Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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January 26, 2010

INDEPENDENTS DAY.... Chris Cillizza notes this afternoon, "In the wake of Sen.-elect Scott Brown's (R) victory over state Attorney General Martha Coakley (D) in last week's Senate special election, a debate has been raging over independents."

And part of the underlying problem with that debate is that the definition of "independent" is far too vague to be of any real value.

John Sides' item earlier has been making the rounds, and I can only hope the political media takes notice. He refers back to the case he presented a couple of months ago:

[H]ere is the problem: Most independents are closet partisans. This has been well-known in political science since at least 1992, with the publication of The Myth of the Independent Voter.

When asked a follow-up question, the vast majority of independents state that they lean toward a political party. They are the "independent leaners." ... The number of pure independents is actually quite small -- perhaps 10% or so of the population. And this number has been decreasing, not increasing, since the mid-1970s. [...]

The significance of independent leaners is this: they act like partisans.... There is very little difference between independent leaners and weak partisans. Approximately 75% of independent leaners are loyal partisans.

Most of the time, "independents" are thought of as a group of "moderate" or "centrist" voters -- as if the right sides with Republicans, the left sides with Democrats, and the middle stays "independent."

That's wrong. The Washington Post published a lengthy analysis of political independents in July 2007, based on a survey conducted by the Post in collaboration with the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard University. The result was a pretty straightforward reminder: there's an enormous amount of political diversity among independents.

The survey data established five categories of independents: closet partisans on the left and right; ticket-splitters in the middle; those disillusioned with the system but still active politically; ideological straddlers whose positions on issues draw from both left and right; and a final group whose members are mostly disengaged from politics.

Appealing to "independents" is inherently tricky if "independents" don't even agree with one another.

Steve Benen 3:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (12)

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Comments

Great point. If I were polled, I would call myself an "independent," because my long-standing disgust with the Democratic Party is too great to affiliate myself with them. But in practice, I'm far to the left of most every elected Democrat in DC...

Posted by: Shane in Utah on January 26, 2010 at 3:35 PM | PERMALINK

well if you win the independents, be sure you don't lose your base.

Posted by: Jamie on January 26, 2010 at 3:36 PM | PERMALINK

I have been a Republican for the past 31 years, but lately, I've been an "independent" because it has been a bit difficult to vote for the kool-aid drinkers! As such, I am the vote the Democrats should be worried about - if they don't begin to provide the leadership necessary to provide better health care coverage for more Americans, I will merely conclude the Dems are ineffective and sit out the next election!

I have no lost love for the Democratic party and its members, and the hard tact to the right by my own party is most troubling! The convergence of these two factors puts me off so much I wouldn't hesitate to throw my vote away.

I live in the 1st Congressional District here in California, and Mike Thompson needs to step up and help President Obama change the way politics operates inside the Beltway if he wants my vote the next time around.

Finally, President Obama needs to do a better job of poking his finger in the eyes of the good ol'boys in the financial sector for me to be motivated to vote twice before the end of this year! -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on January 26, 2010 at 3:51 PM | PERMALINK

The number of actual, rather than self-described, indies is even smaller now that two Bush terms have made staunch Republicans loath to admit it in public.

Posted by: allen on January 26, 2010 at 3:59 PM | PERMALINK

yeah, independents. Got into a discussion the other day with a self-described Independent. He proceeded to rattle off every Rush'ian, Con talking point I've seen in the last 5 years. To me it seems he hated government so much that he wouldn't even associate himself with a governmental political party.

Posted by: JWK on January 26, 2010 at 4:04 PM | PERMALINK

"and a final group whose members are mostly disengaged from politics."

I think this describes the overwhelming number of independents. They probably can't spell Republican or Democrat. Regular partisan voters are dumb enough, but independents are ignorant AND dumb.

Any independents reading this site are not politically disengaged, but surely they will go ahead and point out how they are exceptions.

Posted by: flubber on January 26, 2010 at 4:04 PM | PERMALINK

i'm an independent who hasn't voted for a republican't in over 10 years. like shane, i'm too embarrassed to call myself a democrat.

Posted by: merl on January 26, 2010 at 4:08 PM | PERMALINK

Way way back in the '70's you were able to register as GOP, Dem or Ind. I registered Independent and all that made me was a 'fence sitter'...fiscally conservative and socially liberal. During Reagan I started leaning farther and farther left until one day I realized I was a Dem. I have been ranting and raving for the last 10 years (since Buchanan ran as an Independent) that what was once a fledgling political party has become a talking point..."I'm an INDEPENDENT." yeah...

Posted by: SYSPROG on January 26, 2010 at 4:11 PM | PERMALINK

Great analysis of "independents" available at http://narcosphere.narconews.com/thefield/3746/bandwagon-voters-and-dysfunction-left.

Posted by: E.D. on January 26, 2010 at 5:53 PM | PERMALINK

Alaska gives us lots of choices - I've been a registered "Nonpartisan" for 35+ years. There's also "Undeclared" for people who belong to a party but think it's no one's business which one they belong to. And we have the Republican Party and the Republican Moderate Party. The Libertarian Party. And the Alaska Independence Party. All of the above can vote in the Democratic primary, but only Republicans, Nonpartisans and Undeclareds can request the Republican ballot in a primary. As an ideological straddler, I lean more to the left, and extremely Left where I am left, and positively Libertarian on civil liberties. After Bush-Cheney, and the very scary extreme Right, I would never vote for a Republican for anything again. I have never missed an election in my life, but I'm prepared to sit out races or whole elections if the Democrats don't acquire some balls, as in convictions and the courage thereof. All the importuning Democratic emails are going straight into the trash - "Hope," "Change," = "GAG."

Posted by: ghillie on January 26, 2010 at 7:54 PM | PERMALINK

The pundits give too much credit to independents, but the White House is trying to reach out to a persuadable sub-group that they have lost. More like the "Not quite a Dem but in favor of HCR if it doesn't go too far, but worried that Obama is doing too much spending" demographic.

Those folks, and the bond market, are the targets of this message.

Posted by: danimal on January 26, 2010 at 8:14 PM | PERMALINK

I'm more and more convinced that a large proportion of independents are not intellectually involved in the issues. I don't think they ever look below the surface but are mostly influenced by whichever way the wind is blowing.

Posted by: wordtypist on January 27, 2010 at 11:17 AM | PERMALINK
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