Political Animal


April 09, 2012 12:32 PM “Swing Voters” and General Election Positioning

By Ed Kilgore

There’s another brief thought I’d offer about the Third Way paper on “fairness vs. opportunity” and “independent swing voters” that I discussed earlier today. Much of its analysis is based on a poll of self-identified independents in battleground states conducted by Global Strategy Group. Among other things, this survey asks “swing independents” (defined as self-identified independents who did not express strongly favorable or unfavorable views of President Obama or Mitt Romney) to plot their own ideology on a 1-9 left-right ideological scale, and then also plot the two parties and Obama and Romney.

Putting aside all the many perils of this sort of polling, the “spectrum” question shows “swing-independents” on average perceiving themselves as closer to Romney ideologically than to Obama, but also closer to the Democratic than to the Republican Party. At the same time, Obama is perceived as very similar to his party ideolologically, while Romney is perceived as well to the left of his party. And above and beyond all these calculations, “swing independents” currently favor Obama against Romney by a 44-38 margin.

So Obama’s only apparent “vulnerability” in this demographic vis a vis Romney is that Mitt is perceived as significantly more moderate than the GOP. This isn’t terribly surprising given Romney’s history and the time and expense that his Republican rivals have devoted to the task of labeling him as an unprincipled RINO. But Romney has been working hard to erase that perception (and will have to continue to erase it at least until Rick Santorum drops out and the GOP is suitably united), giving the Obama campaign a rich storehouse of statements and issue perceptions to exploit in the general election (as Jonathan Alter explains in some detail at Ten Miles Square today).

So why is it Obama and/or the Democratic Party that needs, according to the Third Way study, to change its message on the economy? Sure, it’s always helpful to maximize one’s support in any and all voter demographics. But when your opponent is caught between pressure to make his views more consistent with those of his relatively unpopular party, and his richly earned reputation as a chameleon, and you are already working from an advantage in full concert with your own party, why run the risk of changing your message, particularly if the existing message happens to coincide with what you and your party actually believe and (in the case of income inequality and the unfairness of the tax code) with the factual situation the country faces?

Look, I’m all for harvesting as much information from public opinion research as is possible, and don’t think there’s anything evil about responding to clear indications of what the public thinks and wants. But the advice offered in this paper really does live down to the negative reputation of Democratic “centrists” as people willing to make major concessions to conservative policy preferences in order to achieve very small advantages among very small groups of swing voters. It’s not worth it morally or politically.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • TCinLA on April 09, 2012 12:46 PM:

    A nice poll that completely demonstrates for all to see that "swing independents" are drooling morons. Anyone who thinks Romney is "to the left" of the Republican Party hasn't been paying attention for the past year. They're exactly the kind of people who voted for Hitler because they thought he was an "honest conservative." I for one do not want to be in the same country with them when they discover their mistake.

  • Robert Waldmann on April 09, 2012 12:55 PM:

    A solid majority of the public agrees with Obama (and you) about the unfairness of the tax code. This includes a solid majority of self described moderates. Trying to win elections by rjecting the policy views of over 60% of the public is irrational to the point of implausibility. You know centrist Democratic strategists. Do you really think they are making concessions to conservatives ? My guess is that many sincerely support low taxes on the rich (in large part because, as I use the word, many are rich). Others (e.g. Penn& Schoen) are, I woukd guess working for their real clients, large firms and rich individuals, trying to influence Democrats.

  • Christiaan on April 09, 2012 1:20 PM:

    If these polls show anything it is that the biggest problem for swing voters (and this is true for voters in general) it is that they lack good information and the overabundance of misinformation, that gives them the completely wrong idea (or lack of any idea) of where the various candidates really stand and what they really propose. Now why should one conclude from this that all these voters need are more misinformation, only now coming from misguided centrists?

  • jjm on April 09, 2012 1:44 PM:

    This pollster sounds as specious as Politifact has become, masquerading as neutral while pushing the agendas of rich white folks. Ugh.

  • Diane Rodriguez on April 09, 2012 2:07 PM:

    It seems to me that the label of Conservative really provides a target that is counterproductive to defeating the GOP. Conservative is a legitimate position. The current GOP is clearly targeting issues that are discriminatory toward women, people of color and the poor. That's not conservatism, it is easily identified as repressive policies that are cruel and damaging to the majority of Americans. The only beneficiaries are a very small powerful segment of the country and those the hangers-on that fancy themselves members of that group. Eventually, they wonít escape the cruelty either.

    We have got to stop legitimizing policy positions that are much closer to hate group philosophies than legitimate governing positions. Isn't it ironic that the tolerance for truth gets so confused with civil discourse. Arenít you tired of narrowly defined Christianity being used to further legitimize cruelty. Why are we allowing extremists to define civil discourse by falling into the trap of "manners" ( don't call people sluts) and using exclusionary definitions of organized religions rather than the real substance of an argument.

  • sick-n-effn-tired. on April 09, 2012 2:11 PM:

    Swing Voters
    I just love them ... 4 days before the election ...uhh...uhhh.uhh I really haven't made up my mind.

    Beavis and Butthead go voting.

    Proves a Point

    America Too Stupid for Democracy .

    Thank you Ailes, Murdoch and the rest of the Faux Nooze wannabes.
    You have successfully dumbed down America .

  • Mimikatz on April 09, 2012 3:17 PM:

    Again, Robert Waldmann is correct. These folks are themselves rich, aspire to be rich, and/or work for rich clients. Hence their antipathy to raising taxes on the rich. It is pretty simple. As for swing voters, they are either confused, low-information voters or Dems who don't want to admit they are Dems or identify as Dems. They deserve some attnetion, but not at the expense of coherent populist policy positions.

  • Chromehawk on April 09, 2012 3:21 PM:

    " ... and donít think thereís anything evil about responding to clear indications of what the public thinks and wants."

    Unless it is that almost 3/4 of the public thinks mandates are unconstitutional and more than half want the ACA repealed.

    Then the author really doesn't give a hoot what the public thinks and wants.

  • Doug on April 09, 2012 6:01 PM:

    "Then the author really doesn't give a hoot what the public thinks and wants." Chromehawk @ 3:21 PM.

    Did you even read the preceding sentence? The one that you even included in your citation?
    "Responding to" polls doesn't mean slavishly following their results, as even YOU should know. Certainly the GOP doesn't require its' policies, especially those regarding taxes, Medicare, SS, contraception provision, to reflect the polls.
    But you knew that already, didn't you?

  • Austin Jerry on April 10, 2012 12:21 AM:

    Diane Rodriguiz@ I completely agree with what your wrote. Conservativism, especially that of fiscal responsibility and true limited government, is a legitimate position. It becomes corrupted when all those religious and social issues along with policies that favors the rich at the expense of the poor and middle class become more important.

    The United States needs a strong SECOND political party for many reasons. For now, it looks like the GOP is only a reactionary force whose members are almost fanatical in their beliefs. I wouldn't be surprised Americans won't elect a Republican for president for another 8 years. In the meantime, the party will be in the wilderness trying to find itself and figure out just what it stands for.