Independents Offer Opportunity, Challenge

Faithful readers know that I am obsessed with Independents and swing voters.  I have been ever since I worked at the NRCC and we lost an “unloseable” (is that a word?) special election in Indiana’s old 4th CD — a seat that had been held by Dan Coats and Dan Quayle.  

Evidence that history repeats itself is that the conventional wisdom is that we lost because the base wasn’t with us.  However, the post-election survey found base GOPers voted overwhelmingly for the GOP candidate, but Independents went big for Jill Long and we suffered too many defections among soft GOPers.

Last week, the Pew Research Center released an interesting survey of 3,013 voters done in early/mid April.  The headline is that “Independents Take Center Stage in Obama Era.”  A couple of highlights from the overview memo underscore the GOP’s opportunity — and challenge — with Independents:

The proportion of independents now equals its highest level in 70 years. Owing to defections from the Republican Party, independents are more conservative on several key issues than in the past.

(T)he percentage of self-described political independents has steadily climbed, on a monthly basis, from 30% last December to 39% in April. Taking an average of surveys conducted this year, 36% say they are independents, 35% are Democrats, while 23% are Republicans. On an annual basis, the only previous year when independent identification has been this high was in 1992 when Ross Perot ran a popular independent candidacy.

The challenge in the data is highlighted here:

While they like and approve of Barack Obama, as a group independents are more skittish than they were two years ago about expanding the social safety net and are reluctant backers of greater government involvement in the private sector. Yet at the same time, they continue to more closely parallel the views of Democrats rather than Republicans on the most divisive core beliefs on social values, religion and national security. 

As I’ve noted, given the gap in party ID (which our polls show is NOT as wide as this poll shows, but there is clearly a significant ID deficit), GOP candidates have to do VERY well with Independents — making them the main target of our general election campaigns. 

Thus far this election cycle, our opportunity with Independents comes along two paths — the need for more Republicans in Congress to act as a check and balance, and the need to get spending under control.  Yes, Republicans overspent during the Bush Administration, but it’s peanuts compared to what the Democrats are now spending.