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Inside the Mind of the Undecided Voter

In such a polarizing election, who is having a hard time making up their mind? We talked to five voters who could go either way.

Hoodwinked.

Frustrated.

Cheated.

Screwed.

Sixty days out from one of the most important elections in modern history, in a crushingly divisive political climate, with two candidates who are historically detested—and third-party options, lest we forget, consisting of a starry-eyed Miss America contestant and someone who doesn’t know what Aleppo is7 percent of voters still don’t know what they’re going to do come Election Day.

What they are sure of, however, is how the choice between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump—which should really be called “blackmail,” one voter told me—makes them feel.

It fucking blows.

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In a recent focus group of Wisconsinites who have voted for both a Democrat and a Republican for president, one voter described the predicament with a kind of avant garde poetry: If the 2016 campaign had a smell, the voter said, it would be that of a presumably putrid “skunk’s fart.” Others cited manure, rotting eggs and, just plain garbage.

So what could ever compel them to don a gas mask and vote for one of a slate of insufferable, noxious candidates? What could possibly make up their minds? Five undecided voters explain what they’re waiting for.

Zach Curd, 34, software tester in Detroit, Michigan

There are things that I like about Donald Trump and there are things that I like about Hillary Clinton. There were things I liked about Bernie Sanders, and there's stuff I liked about Marco Rubio. So I'm kind of all over the map.

What I like about Donald Trump, the things that come to mind immediately, are his directness. His ability to call things like he sees it. I like that he’s a maverick kind of guy. And I like Hillary’s experience. I feel like that’s valuable. We had a pretty good thing going in the '90s with Bill Clinton, economy-wise. She's got the experience, and he calls it like he sees it. He's not a Washington person. I know those two things are kind of opposites, but they're appealing on different levels.

With Trump, I’m looking more to see if his campaign gets a little more streamlined and has a clearer message. That would be something that would be more appealing to me. And with Hillary, of course I’d like to see her become a little—if there was something that could happen to make her seem more trustworthy. Those are the big faults I see with both of them. I’m a Mexican American, as well, so that complicates things a little bit with Trump. Some of the stuff that he's said is, like, very clearly racist. But also, Hillary has got some severe trust issues that she’s gotta work out.

Think about everyone that you know. Do you like 100 percent of everything of anyone that you know? No. They’re politicians, at the end of the day.

Kyle Wilmot, 49, senior recruiter in Erie, Colo.

On one hand, Hillary Clinton has obviously a very solid political background, very established within that realm. But what I don’t want to see is the same establishment, the same-old, same-old, to put it succinctly. There’s a good chance we would get the same-old, same-old if she is elected. With Donald Trump, it's just, with the way that he talks, it's very scary to me. I like the fact that he's not been within the political establishment. But a lot of his ideas, and what I've heard, and the way he talks, is just very much—scares me.

I think I’d have to hear a lot more specifics, really, about what he wants to do, how he’s going to do it. From what I’ve heard, he’s kind of hitting the fringes of a lot of things, and not getting too specific.

With [Clinton], it's more about, how can she bring the parties together to gather a consensus to get some of this stuff moving along, instead of always being tied up, nothing ever being able to get pushed through.

I’m registered independent. I voted for Obama. I voted for George Bush. I've voted across both sides, both parties. I'm really for who I think will be the best person at the time. I want somebody that is going to be able to bring D.C. together, and the political establishment together, and be able to do what's right for the country, regardless of the political affiliation.

These debates will definitely be very important to me. Hopefully, they will be more specific about what they’re going to do, how they’re going to do things. What they're going to try to do to make this country better. All of those things.

Politics reporter, 42, Washington, D.C.

I've struggled with this the entire election season. Some days I'm really tortured by it, and some days, it's, like, laughable. But I've never really felt this way as an adult human. And it's really, it's messing with me.

I cannot stomach Hillary Clinton. I just can't get with her. Maybe because I know too much. I find so much of her world hypocritical, reprehensible. I think the rest of the country sort of gives her a pass, like, 'Oh, she's always been attacked by Republicans, it's not that big a deal, email shmemail!' But I'm like, 'WHAT! This is a huge deal.'

