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Last Time on Independents, I Promise (At Least Until the Next Matt Bai Article)

- January 27, 2010

Janice Sinclaire of Miller-McCune sends along this July piece from their magazine, entitled “‘Independent’ Voters Are Generally Not.” There’s lots of good quotes therein.

Peter Brown of Quinnipiac:

bq. There are an awful lot of people who call themselves independent because it’s fashionable in some circles. But their voting behavior is predictable. They are not swing voters.

Tom Jensen of Public Policy Polling:

bq. While a disproportionate numbers of swing voters are independents, two-thirds of independent voters are not swing voters.

Scott Keeter of Pew:

bq. This idea of the sage citizen who eschews party affiliation, is unbiased and persuadable by reason and facts, is very much a myth. Most people are committed to a party. They may not like the label, so some call themselves independents. But there are very few people who fit the archetypes of the wise, centrist independent. People who don’t have a lot of opinions tend to be disengaged from politics and less likely to vote.

The piece also quotes from political scientist John Petrocik, who recently published an article entitled “Measuring party support: Leaners are not independents” (gated, sorry). From the abstract:

bq. Many Americans, especially middle class and better educated ones, call themselves independent and citizens who choose the better candidate regardless of party affiliation. Their numbers seem to have increased in recent decades to nearly 40% of the electorate. The description and estimate are misleading. Very few Americans lack a party preference. Our largely unchanged high levels of party voting and the willingness of most ‘‘independents’’ to acknowledge a party preference after a bit of probing indicates that independence is more a matter of self-presentation than an accurate statement about our approach to elections, candidates, the parties, and politics in general. Most of the independents in national surveys and most of the increase in their numbers are contributed by ‘‘leaners’’ (those who initially describe themselves as independents but then acknowledge a preference for either the Democrats or Republicans). Leaners are partisans. Characterizing them as independents underestimates the partisanship of Americans and leads to inaccurate estimates of party effects and the responsiveness of the electorate to short-term electoral forces.