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The myth of independents

independent leaners-thumb.png

John Sides is annoyed by the pundits continually talking about independents as if they're some giant, dominant, bloc:

I want to yell.

INDEPENDENTS ARE NOT A “VAST MIDDLE GROUND.”

INDEPENDENTS DO NOT COMPRISE MORE THAN “A THIRD OF AMERICANS.”

How many DAMN TIMES must this be said before this MOST BASIC OF FINDINGS — first explicated at length almost 20 YEARS AGO! — sinks into the heads of pundits.

I will keep linking to this post as long as it takes. To repeat: true, honest-to-God independents are about 10% of the American population. Declining support for Obama among independents accounts for less than a fifth of Obama’s overall decline in support.

Just in case you don't head over to that post -- and you should head over to that post -- the basic finding is not that there aren't plenty of people calling themselves "independents." It's that most of them are as predictably partisan as everyone else.

By Ezra Klein  |  January 26, 2010; 8:22 AM ET
Categories:  Political Science  
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Comments

"and you should head over to that post"

...And how, exactly do we do that? (link, please :-)

Posted by: axlotl | January 26, 2010 8:43 AM | Report abuse

The way things are going, a lot of people might be renouncing their parties to become independents.

Posted by: AuthorEditor | January 26, 2010 8:44 AM | Report abuse

its not as much that independents are this huge voting bloc but its the fact if Dems and Republicans are close in an election, independents can and do put one or the other over the top. First they need to energize their own party and second they need to garner the independent vote. If they do that they have a great shot at winning.

Posted by: visionbrkr | January 26, 2010 8:57 AM | Report abuse

Of course by that chart, "strong partisan", i.e base voters are only 30%, and you could argue indies/potential indies are 70%

Check Presidential election results and compare winner of election vs winner of independent voters. Pretty darn strong correlation. Ditto recent votes in VA and MA

Posted by: craig18 | January 26, 2010 9:00 AM | Report abuse

Than why is Health care a big failure, wasn't there a mandate or something since we've always been so progressive? Oh wait, its G W's fault.

Posted by: jercary | January 26, 2010 9:07 AM | Report abuse

It is not independents, but weak partisans and leaners who decide elections by either voting the other party's candidate or not voting. This may be especially true in 2009 and 2010 as many former strong GOP IDers have gone weak and weak to leaners at their dismay at certain things but when the GOP has a candidate they like, as in MA or VA last year, then their inner partisan is stimulated and they vote while weak or leaner Dems turned off by weak candidates in MA and VA do not vote.

Posted by: gregspolitics | January 26, 2010 10:39 AM | Report abuse

I agree with visionbrkr that independents can be important without being a huge block of voters.

Given that the partisans, strong and weak, are very likely to vote with their party without too much convincing, and the electorate is roughly evenly split, the election is determined by a tie-breaker.

Independents are the tie-breakers. One would think that those who are true independents are up for grabs.

But I would think the weak partisans are also important, since they're likely to vote with their party -- if they vote. So persuading them to register and then go to the polls can be the tie-breaker.

And the strong partisans are important of course, because they're most likely to donate money, volunteer time, and speak out in the media (including new media). This can tip the balance of zeitgeist and influence the weak partisans and independents.

THEY'RE ALL IMPORTANT!

Posted by: billkarwin | January 26, 2010 1:08 PM | Report abuse

Poor Mr. Sides is doomed to spend the rest of his life in a state of apoplexy, because he's just plain wrong. The chart shows about 40% of the electorate as being either "pure independent" or "independent leaner" -- i.e., over a third of the electorate consists of independents.

Take me, for example. I'm an "independent leaner." I usually vote Republican, but I voted for Kerry and Obama (or, more precisely, against Bush and McCain). I'm an independent, period, whatever the unfortunate frothing Mr. Sides might think.

Posted by: ostap666 | January 26, 2010 1:23 PM | Report abuse

Miller-McCune had an excellent article about this very subject that analyzed exactly who these independents are: http://miller-mccune.com/politics/independent-voters-are-generally-not-1361
It illustrates Ezra's (and John Sides') point nicely, with research to back it up.

Posted by: hardscrabble | January 26, 2010 1:59 PM | Report abuse

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