Magazine article Politics Magazine

Focus on Unaffiliated Voters

Magazine article Politics Magazine

Focus on Unaffiliated Voters

Article excerpt

Republicans are on a roll with wins in three states President Barack Obama won in 2008. In governors races in Virginia and New Jersey and the special election for U.S. Senate in Massachusetts, Republicans won handily among independent voters. In 2008, Obama won independents in New Jersey and Massachusetts and split them in Virginia.

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That shift among independents is significant looking ahead to November and beyond. But it also needs some perspective. It may be useful to think of these voters more as "unaffiliated" than "independent." Our Zogby Interactive surveys typically find about four in 10 self-identified independents also identify as liberal, conservative or libertarian. Independents who call themselves conservatives outnumber liberals by about two-to-one.

So it is a mistake to believe that an independent is without strong ideological belief. For many, neither party adequately matches their conservative or liberal convictions. So they will predictably vote for the major party that more closely matches their ideology, or go with a "purer" third-party candidate.

This reality gives Republicans a built-in advantage with independents, which was even stronger in the three recent state races. Conservatives are now much more motivated than liberals. Voter turnout of these ideologically-motivated independents will be similar to that of "base" voters of both parties, which right now leans Republican. The true independents are more likely to be those who identify as both independent and moderate.

Compared to all voters, more of the moderate independents are male, college educated, have annual household incomes of more than $75,000 and have valid passports. Those demographics taken collectively validate that our moderate independents are very much a swing group of voters. They comprise about one-fifth of the electorate.

I've run the numbers for moderate independents and their attitudes toward Obama in two recent polls conducted from Jan. 29-Feb. 1 and Feb. 3-5. In the first, we found moderate independents rate Obama higher than all voters on three basic measures: job performance (all voters 50 percent, moderate independents 59 percent); favorability (all voters 53 percent, moderate independents 62 percent); and proud rather than ashamed to have Obama as president (all voters 53 percent, moderate independents 64 percent. …

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