Political Reporters Decide Which Voters to Interview

Reporters talk with scores of voters in the course of a campaign trip. They describe how they decide which voters to feature in their stories. They search for someone thoughtful, eliminate anyone wearing a pin or holding a sign.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

In Iowa, all the presidential candidates are on the hunt for undecided voters, and reporters are looking for them too.

NPR's Robert Smith and David Greene, who have been crisscrossing the state this week, described the quest in this reporter's notebook.

ROBERT SMITH: I'm Robert Smith.

DAVID GREENE: And I'm David Greene, and we were just sitting here together, watching a Mitt Romney event at a country club in Indianola, Iowa.

SMITH: We probably have, what, like 17 minutes - well, maybe less…

GREENE: Exactly.

SMITH: Before this room clears out, and we have to find voters who are going to appear in our piece.

GREENE: You want someone who is thoughtful, thinking about the race, thinking about who they might vote for, you know, someone who could talk about the pros and cons, about what they heard.

SMITH: So, what is the secret to finding an undecided voter? I mean, I find - first of all, you eliminate anyone who's wearing a pin, holding a sign, trying to get close to the candidate at the end.

GREENE: That's a good com. We've got this kind of scrum of people attacking Mitt Romney. And now, we've got some of the people who were kind of holding back and chatting with friends. And sometimes, you can almost pick up a conversation, do a little pre-interview, so to speak, here if they're kind of saying, well, I didn't like what he said about taxes but I like what he said about Iraq.

So shall we see if we can each find an undecided voter?

SMITH: You know, my main pick would be - and this is an easy call. There was a woman who asked sort of a tough question to Mitt Romney. She asked him how wealthy politicians can basically understand the problems of the middle class.

GREENE: I'm thinking about - there's a woman who just put on her beige and blue jacket, not going after Romney, thinking about walking away right now.

SMITH: Let's go get her.

GREENE: Let's go get her.

SMITH: We're from National Public Radio. Could we chat with you for just a second?

Unidentified Woman: No.

SMITH: No.

Unidentified Woman: No, thank you.

GREENE: What do you do now?

SMITH: We go to the person next to him. Excuse, sir? Are you going to caucus for Romney?

Unidentified Man: I'm thinking about it.

GREENE: Who else are you thinking about?

Unidentified Man: I kind of been leaning towards the Republican side.

SMITH: Sorry to interrupt you, but the person I was going to talk to is running out. I'm going to go after…

Ms. LINNEY PRICE: Linney Price.

SMITH: So, you have kind of a tough question. Are you a supporter of Mitt Romney?

Ms. PRICE: I just want to be open, you know, and I want to make sure I think things through thoroughly, so…

GREENE: So we got some good, thoughtful, people here.

SMITH: I think the debt may be stacked, because in some sense, I feel like Iowa voters, even if they really know who are they going to vote for, are sort of constitutionally required to remain undecided, to keep open mind. That's part of the process.

GREENE: Yeah. Now, you're totally right. I mean, one of the things that has really struck me about Iowa is the number of people who are just taking all the time to think about it before they make up their mind, which makes things really kind of unpredictable and cool.

SMITH: Well, that's fun. It's like being in a Vegas buffet. I mean, you don't just stick with one item. You take everything you can in your plate and decide what to go back for for more.

GREENE: Exactly. I'm David Greene.

SMITH: And I'm Robert Smith. Where are we?

(Soundbite of laughter)

GREENE: Indianola, Iowa, travelling with the Romney campaign.

SMITH: Travelling with the Romney campaign.

SIMON: Robert Smith and David Greene.

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