WASHINGTON -- They shrug at President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney. They're in no hurry to decide which one to support in the White House race. And they'll have a big say in determining who wins the White House.
One-quarter of U.S. voters are persuadable, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll, and both Obama and Romney will spend the next four months trying to convince these fickle, hard-to-reach individuals that only he has what it takes to fix an ailing nation.
It's a delicate task. These voters also hate pandering.
"I don't believe in nothing they say," says Carol Barber of Ashland, Ky., among the 27 percent of the electorate that hasn't determined whom to back or that doesn't have a strong preference about a candidate.
Like many uncommitted voters, the 66-year-old Barber isn't really paying attention to politics these days. She's largely focused on her husband, who just had a liver transplant, and the fact that she had to refinance her home to pay much of his health bill. "I just can't concentrate on it now," she says before adding, "If there were somebody running who knows what it's like to struggle, that would be different."
John Robinson, a 49-year-old general contractor from Santa Cruz, Calif., is paying a bit more attention, but is just as turned off by both candidates.
"I'm just bitter about everybody. They just keep talking and wavering," said Robinson, a conservative who backed the GOP nominee in 2008, Arizona Sen. John McCain, but is undecided between Obama and Romney. "There's nothing I can really say that's appealing about either one of them."
To be sure, many of the 1-in-4 voters who today say they are uncommitted will settle on a candidate by Election Day, Nov. 6.
Until then, Obama and Romney will spend huge amounts of time and money trying to win their votes, especially in the most competitive states that tend to swing between Republicans and Democrats each presidential election. Obama and Romney face the same hurdle, winning over wavering voters without alienating core supporters they need to canvass neighborhoods and staff telephone banks this fall to help make sure their backers actually vote.
"It presents an interesting challenge to the campaigns," said Steve McMahon, a founding partner in Purple Strategies, a bipartisan crisis management firm. "Moving to the middle means winning these voters, but it also means creating problems with your base."
Obama has sought to straddle both the left and the middle by announcing policies that expand access to contraception and allow immigrants brought illegally to the United States as children to be exempted from deportation and granted work permits if they applied.
Both issues are popular with his core supporters and centrist voters. The president also is promoting a list of what he says are bipartisan measures that would help homeowners, veterans, teachers and police officers, and he accuses Republicans of causing gridlock by refusing to act on them. It's a pitch intended for independent-minded voters frustrated by inaction in Washington.
Romney has broadened his tea party-infused message from the GOP primary and softened his tone as he looks to attract voters from across the political spectrum.
He abandoned the harsh immigration rhetoric on Thursday when he pledged to address illegal immigration "in a civil but resolute manner" while outlining plans to overhaul the green card system for immigrants with families and end immigration caps for their spouses and minor children. In doing so, he risked inflaming conservatives who make up the base of the Republican Party.
Overall, the poll found that among registered voters, 47 percent say they will vote for the president and 44 percent for Romney, a difference that is not statistically significant.
Those totals include soft support, though, meaning people who lean toward a candidate as well as those who said they could change their minds before November. The poll showed that these persuadable voters are equally apt to lean toward Obama, Romney, or neither, with about one-third of them in each camp.
The survey also showed that these voters are more likely than others to say they distrust both Romney and Obama on the major issues. They are far more likely to think the outcome of the election won't make a big difference on the economy, unemployment, the federal budget deficit or health care.
Party politics and wedge issues have dubious weight with this group. The poll found more independents fall into this category than partisans. The partisans who are persuadable are more likely to be in the ideological middle than either liberal Democrats or conservative Republicans. Seventeen percent of persuadables say they consider themselves supporters of the tea party.
The poll also found that demographically, they are more likely to be members of Generation X (between the ages of 30 and 49) than other registered voters. Many, 71 percent, have not graduated college. They are a bit more likely to have lower incomes than all registered voters. Fifty-two percent of persuadables have incomes below $50,000, compared with 44 percent of all voters.
On other characteristics – gender, religious preference and race – they're split similarly to other registered voters.
The Associated Press-GfK Poll was conducted June 14-18, 2012 by GfK Roper Public Affairs and Corporate Communications. It involved landline and cellphone interviews with 1,007 adults nationwide, including 878 registered voters and 228 persuadable voters. Results for the full sample have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4.0 percentage points. For registered voters it is 4.2 points and for persuadable voters it's plus or minus 8.3 points.
Associated Press writer Philip Elliott and AP News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius contributed to this report.