Political Animal


August 21, 2012 9:07 AM Here’s Your Beltway Pundit Constituency

By Ed Kilgore

As part of a series of Pre-Convention Front-Pagers based on a new WaPo-Kaiser Family Foundation survey, Jon Cohen and Dan Balz deliver a solid assessment of political independents that is most impressive for its succinctness. Here’s all you really need to know from the piece:

In some states, the numbers of independents or nonaffiliated voters are growing faster than are Democrats or Republicans. In many polls, those who call themselves independents outnumber Republicans or Democrats.
But many are neither centrist nor moderate. And many don’t really swing back and forth from one party to the next with any regularity. About a third are indistinguishable from Democrats, and three in 10 are indistinguishable from Republicans, at least when it comes to their voting patterns.
Those who are both genuinely independent and active participants in the political process constitute only a sliver of the overall electorate — about 5 percent, according to the new survey. And among that group, just one in three say they are firmly settled in their choice between Obama and Romney.

So the percentage of the electorate composed of true “swing vote” independents probably boils down to a little more than three percent of the electorate. Since neither candidate is likely to win big in such a truly ambivalent group of people, its “swing” potential is a lot smaller than that. So for any of you who wonder why both campaigns seem to be focusing on “base” as opposed to “swing” voters this year, there’s your answer.

For what it’s worth, the “true swing independent” voters seem to have a lot of the characteristics that Beltway Pundits so often ascribe to independents generally, or to swing voters generally, or indeed, to that great abstraction “the American people:” they don’t like partisanship, they wish the parties would compromise, they’re worried about the deficit, they don’t much like big changes in the entitlement programs, they’re moderate on social issues and conservative on fiscal issues, etc., etc. There just aren’t a whole lot of them. But Lord-a-mercy, they sure have a lot of representation in the chattering classes!

And for that reason, you should keep this analysis and the survey it’s based on close by next time you go skinny-dipping through the op-ed pages, particularly in the paper that published this proper-proportion setting piece on indies.

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.


  • FlipYrWhig on August 21, 2012 9:44 AM:

    From that list of descriptors, the "true swing independent voters" sound like... moderate Democrats. Did the moderate Dems brand themselves to appeal to those voters, or are moderate Dems and "true swing independents" simply both recoiling from the caricature of the 1960s/1970s "tax and spend" "bleeding heart liberal"?

  • Fritz Strand on August 21, 2012 9:52 AM:

    Nothing in the Post article that Digby has not been saying for at least 5 years. But I guess it gets extra special cred. now that a 'villager' has noticed.

  • c u n d gulag on August 21, 2012 10:04 AM:

    Next time you're driving, think about this:
    Almost half of the people on the highway with you, are, or lean, Republican.
    Which means they vote for people like Akins, and Bachmann, and Gohmert, and countless other soulless morons, who don't believe in science, or evolution. And they're allowed to drive a several ton killing and maiming machine.

    And about half of that half, don't believe in highways - and would gladly run you off that road if their state issued licence plates that had your party affiliation or religion on it, like. "LIB-1968," IND-9966," or "JEW-666" or "MUS-911."

    There, feel better?
    Me neither.

  • Diane Rodriguez on August 21, 2012 10:07 AM:

    The Independent vote has long occupied a disproportionate amount of political time and capitol. Defining a voter as an independent is very difficult to measure in a meaningful way. Its more or less guessing and is heavily influenced by the questions/survey. Generally, the factors influencing votes tend to be complex. For every 10 independent voters, there is likely a different set of motivators. It makes targeting those votes a scattershot enterprise.

    On the other hand, in this election, the in-your-face repression of the vote requires no nuance to measure its effect. Getting a state sanctioned ID and transportation to the polls are concrete tactics for votes. We should concentrate on things we know we can impact.

  • MattF on August 21, 2012 10:12 AM:

    I think it's a mistake to assume that the small number of 'true' independents are motivated much by politics, one way or another. In my opinion, these are people who are not particularly excited about voting or making up their minds, but feel it's a duty they must perform, one way or another. It's a fact that arises every four years: Presidential elections are decided by a set of voters who can't make up their minds.

  • JM917 on August 21, 2012 10:38 AM:

    For what it's worth, my wife is an independent with just the set of views described in the quote here. She is apolitical, hates "partisanship," and thinks "both parties" are equally corrupt. So I have to bite my tongue a lot around the house--good that I've got Political Animal to sound off to, anonymously. She was even slow to abandon the George Bush ship.

    But she's made up her mind on this election: It's Obama all the way. For her, Romney is the epitome of capitalist greed and selfishness.

  • AlphaLiberal on August 21, 2012 10:44 AM:

    Atrios approves, except for one part:
    "Ed's wrong on one thing: fearing big changes in entitlement programs has no representation in the chattering classes."

    And, this observation is just great:
    " But it is fascinating that our punditocracy, who claim expertise about politics, strive to pretend to represent the people who have the least expertise."

    What Atrios said.

  • Honeyboy Wilson on August 21, 2012 10:49 AM:

    I suspect that true “swing vote” independents get so much attention from the press because much of the press think of themselves as falling into that category.

  • Not a math guy on August 21, 2012 11:51 AM:

    If I'm reading this correctly, Ed, it's not even 3%. You mention that we're talking about one in three of the 5%, does that mean it's 1.66%?

  • Rip on August 21, 2012 1:04 PM:

    Since the beginning of May in both the RCP and TPM polltracking averages Romney has never averaged better than 45.5% of the vote and Obama has never done worse than 45.4%

    TPM gives more weight to the daily tracking polls, and tends to have a narrower range than RCP, but both do a pretty good job of smoothing out the numbers and reducing the effects of house bias, MOE and outliers. Romney's worst numbers rarely fall below 44% and Obama's best are usually under 48%

    A minimum of 1.4% of the vote always goes for 3rd party candidates.

    Regardless of what they call themselves, only 6-8% of the vote is actually up for grabs, no matter how much money is spent. Despite the many myths about how undecideds fall, no one ever gets more than 80% of them, and it's usually less lopsided than that.

    Romney's problem is that he is going to need at least 51% and possibly as much as 80% of the "undecideds" to win the popular vote. Not impossible by any stretch, but the tougher road to victory. Still even with only a small percentage of votes to fight over, given uncertainty of turnout and the inexact nature of polling, Romney could end up winning by as much as 4.5% or losing by as much as 9%, but either extreme is highly unlikely. As always, whoever is winning in October, will win in November.

  • Independent on August 21, 2012 1:50 PM:

    This independent used to be a yellow-dog Democrat but left during the cheerleading for the war in Afghanistan. I haven't been a Democrat since but I've voted for most of them (have only voted for a Republican in a few down-ballot races such as a decent County judge). So you could say I'm not "really" an independent but I disagree. My vote is "up for grabs" in the sense that no one can count on it and in fact I will NOT be voting for Obama and I didn't vote for Kerry (I did vote for Obama last time and enthusiastically, but you can't fool me twice and I'll never vote for someone with his foreign policy and civil liberties record). Of course, I couldn't possibly vote for Romney either.

    I may not be one of the punditocracy's type of independents, but don't tell me I'm really some sort of Democrat because I'm not.

    Neither is my brother who'll be voting for Gary Johnson or many other independents I know.

    Loved the Atrios comment. That is apt and amusing.

  • migo on August 21, 2012 2:33 PM:

    this is exactly why the republicans are so focused on vote suppression.