Independent Voters

INDEPENDENT VOTERS…..In the Washington Post, Hillary Clinton pollster Mark Penn writes that swing voters are more important than ever these days. I’m certainly receptive to this notion, but as I mentioned last month, there’s some contrary data too: it turns out that most of the voters who call themselves “independents” actually act pretty partisan when they get to the voting booth.

What’s more, as Philip Klinkner points out, although the number of “split ticket” voters has indeed gone up over the past 50 years, a chart of the data presents a rather more complicated picture. The number of split ticket voters went up in the 60s but has been going down ever since. That’s not really very good evidence that independence is on a relentless upward march.

But I suspect Klinkner’s chart is also an illustration of Kevin’s First Law of Political Wonkery: any analysis that ignores the South is worthless. This is just a guess, and maybe someone with access to the data can check this, but here’s what I think happened: during the 60s, Southern whites started voting for Republican presidents while continuing to vote for local Democratic congressmen. After 1972, though, as the Republican shift of the South continued, they started voting for Republican congressmen too. In other words, I’ll bet that the split-ticket phenomenon ? both up and down ? is almost entirely explained by the South, not by some massive nationwide shift toward independence.

It’s not possible to build an enduring majority without appealing to centrist swing voters, but the notion that they’re significantly more important than they’ve ever been isn’t really supported by the facts.

UPDATE: Philip Klinkner runs the numbers for the South here and finds that (a) split-ticket voting is indeed more prevalent in the South and (b) split ticket voting has declined everywhere since the mid-70s.