Category Archive 'Independents'

27 Apr 2011

Independents: “A Clueless Horde”

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Michael Kazin contemplates with horror the fundamental contradiction of American democracy: the fact that most Americans are indifferent pragmatists who care practically nothing about politics. How did he suppose liberals ever got into power in the first place?

No group in American politics gets more respect than independent voters. Pundits and reporters probe what these allegedly moderate citizens think about this issue and that candidate, major party strategists seek the golden mean of messaging that will attract independents to their camp and/or alienate them from the opposing one. Presidential nominees and aides struggle to come up with phrases and settings that will soothe or excite them. But what if millions of independents are really just a confused and clueless horde, whose interest in politics veers between the episodic and the non-existent?

That is certainly the impression one gets from dipping into the finer details of a mid-April survey of 1,000 likely, registered voters conducted by Democracy Corps. …

The results are mildly hilarious. …

Almost 50 percent agreed first with the GOP positions, and then, with those of the other party. As the pollsters observed, “[I]ndependents … move in response to the messages and attacks tested in this survey.”

To a sympathetic eye, this result might connote a pleasant openness to contrasting opinions, perhaps a desire to give each group of partisans the benefit of the doubt. But I think it demonstrates a basic thoughtlessness. At a time of economic peril, when one party wants to protect the essential structure of our limited welfare state and the other party seeks to destroy it, most independents, according to this poll, appear to be seduced by the last thing they have heard. Scariest of all, come 2012, they just might be the ones to decide the future course of the republic. …

As former Rep. Richard Gephardt once put it, only half-jokingly, “We have surveys that prove that a good portion of the American public neither consumes nor wishes to consume politics.”

Independents vote in lower numbers than do party loyalists, but, in close elections, they nearly always cast the deciding ballots. As in other recent polls, the one conducted by Democracy Corps shows President Obama in a neck-and-neck race with Mitt Romney; it finds the same result for a hypothetical contest between a generic Republican and a generic Democrat running for Congress. This means that, unless the political dynamics change fundamentally over the next 18 months, independents will be critical again in 2012.

Of course, the dynamics could change, giving one party or the other a landslide victory. But I wouldn’t count on it. Indeed, the Democracy Corps poll reveals that our next holders of state power might end up being chosen by a minority that seems to stands for very little—or, perhaps, for nothing at all.

Hat tip to Stephen Frankel.

07 Nov 2009

The Democrats’ Mandate Gap

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Rich Lowry makes the same point, observing that the democrats are operating on the basis of a mandate for radical change that they never had.

On November 3, the fairy tale died. The election results in Virginia and New Jersey dismantled the self-satisfied, just-so story that Democrats have been telling themselves about last year’s election.

The story goes like this: In 2008, Americans voted for change not just in the nation’s leadership, but in its fundamental political orientation. They wanted a shift to the left not seen since 1932. The nation’s political map had been utterly transformed. Barack Obama owned the suburbs and independents, and laid claim to formerly secure Republican states. An outdated GOP had been reduced to a rejectionist husk clinging to rural areas and the South.

A more modest rival interpretation explained it differently: A charming young man running against a Republican party debilitated by its association with an unpopular war and a politically toxic incumbent won a solid 7-point victory nationally. He sounded reasonable and moderate, and won for his party something important, if not necessarily epoch-making: a chance to govern after the other side had blown it.

The Republican sweep of the gubernatorial races in Virginia and New Jersey is flatly incompatible with the first, heroic interpretation of 2008. If things changed so fundamentally, they wouldn’t have snapped back so quickly.

Read the whole thing.

07 Nov 2009

Democrats Scaring Independents

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David Brooks, too, observes that the willingness of democrats to try for radical change at the risk of the economy is costing them the support of the non-ideological center.

Independents turned on the Republican Party because the MSM persuaded them that it was George W. Bush’s intransigent extremism which had poisoned American political life and produced bitter factionalism, and that it was Bush’s war spending and Republican banking deregulation that produced the economic crisis. They put democrats in charge, and our politics has not become bipartisan, the Middle East is not at peace, and the economy has not recovered. On the other hand, the deficit has quadrupled, the government owns General Motors, and Congress is trying to nationalize another one sixth of the economy while adding another trillion dollar entitlement, just before it proceeds to start working on carbon taxes.

Right now, independent voters are astonishingly volatile. Democrats did poorly in elections on Tuesday partly because of disappointed liberals who think that President Obama is moving too slowly, but mostly because of anxious suburban independents who think he is moving too fast. In Pennsylvania, there was an eight-point swing away from the Democrats among independents from a year ago. In New Jersey, there was a 12-point swing. In Virginia, there was a 13-point swing.

The most telling races this year were the suburban rebellions across the country. For example, in Westchester and Nassau counties in New York, Republican candidates came from nowhere to defeat entrenched Democratic county officials. In blue Pennsylvania, the G.O.P. won six out of seven statewide offices.

Middle-class suburban voters who have been trending Democratic for a decade suddenly lurched out of the Democratic camp — and are now in play.

Why? What do these voters want?

The first thing to say is that this recession has hit the new suburbs hardest, exactly where independents are likely to live. According to a survey by the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University, 76 percent of suburbanites say they or someone they know have lost a job in the past year.

The second thing to say is that in this time of need, these voters are not turning to government for support. Trust in government is at its lowest level in recent memory. Over the past year, there has been a shift to the right on issue after issue. According to Gallup, the percentage of Americans who believe that there is too much government regulation rose from 38 percent in 2008 to 45 percent in 2009. The percentage of Americans who want unions to have less influence rose from 32 percent to a record 42 percent.

Americans have moved to the right on abortion, immigration and global warming. Over the past seven months, the number of people who say government is doing too many things better left to business has jumped from 40 percent to 48 percent, according to a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll.

According to that same survey, only 31 percent of Americans believe that the president and Congress “should worry more about boosting the economy even though it may mean larger budget deficits.” Sixty-two percent, twice as many, believe the president and Congress “should worry more about keeping the deficit down, even though it may mean it will take longer for the economy to recover.”

These shifts have not occurred because conservatives and liberals have changed their minds. They haven’t. The shift is among independents.

According to Gallup, the share of independents who describe their views as conservative has moved from 29 percent last year to 35 percent today. The share of independents who believe there is too much government regulation of business has jumped from 38 percent to 50 percent. Independents are in the position of a person who is feeling gravely ill at the same time he has lost faith in his doctor. …

Independents support the party that seems most likely to establish a frame of stability and order, within which they can lead their lives. They can’t always articulate what they want, but they withdraw from any party that threatens turmoil and risk. As always, they’re looking for a safe pair of hands.


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