In Pennsylvania, few are undecided but many are turned off

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Allentown (United States) (AFP)

In the heart of Pennsylvania, a key battleground state in the race for the US presidency, few people have yet to make their choice between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

But the badly tarnished images of both candidates are weighing heavily as Election Day nears.

Nearly every voter seems to have a preference in the November 8 election, even if some have belatedly switched camps. But a significant number say the choices before them are so poor that they cannot bring themselves to vote.

Kuri Edwards, a young black woman, had not planned to vote. But she recently decided to support the Democratic candidate Clinton.

She said that while everyone in her family was "on the fence," she hoped to change their minds.

"I said to them, if not voting is worse than voting for one or the other, you have to vote. I'm trying to change it."

Meantime, Susan, a passionate Trump supporter who declined to provide her last name, said she had "very good friends that were Democrats that turned over to the Republican side within the last month or so."

She had joined with a few dozen other Trump supporters to create a "flash mob" on the main square of Allentown, a mid-sized city that was known for its busy factories and prosperous blue-collar workers before the huge steel mill in nearby Bethlehem closed its doors.

Susan, a retiree, carried a poster with the words "Deplorables for Trump," evoking the dismissive phrase Clinton once used to describe some Trump supporters as racist, sexist or xenophobic (Clinton later said she had been "grossly generalistic").

Angrily, Susan noted that people in a passing car had just called her group "Nazis."

Indeed, the reactions of passing motorists to this impromptu gathering reflected the sharp polarization of this vitriolic election year: some gave approving thumbs-ups, some offered just a raised middle finger, some honked their horns in supportive fashion, and some shouted anti-Trump obscenities.

Frank Behum, who spent 32 years working as an electrician for the giant Bethlehem Steel plant before retiring, said the choice was not ideal. Still, "You've got to pick the lesser of the two evils here."

Even if he believes that both candidates are "in the back pocket of Wall Street," he plans to vote for Clinton; he calls Trump "the village idiot."

Behum said he knows that a significant number of former steelworkers and other blue-collar locals have thrown in their lot with Trump -- though they are in the minority, he believes -- because the Republican billionaire has promised to bring jobs back to the area, 21 years after Bethlehem Steel left town.

"People are so fed up with the gridlock in Washington that they're willing to grasp at anybody who tells them what they want to hear," Behum said.

- 'A lot of anger' -

"Many people seem to be voting against a candidate," said Charlie Dent, a Republican member of Congress whose district includes Allentown and Bethlehem.

Dent has already announced that he will vote for neither Trump nor Clinton, angering many in his own party.

Dent himself faces a difficult re-election fight on Tuesday. As a Republican congressman in a mainly Democratic district, he has little room to maneuver.

But he says that most people understand his stance, "because most Americans feel as I do."

"Our country has a lot of anger and frustration that's very real," he said.

The election Tuesday is unlikely to change that, Dent cautioned, adding that "the next president will probably be the most unpopular president we have ever elected."

Despite the closing of the steel mill and a recent wave of layoffs at a local Mack Trucks plant, the area's economy is actually doing fairly well, with an unemployment rate of just 4.9 percent, slightly below the national rate.

But many of the newer jobs, particularly in the shipping and logistics sector, pay poorly, and people are not really feeling the recovery, Behum said.

Given this gloomy picture, what matters Tuesday may be less any effort to win over undecided voters than to ensure that people turn out to support their own party.

"Some people," turned off by the sharply negative rhetoric from both sides, "are just going to tune out" and not vote, said Tom Carroll, who has organized dozens of flash mobs for Trump.

He thinks Republicans will be more motivated and will turn out in higher numbers.

A CNN/ORC poll published Wednesday gives Clinton a 4-point edge over Trump in Pennsylvania.

Kuri Edwards said many of her co-workers, like her relatives, say they simply will not vote.

She has tried to persuade them that their choice -- and their participation -- matters.

"We still have a vote," she said. "We still have something to do about it."