these numbers could be wrong by a few percentage points in either direction.

Only 2% of 992 likely voters in North Carolina said they were not sure who they would vote for in a YouGov poll conducted on 26-28 October. But thats a pretty crude measure of intention. Polls often force respondents to pick a side by starting the question with the words If the 2016 presidential election were held today A later question in the same survey asked voters how certain they were about their choice of candidate; 5% said they might still change their minds and 17% said they probably wouldnt change their minds. Early ballots in the state have promising news for Clinton though they suggest voters in North Carolina are choosing Clinton over Trump.

Read more:

America’s undecided voters: could they swing the whole 2016 election?
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