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The Independents: Understanding the Disillusioned

In conjuction with the Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation-Harvard University poll exploring attitudes of political independents, Behind The Numbers will take an in-depth look at each of the types of independents identified in the survey. Today's post focuses on the Disillusioned, independents who have lost faith in the political system.

The Disillusioned make up about 18 percent of independents and are largely disheartened by American politics today. They hold unfavorable views of both national parties, overwhelmingly feel unrepresented by the two-party system and express widespread feelings of frustration with today's politics.

Six in 10 Disillusioned say they do not lean toward either party and about the same number believe both parties are pretty much the same, though a third considered themselves partisan in the past. Most say a major reason they call themselves independent today is because they are not comfortable with either party.

The Disillusioned are slightly older than other independents (about half fall between the ages of 40 and 65) and they are less educated than other politically-engaged independents (77 percent have not graduated college). About a quarter profess no religious affiliation, and they are the least likely of independents to say they are born again or evangelical Christians. About one in six live in union households.

Anger and frustration have driven the Disillusioned from the party system, but what views would they like to see represented and how will they affect the 2008 presidential election? Much more after the jump.

The Disillusioned express intense levels of concern about four issues: the situation in Iraq, corruption in government, health care and the economy.

Half or more say the situation in Iraq, corruption in government and health care are extremely important to them personally. About four in 10 say the economy is extremely important.

On each of these issues, six in 10 or more say that neither party better represents their views.

Where do the Disillusioned stand on their top issues?

On Iraq: Two-thirds feel strongly that the war in Iraq was not worth fighting, and just 20 percent believe that the U.S. goal of bringing stability to Iraq is still possible. Disillusioned independents are among the few who do not side with either party on Iraq: 71 percent say neither represents their view, 60 percentage points or more higher than any other type of independent.

The Disillusioned are also among the most concerned about the impact of the war on terror: 63 percent say the U.S. government is not doing enough to protect Americans' civil liberties and 57 percent say the country is less safe now than it was before 9/11.

On corruption: Although they are deeply concerned about corruption, few feel that the two-party system will solve the problem. Three-quarters of the Disillusioned say that neither party better represents their views on the issue, and the same percentage says neither party can manage the federal government effectively.

On health care: A plurality of Disillusioned independents say they would like presidential candidates to focus on lowering the cost of health care and insurance over expanding coverage to the uninsured. And like Deliberators, fewer than half are willing to pay more to increase the number of insured Americans.

On the economy: The Disillusioned have a far more negative view of the economy than other independents. More than four in 10 describe it as "poor" while only 24 percent say it is in excellent or good shape. For most in this segment of independents, this "not-so-good" economy has brought trying times: just two in 10 say they are getting ahead financially.

What are the Disillusioned looking for in 2008?

About half of Disillusioned independents say their past presidential votes have been split about equally between Democrats and Republicans, but right now, just 37 percent say they would seriously consider a Republican candidate for president and about half would do the same of a Democrat. But their preference lies outside the two-party structure. Nearly four in 10 say they would prefer that an independent occupy the White House for the next four years.

Disillusioned independents do not look upon the front-runners of either party with a friendly eye: nearly half say they definitely would not vote for Hillary Clinton and the same number definitely would not vote for Rudy Giuliani. But they are more open to an independent run from either Chuck Hagel or Michael Bloomberg.

Wherever their preferences lie, the Disillusioned appear somewhat less likely than other independents to be engaged in the campaign. As of now, just 46 percent say they are very interested in the 2008 race, while nearly one-quarter (more than all independents except the Disengaged) say they are not interested this time around. For the Disillusioned, frustration with the system and the possibility of a choice between two candidates they have already ruled out could lead them to stay home on election day.

By Jennifer Agiesta  |  July 6, 2007; 10:47 AM ET
Categories:  The Independents  
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Next: The Independents: Finding a Home for the Dislocated

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