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Overselling the importance of independent voters

11/20/2012

So what happened? Obama lost independents by a margin of 45 percent to 50 percent — and he still won the election handily.

Indeed, in 2004, Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts, the Democratic nominee, won the “independent” vote — 54 percent to 45 percent — and also lost.

Let’s dig into the exit polls and find out what’s really going on.

The Facts

Among the many questions on exit polls, there are two overlapping queries — one that asks about political ideology (liberal, moderate and conservative) and one that asks about political party affiliation (Democrat, Republican or independent).

Between 2004 and 2012, there has been an important shift in political ideology — from moderate to liberal. In other words, more people self-identify themselves as liberals, fewer as moderates and about the same as conservatives.

Liberals

2004: 21 percent

2012: 25 percent

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Moderates

2004: 45 percent

2012: 41 percent

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Conservatives

2004: 34 percent

2012: 35 percent

Though the count has not yet been completed, Obama appears to have won 50.7 percent of the vote, compared to 47.6 percent for Romney. By contrast, George W. Bush won 50.7 percent of the vote in 2004, compared to 48.3 percent for Kerry. A large part of the difference in the results is because voters overall have turned more liberal.

Now let’s look at what happened to the ideology of the self-described independents, who are also asked about their political leanings. Strikingly, this group has become even more conservative even as the country has moved to the left.

Liberals

2004: 21 percent

2012: 19 percent

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Moderates

2004: 56 percent

2012: 50 percent

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Conservatives

2004: 23 percent

2012: 31 percent

In other words, in 2012, independents were more likely to be Republican-leaning voters. Perhaps these are tea party aficionados. Or maybe they are Republicans who were dissatisfied by the GOP nominee. But in any case, Romney was winning the votes of people who would have been in his camp in the first place. So that’s why capturing the independent vote still left him short.

And how did Obama do among voters with a “moderate” ideology? He crushed Romney, 56 percent to 41 percent.

The Bottom Line

We can’t really hand out Pinocchios in this matter, but just be wary when you hear a political pundit speak about the importance of independent voters.

The “independent” vote is a political chimera — an ever-changing organism that does not shed much light on who is going to win the election. Political ideology is a much better guide to figuring out who is going to be the winner — and the loser.

by 2012 Poll Trollreply 511/21/2012

I would think people calling themselves independents were a lot smarter when there were two seemingly reasonable choices, and much dumber when it's a choice between eating glass and eating something bland but edible.

by 2012 Poll Trollreply 111/20/2012

"Now let’s look at what happened to the ideology of the self-described independents, who are also asked about their political leanings. Strikingly, this group has become even more conservative even as the country has moved to the left."

The independent group may have become more conservative, but I don't think the people in it changed--they just got a huge influx of conservative people who are no longer comfortable in the Republican party.

by 2012 Poll Trollreply 211/20/2012

I'm just glad we don't have to bear those so-called "undecided" attention whores anymore.

by 2012 Poll Trollreply 311/21/2012

I don't know how to quit you either, Poll Troll!! Smooches

by 2012 Poll Trollreply 411/21/2012

"in 2012, independents were more likely to be Republican-leaning voters"

Yes, many think the Republican party is too moderate.

by 2012 Poll Trollreply 511/21/2012
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