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The Independents: Unmasking the Disguised Partisans

In conjunction with the Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation-Harvard University poll exploring attitudes of political independents, Behind The Numbers takes an in-depth look at each of the types of independents identified in the survey. Today's post focuses on Disguised Partisans, those who call themselves independent but vote and take issue positions more like Democrats or Republicans.

Although they call themselves independents, Disguised Partisans consistently take positions aligned with one of the major parties, and overwhelmingly vote for that party's candidates. This group comprises about a quarter of all political independents.

More than eight in 10 Disguised Democrats lean toward the Democratic Party; about the same number of Disguised Republicans lean toward the GOP.

Disguised Partisans also mirror their avowed partisan counterparts on ideology, both socially and fiscally, and have favorable views of "their party."

So why don't these closet partisans affiliate with the party they most often agree with? More on this after the jump.

Disguised Partisans on both sides express similar reasons for being unaffiliated. For most, it is a statement about how they make voting decisions. Nine in 10 say a major reason is that they "vote on the issues, not a party line," and about three quarters say it is because they "vote for candidates, not parties." More than the Disengaged or Deliberators, Disguised Partisans cite discomfort with both parties as a key factor in their independence.

But Disguised Democrats and Disguised Republicans do not share the same viewpoint on all aspects of the political system. Disguised Democrats are most likely of all types of independents to say they are independent because they prefer not to label their political views, are most likely to be angry about American politics today and are split on whether there are any important differences between the two parties.

Disguised Republicans have greater confidence in the federal government, express more hopefulness about American politics and are less likely to support a shift away from the electoral college.

On the issues, Disguised Democrats are focused on the war in Iraq, 59 percent cite it as their top issue, compared to 41 percent of Disguised Republicans. Disguised Republicans are among the most concerned about illegal immigration, two in 10 say border issues are their top priority compared to just 5 percent of Disguised Democrats.

On key issues, Disguised Democrats and Disguised Republicans feel better represented by the party they're hiding from by wide margins. Among Disguised Republicans, however, a few defections are evident. On health care, for example, 20 percent say the Democrats better represent their viewpoint, and 12 percent say neither of the two parties stands for their take on the issue.

Disguised Democrats hew more closely to the party line, on each issue seven in 10 or more say they are better represented by Democrats.

Disguised Partisans on both sides are engaged in politics in large numbers, with six in 10 paying a lot of attention to national government and politics and almost as many very interested in the 2008 presidential election campaign.

Not surprisingly, most Disguised Democrats prefer a Democratic president in 2008 and most Disguised Republicans want a GOP candidate to win the top spot.

The top two Democratic candidates in national polls, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, garner strong support from Disguised Democrats, 31 percent say they would definitely vote for the Senator from Illinois should he become his party's nominee and 22 percent say the same of Clinton. Just 9 percent say they would definitely vote for former North Carolina Senator John Edwards.

Disguised Republicans are less keen on their top-tier candidates. While large majorities would consider Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, Mitt Romney and Fred Thompson, just one in 10 say they would definitely vote for each should he become the GOP standard-bearer next year.

Disguised Partisans Divided:

Disguised DemocratsDisguised Republicans
Government should do more to solve our country's biggest problems54%19%
Religion should have greater influence in politics and public life than it does now9%45%
Ronald Reagan is the best U.S. president of the modern era11%67%
The war with Iraq was not worth fighting91%32%
Illegal immigrants living and working in the U.S. should be offered a chance to keep their jobs63%32%
Would consider voting for Hillary Clinton in November 200878%16%
Would consider voting for Rudy Giuliani in November 200845%68%

Full question wording available here (PDF).

More information about the Post-Kaiser-Harvard survey is available at

By Jennifer Agiesta  |  July 17, 2007; 11:00 AM ET
Categories:  The Independents  
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