And then I also obviously struggle with Donald Trump. The things I like about him are, I believe that sometimes you just have to blow shit up to build it again, and I think that a Trump presidency would do that. But just when I sort of get there with him, like, "Ohhhhhhkayyyy,' he says or does something and I'm like, 'No, I can't!' Like saying, 'What do you have to lose?' to African Americans. Like, WHAT? What?

I think I would just have to sort of give in to my chaos theory of Trump and just hope that he surrounds himself with the right people enough that it's not a total disaster? Or Hillary would have to do a really convincing and honest come-to-Jesus with the media. A real press conference.

I cover this stuff everyday. So for me, four years of Trump, selfishly, sounds a lot more enticing, just because it's going to be a dumpster fire. And a Clinton administration would be more of what we're seeing now, which is carefully orchestrated speeches, behind-the-scenes Wealthy McWealthysons going in and out of the White House, and really horrible transparency with the press.

Gun to my head, I would probably vote Trump, because of my feelings about Hillary, and my, I just want to see what happens. But if I were to talk to you tomorrow, I'd be like, 'Ugh! I've gotta vote for Hillary!'

Matt O’Hare, 28, middle school science teacher in Bellevue, WA

I was a Bernie Sanders supporter. Now I'm kind of stuck. My thing is that a choice between classicism and racism isn’t a choice. It’s blackmail. And that's the choice we've been given, is to choose between Hillary's classicism and elitism, and Trump's brash fascism. So I’m actually torn between Jill [Stein] or Gary Johnson. I see the benefits of both, and that there’s multiple ways to skin a cat. It's just which way would we like to approach it from? Do we want to approach it from an environmentalist/socialist viewpoint? Or do we want to view it as a libertarian, against authoritative government viewpoint? I think the [Libertarian and Green] parties, even though they're so opposite, should join together as a joint ticket to get us out of this problem.

A lot of people [say] Trump's going to be a disaster, Hillary's going to be a disaster. I think they're both going to be disasters for different reasons. And maybe what we need is a disaster. Because maybe people need to start getting actually angry. And maybe this election will be the wakeup call that things need to change.

I always thought, and I feel really conspiracy theorist for saying it, but I always thought that Trump was only running for the express purpose to get Hillary elected. I thought he was a pawn meant to destroy the Republican party and elect someone who is otherwise unelectable. Because people don't like Hillary Clinton.

I feel really cheated in this election, to say the least. I feel like we’ve been hoodwinked.

Cory Crowley, 34, GOP political consultant and former operative for John Kasich’s presidential campaign, West Des Moines, IA

It’s this pickle, right? I’m a Republican, so I would like to vote for a Republican. But Donald Trump doesn’t represent a lot of what I believe in. At the end of the day, when he got into the White House, and kind of felt the gravity of the job, I think he'd probably, I'd agree with him on a lot of issues. But the tone with which he's carried out the campaign I just don't think is deserving of the presidency.

But by the same token, I think Hillary Clinton is completely corrupt, and a self-serving politician, who doesn't really care about the general public, but really just cares about herself. And so I don't want her either. I'm just frustrated. Both parties could have done a lot better, with a lot more talent.

I’ve kind of been of the opinion that whichever the two of them, Trump or Clinton, has kind of the last screw-up, that the other one would get my support. There are some days I wake up and read Twitter and read the news and I think, 'Oh my god, Hillary Clinton's awful, maybe I could vote for Donald Trump,' and then there are some days I listen to what he says, or read his tweets, and I'm like, "Oh my god, he's the worst thing on earth, there's no way I could ever support him." At least Hillary Clinton will be a steady hand, she has a record, we know she won't rock the boat. At least she won't do damage like Donald Trump might.

The Libertarian Party screwed up by putting Gary Johnson in. They had an opportunity this time to put in somebody different, a more serious candidate, and they probably could've gotten a lot of support from both Republicans like me who don't like Trump, and probably some Democrats who either think Hillary's too moderate or just are over the Clintons.

I think it’s going to be a complete gut check in the 11th hour. I'm probably going to wait to vote until like five minutes before the polls close on Election Day. Normally, I vote by absentee ballot in advance. But I think I'm going to go to the polls and literally just keep reading Twitter until the minute I walk in.

Either way, we’re screwed.

These interviews were edited and condensed.

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