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banner Saturday, 28 October, 2000, 10:18 GMT 11:18 UK
Chicago voters bending in the breeze
Chicago skyline
Chicago's soccer mums are not impressed by the candidates
By Tom Carver in Chicago

Diane Muchow is a Soccer Mum. She lives in the suburbs. She has spent several weeks of her life driving her children to and from school soccer matches (hence the term). And 10 days before the election, Diane and many others like her still cannot decide who to vote for.

Out of the jungle of golf courses, car parks, cineplexes and Wal-Marts known as the American Suburb has emerged a new breed of voter. She - it's usually a woman - has no strong party affiliations.

She is so busy juggling her job and her children she hasn't given much thought to the presidential campaign. And when she does it is strictly pragmatic it will be whichever candidate will best protect her interests.

'Soft votes'

They are what political consultants call "soft votes" - unreliable. But ever since the ending of the Cold War and the era of Big Ideas, they have effectively decided the outcome of every presidential race.

Diane has voted for both Reagan and Clinton in the past. One of the reasons she voted for Clinton the first time was his running mate, Al Gore. But now she's not so keen.
Al Gore
Soccer mums consider Gore tainted

"Let's just say it's been an interesting eight years," she says with a wry smile, referring to Bill Clinton's sexual indiscretions.

She admits that Al Gore was not responsible for what happened, but she clearly feels he has been tainted.

'Daddy's Boy'

As for Mr Bush, she sees him as a "Daddy's Boy".

"I'm worried how he would handle a major interantional crisis," she says. "I know politics is a dirty game, but you need some political experience and he has hardly had any."

It is a problem. You can almost hear the two candidates holding their breath whilst Diane and millions of others like her try to make up their minds.

Madeleine Doubek, who writes for the Daily Herald, Diane's local paper in Arlington Heights, says that abortion and gun control are two issues shared by most soccer mums.

You would think that would favour Al Gore, but it does not seem to.
George W Bush
Bush: Seen as "Daddy's Boy"

Nor is Mr Gore getting much credit for the sunny economic climate.

In fact it could work against him.

The prosperity has made Americans complacent, giving them less reason to turn out to vote.

Since Republicans tend to be better mobilised than Democrats, a low turnout would hinder Al Gore and favour George Bush.

Nationwide suburb

When you travel around America like Kevin and I have done over the past five days, it feels as if the American Suburb, neat, cheerful and convienent to the point of soulessness, will keep on spreading across the continent until every American family has its own driveway and a yard with a basketball hoop.

The traditional electorates like the big-city liberal and the rural redneck are not far off becoming endangered species.

Perhaps everyone in America will one day be undecided voters.

Snap poll

Finally, I promised you the results of my snap poll on how well informed the American electorate is.

Unfortunately, in the spirit of full disclosure, I didn't manage to ask as many people as I had hoped because we spent so long trying to get from A to B.

But for what it's worth, 90% knew which states both candidates came from.

A full 100% knew that Gore was the former senator and that Bush supports the death penalty.

But only 60% knew that Gore does too.

This is the last in a series of reports by Washington correspondent Tom Carver written in response to questions from BBC News Online users as part of our Vote USA 2000 Election Challenge coverage.

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