“Independent” Voters Aren’t “Moderate” Voters

I’ve written here and at Hullabaloo about the myth of the “independent” voter, noting that most self-declared independents are actually fairly strong partisans who prefer the “independent” label for a variety of reasons. Polls that shows “independents” as having centrist views are deeply misleading: if you throw a mix of liberals and conservatives together as a single aggregate group in a poll, you’ll get results that seem to show centrist beliefs even though all you’ve done is tossed two sets of partisans into the same pot and mixed them up.

A new Gallup poll shows a record number of people calling themselves “Independents.” But Aaron Blake at The Fix shows how little that matters:

What we have here isn’t so much a rise in political independence as much as a rise in the desire to be labeled “independent.” Indeed, almost every indicator shows that the American people are actually becoming more polarized, more electorally predictable, and less swing-y — i.e. less independent.

Witness these two polls.

A Washington Post-ABC News poll in July 2012 — more than three months before that year’s presidential election — showed just 6 percent of Americans said there was a “good chance” they would change their mind about their candidate of choice. That number was 10 percent in 2008 and 12 percent in 2004.

What’s more, 19 percent said there was at least some chance they would change their mind…That number was 25 percent in 2008 and 21 percent in 2004.

A Pew poll in 2012 showed a similar decline in genuinely persuadable voters. By April of that year, just 23 percent of people said they weren’t certain voters for either Democrats or Republicans. That was down from 33 percent in 2008 but slightly higher than the 21 percent who said so in 2004. In the prior three presidential elections, that number was between 27 percent and 32 percent.

Aaron Blake provides even more examples where that came from. Supporters of comfortable corporate deficit-fetishism and political centrism use the rise in “independent” voters to bolster their claim that Americans are centrists who just want the political parties to get along and meet in the middle. But it’s not true. There are many cultural reasons why voters may declare themselves “independent” but it has little to do with centrist partisan leanings.

David Atkins

David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.