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Undecided Voters Share Concerns Ahead Of First Presidential Debate

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

The first presidential debate will take place in Cleveland on Tuesday night. And with only 37 days left until Election Day, today we hear from a rare and valuable group - voters who are still deciding which major party presidential candidate they'll be supporting in the race. Let's jump right in. Matthew Yocum joins us from Riverside, Calif.

Welcome to you.

MATTHEW YOCUM: Thank you for having me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Zoey Shisler joins us from Tacoma, Wash.

Welcome to you.

ZOEY SHISLER: Glad to be here.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And Mark Miller joins us from Dallas, Texas.

Welcome to you.

MARK MILLER: Hey. Good to be here.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Matthew, we'll start with you. Briefly, tell me how you see yourself politically. Describe who you voted for in 2016 and, in a few words, your views.

YOCUM: First and foremost, I would call myself an Orthodox Christian. And I abstained in 2016. And I would call myself probably a pro-life moderate.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: OK. Abortion is a key issue for you as a voter. How is that shaping your view of the candidates so far?

YOCUM: I don't like Trump. I find most of what he's done personally abhorrent. But the Democrat policies are against abortion.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Zoey, you have voted for both Republicans and Democrats in the past, and you don't have strict party ties. Tell me a little bit about yourself.

SHISLER: That is correct. I am a veteran of the United States Air Force. And during my time in the military, while serving during the Iraq War, I voted Republican. One of the commonalities that I would hear during my time in service was, you don't vote Democrat because they don't give you pay raises. And then once I got out, I voted Democrat, most of the time reluctantly.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Just briefly, what are some of the key issues you're following this time around to determine who you'll be supporting?

SHISLER: I'm very concerned about the general structure of the work people find today. It is unheard of for people my age - I'm 35 - and younger having long-term, consistent work. I'm very fortunate. I work in medical histology, and it is very consistent for me. But I have a lot of friends that do a lot of gig work and part-time and on-call work. And it seems to be more and more common and more and more common people my age living in roommate situations or living back with - home with their parents. I'm also really concerned about the health care industry as a whole and our involvement in the Middle East.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: OK. Mark, you voted for Donald Trump in 2016. Tell me about what drove that vote then, briefly.

MILLER: Yeah. So, like Matthew, it sounds like we share the same identity as being Christians. And that - for me, that least - that really drives a lot of my political views. And I like a good amount of what Trump has done, but I think that his mouth and just his style of leadership has just really caused even more division in the country. For me, why I'm undecided primarily is that I think that it's such a significant amount of lack of leadership and lack of being able to speak to the country, to unify the country.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I want to ask you all about a few issues. The pandemic - Matthew, which candidate do you think will deal with it better?

YOCUM: Yeah. So I think Biden most certainly would handle the pandemic better. I think he would surround himself with people who, at the very least, could help him lead, if not be a better leader.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: OK. Zoey, what about you?

SHISLER: Yes. You know, by comparison, actions matter. And we certainly saw how our current president has dealt with the pandemic. And (laughter) I'd have to say Biden.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: OK. And Mark.

MILLER: Yeah. I agree with both of these guys. I would say Biden. I feel like Trump almost doesn't care what the people around him are telling him. And I feel like Biden won't come across like this isn't that big of a deal and that it's going to go away. I feel like he's going to give it the sense of urgency that it needs to. And he would - he's going to make us feel like he's taking it seriously.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. The economy - Matthew, then Zoey, then Mark. Matthew.

YOCUM: I think a major issue with the economy is the tax cuts that Trump passed. And I think basically, by lowering taxes in the face of this pandemic and the subsequent economic downturn, that really removes a tool of the government to lower taxes in the face of an economic downturn. And so I think there's little help that the government can now do to help boost the economy. I don't trust Trump to act as a good leader with respect to the economy.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Zoey.

SHISLER: One of the biggest problems I had was the bailout bill. It was, like, 2- or $3 trillion - something like that. And it was a lot of money. And a lot of those funds went to some of the biggest companies out there that, in some cases, don't hire a lot of people. And we haven't seen the resulting maintaining of jobs like we were promised. Then we have other countries that continue to maintain a payment to their citizenship.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: OK. Mark - the economy.

