Come election time, one of our favorite things to do is
argue over discuss how best to reach the independent voter, and whether it matters if we do.
In 2004, there seemed fewer of them than in 2006, but in fact, they always exist and roughly speaking, range from 20 to 33% of the electorate truly in play depending on the year. This WaPo-Henry J Kaiser-Harvard poll puts some further data behind the discussion:
Wood, Welch and McClure all describe themselves as political independents. Wood is a classic swing voter, while Welch and McClure generally side with one party. They represent two of the five types of independents revealed in a new, in-depth study by The Washington Post in collaboration with the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard University.
The study is a comprehensive examination of a broad segment of the electorate -- about three in 10 voters call themselves independents -- that is poised to play the role of political power broker in 2008. Independents split their votes between President Bush and Kerry in 2004 but shifted decisively to the Democrats in 2006, providing critical support in the Democratic takeover of the House and the Senate.
The new survey underscores the Republican Party's problems heading into 2008. Fueled by dissatisfaction with the president and opposition to the Iraq war, independents continue to lean heavily toward the Democrats. Two-thirds said the war is not worth fighting, three in five said they think the United States cannot stabilize Iraq, and three in five believed that the campaign against terrorism can succeed without a clear victory in Iraq.
From the article:
Fifty years ago, independents accounted for about a quarter of all adults. Today, that proportion is between three in 10 and four in 10, depending on the survey. In most states that have party registration, independents or those who decline to state a party preference are the fastest-growing segment of voters, according to Curtis Gans, director of the Center for the Study of the American Electorate.
Independents mirror the population in terms of age, income and education. But they are disproportionately male. A majority of independents are men, while a majority of Democrats are women and the GOP is typically divided evenly between men and women.
Independents also are more secular than the overall electorate. Four in 10 in the new study would like to see religion have less influence on politics and public life than it does now. Almost a fifth say they have no religion.
One of the discussion points going forward will be how best to reach this collection of voters (the approach to the disguised partisan will likely not work with the disengaged or disillusioned) and how not to alienate everyone else in the process.
If it were easy, we'd always win.