As a group, independents have been a volatile segment in recent elections: going for Republican House candidates in 2010 by a record 19-percentage-point margin, after breaking for Democrats by 18 points when they won the House of Representatives in 2006. In the five congressional elections before that, neither party had a clear edge among these voters. Obama won independents by eight percentage points in 2008, according to the network exit poll. ...WaPo
Meanwhile,the break-up continues within both parties and not just between both parties. As Dan Balz and Jon Cohen reported in yesterday's Washington Post, both major parties have deep fissures -- the Republican party can be broken down into five rival groups, the Democrats four.
Is it any surprise that both parties have lost members to the growing cloud of voters who call themselves "independents." Independents are largely made up of voters who have drifted -- or walked away deliberately -- from both the GOP and the Democratic party. They call themselves "independents," but -- make no mistake -- they're no more cohesive than the two majors nor are they (this is important) wholly separate from the two major parties.
The Post-Kaiser survey identifies four distinct groups of people who identify as political independents. About a third of all independents share the bulk of their political opinions with Democrats, regularly vote Democratic and overwhelmingly back Obama’s reelection bid. A similarly large share sides with the GOP on most issues, sharing similar values, attitudes about government and voting patterns. Most support Romney.
About one in four adults who call themselves independents are more or less detached from the political process. Most are not registered to vote, with few saying they plan to enroll before Election Day. These tend to be younger and heavily Hispanic, and have much less education and far lower incomes than others who describe themselves as independents.
That leaves about one in eight who are “deliberators” — quintessential swing voters. Most say they’ve always considered themselves to be independent, and fully half say they’ve voted for Democrats and Republicans about equally in presidential elections. In fact, as a group they divided almost down the middle in 2008 between Obama and the Republican nominee, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.).
Look at almost any poll — including Post and Kaiser Family Foundation surveys — and the views of independents typically fall close to the results for the overall population. That reinforces the importance of understanding where independents sit, but it also conveys an impression that they are all middle-of-the-road voters. What this misses is that on many issues, large numbers of independents have attitudes that are largely indistinguishable from one side or the other. ...WaPo
The WaPo report calls many of these ex-Dems and ex-Repubs "disguised Democrats" and "disguised Republicans."
Still, there's one leader we independents will vote for: the candidate who believes in working with the other side.
... One clear factor that separates them from Democrats and Republicans is a near-uniform call for greater cross-party cooperation. Seven in 10 independents say they favor compromise between the parties rather than confrontation, according to the survey. Just as many say they are dissatisfied with the country’s political system. ... WaPo
How did we get to this point? Little if any attention is given to shift of what used to be the political center to the right, often dragged kicking and screaming to the right. Unless that tectonic shift to the right in the late seventies is included in the calculation, we continue to avoid a key issue: a change in American politics that excludes or dismisses many voters.
Among independents are some voters who now find themselves a) generally to the left of the Democratic party but b) nowhere near the "far left." The makeup of the four distinct groups within the Democratic party discussed in Balz's and Cohen's series hint this shift. Many Democrats who lurk within the "urban liberal" subset now call themselves "progressives" and "independents" when they feel uncomfortable about the DCCC or the Democratic party hacks, whether in their home state or in Washington. These are Democrats who are comfortable with -- once worked with -- what used to be called "centrist or progressive Republicans." But, notably, centrists hardly exist anymore on the right. They appear to have been outlawed. When the center disappeared or simply clammed up, we lost the glue that held the system together. That glue -- that urge for moderation in our politics -- is what made cooperation a daily possibility in Congress. It was based on respect for the intellect and character of the opponent. Imagine!
Countering any efforts to bring back a proudly collaborative group within the legislative branch is a rightwing faction whose battlecry is "no cooperation." Of course you can't govern that way and that's precisely what the new immoderates want: no federal government. In terms of their destructive effect on the system, the tea party faction is worse than anything I can remember. Except McCarthy, a man who was drunk on power and, as it happened, drunk in others ways most of the time. But decency finally won after McCarthy's rampages took us too far over the line. Maybe decency and respect for the democratic system will win this time. Maybe "independents" will vote the "decent" vote.
The Washington Post also has a graphic showing the words people associate with both parties and independents. "If you had to use a single word to describe your impression [of Democrats, of Republicans, of independents]. what would that word be?"
Republicans don't do too well in that beauty contest. Not too well at all.