MILLER: I'll say I'm undecided. I'll say I'm undecided, specifically in light of the pandemic. I feel like there aren't any easy, quick options. And this is a unique situation.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And I would like to ask you three just briefly about racial justice. Obviously, we are seeing protests across this country regarding racial justice. Matthew, Zoey and Mark again - how do you see that issue?

YOCUM: So I would say I think that there's not enough talking and nuance about this issue. I think - in some respect, what could generally be couched as liberals don't take the destruction and violence very seriously, and they might be willing to just dismiss that or diminish its role. But at the same time, I feel like on the other side, they diminish, like, the effect that, like, just historical racism and just the sort of power the state wields and just how police can act in unchecked ways - there is a sense of a lack of justice.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: OK. Zoey.

SHISLER: When I consider racial justice, believe it or not, very early on, I found I really struggled with trying to understand the subject as a whole. There's a lot of fears there, especially when it comes to the police force. I want a stable, lawful living. But I actually spent time on the Black Lives Matter website reading some of the material that they offer there, and I felt I got educated on some things that I hadn't known previously. There are a lot of roots, I think, in the laws in a lot of places and the behaviors that go all the way back to redlining and Jim Crow. The people who created those laws aren't alive anymore, but the system is still there.

On the other end of it, I'm a legal gun owner. I'm a gun rights advocate. I used to be a liberal member of the NRA. I left them after all this stuff has been going on with them. I, as a gun rights owner, am very concerned that there is a mechanism for a police force to enter my home without knocking, without declaring themselves. And someone dies or gets hurt, and they start digging in my past, starting to look for a reason why it was justified.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Mark, your thoughts.

MILLER: First thing I thought of was, you know, I grew up in a very conservative rural town and heard the talking points a lot of, well, slavery ended 400 years ago, or, you've just got to take responsibility and pull yourself up by your bootstraps. And, you know, I've spent the last 10 years really just seeing how ignorant those statements are.

And that doesn't mean that everyone who's conservative or lives in rural towns believes that or thinks that. But I've spent the last 10 years really trying to understand this issue and speak to my - specifically my African American friends that I have and just saying, hey, what - you know, what's your existence? What's your experience been growing up in America?

We've got to humble ourselves and come to the table and talk to people who maybe we don't see eye to eye with or we just don't relate to. And as far as the candidates, I would like to believe and hope that Biden would do better at this than Trump does.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So let me ask the three of you this, then, Matthew, Zoey and Mark. As is normal in any election, I'm hearing a lot of criticism of the current president. We've - you know, the country has seen his actions for the past four years, and so there's a better idea of what he has or has not done. I am curious to know, if you are undecided, what your concerns are about the Democratic nominee, Joe Biden. Matthew, Zoey and Mark.

YOCUM: Yeah. I would say for me, the chief issue really is about abortion, and everything else would kind of fall under that. So, like, the economy, how we ought to, like, fund different institutions - those are all second-order issues for me. And so the question in my mind with respect to Biden is, does voting for Biden - is it justified because Trump is, like, more of an existential threat to the country?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Zoey.

SHISLER: The biggest thing that I've heard come out from them is, we've got to get Donald Trump out of office. That's not a policy. At the same time, the money that backs him is very concerning. He very much represents the old guard to me. He's been hiding out, and he hasn't really been talking to the public very much.

What it feels like to me is that the Democrats say, people who are progressives or people who are concerned about the environment or health care, jobs or workers' rights - you know, go pound sand 'cause you've got nowhere else to go. You've just got to vote for us. And that's the exact same thing I heard when I was in the military when I was told that if I didn't vote for Bush and the Republicans, I was worse than someone voting for the other side. And that's not a way to live for me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: OK. Mark.

MILLER: Maybe I haven't looked it up enough or listened enough, but I haven't heard a lot of what Biden and Harris actually want to accomplish. I've heard a lot of, we're not Trump. With Biden, I just want him to take a stance on something, and I just feel like his predominant talking point has been, this country needs a new leader. And then, like Matthew said, the abortion issue as a Christian is extremely important to me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That was Mark Miller from Dallas, Texas; Zoey Shisler from Tacoma, Wash.; and Matthew Yocum from Riverside, Calif.

I want to thank you all very much for sharing your views today.

YOCUM: Thank you.

SHISLER: Thank you.

MILLER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.