Undecided Independents: Not Nearly As Important as Pundits Would Have You Believe
As part of a series of Pre-Convention Front-Pagers based on a new WaPo-Kaiser Family Foundation survey, Jon Cohen and Dan Balz deliver a solid assessment of political independents that is most impressive for its succinctness. Here's all you really need to know from the piece:
In some states, the numbers of independents or nonaffiliated voters are growing faster than are Democrats or Republicans. In many polls, those who call themselves independents outnumber Republicans or Democrats.
But many are neither centrist nor moderate. And many don’t really swing back and forth from one party to the next with any regularity. About a third are indistinguishable from Democrats, and three in 10 are indistinguishable from Republicans, at least when it comes to their voting patterns.
Those who are both genuinely independent and active participants in the political process constitute only a sliver of the overall electorate — about 5 percent, according to the new survey. And among that group, just one in three say they are firmly settled in their choice between Obama and Romney.
So the percentage of the electorate composed of true "swing vote" independents probably boils down to a little more than three percent of the electorate. Since neither candidate is likely to win big in such a truly ambivalent group of people, its "swing" potential is a lot smaller than that. So for any of you who wonder why both campaigns seem to be focusing on "base" as opposed to "swing" voters this year, there's your answer.
For what it's worth, the "true swing independent" voters seem to have a lot of the characteristics that Beltway Pundits so often ascribe to independents generally, or to swing voters generally, or indeed, to that great abstraction "the American people:" they don't like partisanship, they wish the parties would compromise, they're worried about the deficit, they don't much like big changes in the entitlement programs, they're moderate on social issues and conservative on fiscal issues, etc., etc. There just aren't a whole lot of them. But Lord-a-mercy, they sure have a lot of representation in the chattering classes!
And for that reason, you should keep this analysis and the survey it's based on close by next time you go skinny-dipping through the op-ed pages, particularly in the paper that published this proper-proportion setting piece on indies.