Patterico's Pontifications

2/26/2012

Independent Voter Bunkum

Filed under: 2012 Election — Karl @ 8:26 am

[Posted by Karl]

I generally enjoy Charlie Cook’s work, which made his bunkum on independent voters all the more disappointing:

It’s misleading to say that the state of the economy determines whether a president will win reelection. But it is fair to say that when a White House incumbent is running for a second term, the election is first and foremost a referendum on that president; the single most important factor that voters consider in assessing a president is the state and direction of the economy. That is the default factor unless something happens to shift a race’s dynamic and make the election more like a choice than a referendum. At least, that’s what I’ve always thought.

***

But now I wonder whether the economy will drive this election to the usual extent—or to the extent I had thought. More specifically, will the Republican Party nominate a candidate who can credibly compete for the independent voters whose support is so important in general elections?

Independents represented 29 percent of the electorate in 2008. In last year’s combined Gallup polls, though, they were 40 percent—a record high. In 2000, Republican George W. Bush won the independent vote by 2 percentage points over Democrat Al Gore but narrowly lost the overall popular vote. In 2004, Democrat John Kerry actually carried independents by 1 point but lost the national popular vote by 3 points. The winner of the independent vote doesn’t necessarily win the general election. But a candidate has to be very competitive among independents to have a chance to win. In 2008, the GOP’s John McCain lost the independent vote by 8 percentage points and the election by 7 points.

As political scientists like Alan Abramowitz have noted, Cook’s basic thrust is incorrect and undercut by his own examples.  The major fallacy here is thinking of “independents” as a cohesive voting group, when they are anything but:

Let’s start with the claim that independents make up the largest segment of the American electorate. That’s true only if you lump all independents together including those who don’t vote and those who lean toward a party. In 2008, according to the American National Election Study, independents made up 40% of eligible voters but only 33% of those who actually voted. Moreover, of that 33%, only 7% were true independents with no party preference. The other 26% were leaners.

And what about those independent leaners? Fully 87% of them voted for the candidate of the party they leaned toward: 91% of independent Democrats voted for Barack Obama while 82% of independent Republicans voted for John McCain. That 87% rate of loyalty was identical to the 87% loyalty rate of weak party identifiers and exceeded only by the 96% loyalty rate of strong party identifiers.

It’s hardly surprising that the vast majority of independent leaners voted for their party’s presidential candidate in 2008. The evidence ***  shows that independent Democrats and Republicans held very different views on major issues — views that were very similar to those of their fellow partisans. Independent Democrats were more liberal than weak Democrats and about as liberal as strong Democrats while independent Republicans were less conservative than strong Republicans but just as conservative as weak Republicans.

Actual party identification is fluid.  Cook’s own examples from 2000 and 2004 should have suggested to him that de facto Democrats may have felt more comfortable identifying as such at the end of the Clinton administration, but may have felt less so — and de facto Republicans more comfortable identifying as GOP — in the first post-9/11 presidential election.  The same underlying dynamic likely accounts for Jimmy Carter’s narrow victory in 1976 while losing the independent vote in the first post-Watergate presidential election.

Moreover, as political John Sides has noted (again contra Cook’s premises), the relationship between the economy and elections it is stronger among independents than among partisans.  Sides has scatter plots to back him up, but this is also common sense.  Sides notes “[p]artisans are happy to vote for their party under most any circumstance and often rationalize their view of the economy accordingly.”  I would add that other issues, e.g., national security and social issues, also may motivate partisans (including leaners) to vote party.  If pure independents had fixed or passionate views on such issues, they would be partisans, not pure independents.  Cook’s own 2008 example only shows that when the economy is plunging into a deep recession, independents will vote against the party holding the White House.  Shocka.

That bit of sarcasm aside, I do not mean to be harsh on Cook.  Political scientists would not be writing about these mistakes unless plenty of other pundits and journalists had been making them already.

These mistakes are enabled in part by pollsters, who often do not ask questions to identify leaners.  Gallup does screen this way in their presidential approval polling, which currently shows pure independents giving Obama 37% job approval.  That’s up about 10% from last autumn, though below Obama’s 42% approval among all “independents” and his 45% overall approval number in the Gallup poll.

Pew also screens independents for leaners and will report results for them, yet generally does not report results for the remaining unaffiliated respondents.  Cook mentions a recent Pew poll in his column:

Republicans should be concerned that Mitt Romney’s numbers among independents have been tanking in recent weeks; he went from double-digit leads over Obama in some polls, including one by the Pew Research Center, to a 9-point deficit.

The Pew poll to which Cook refers reported Obama leading Romney 52%-44% overall, and 51%-42% among “independents”.  However, the sample in this Pew poll was 49% Democrats + leaners, and 39% Republicans + leaners.  Thus, it’s entirely possible that Romney led among pure independents in this poll. Moreover, the WSJ/NBC News poll just two weeks prior had a sample that was only 45% Dems+leaners and 37% GOP+ leaners, with perhaps twice as many pure independents, producing a 49%-44% margin for Obama.  This is not to accuse the Pew poll of having an improper sample (although at this point the number of polls showing Obama over 50% are small).  While we might argue about the party ID in a sample compared to registration or past election results, I am unaware of any appropriate standard for measuring leaners.  Indeed, it is the apparent inability to determine an appropriate mix of independents for any given poll that makes an undue focus on “independents” a dodgy proposition.

–Karl

29 Responses to “Independent Voter Bunkum”

  1. Ding!

    Karl (6f7ecd)

  2. “If pure independents had fixed or passionate views on such issues, they would be partisans, not pure independents. Cook’s own 2008 example only shows that when the economy is plunging into a deep recession, independents will vote against the party holding the White House. Shocka.”

    Karl – Makes sense, especially when you consider where McCain was in the polls in September 2008 prior to the collapse of Lehman. People forget that he was leading, especially in battleground states.

    daleyrocks (bf33e9)

  3. my sense is that Romney does far better with “independents” than the quixotic Gingrich or the bigoty Santorum

    I think this is pretty close to a truism actually

    happyfeet (3c92a1)

  4. independent voters don’t have to vote you know

    happyfeet (3c92a1)

  5. When you see an article with the question, “More specifically, will the Republican Party nominate a candidate who can credibly compete for the independent voters whose support is so important in general elections?” you know you are looking at, in 2012, an article in support of Mitt Romney. It may or may not be true that Mr Romney would do better amongst “independents” than Messrs Santorum or Gingrich, and that’s certainly the Accepted Wisdom™ (to steal a Patterico theme), but whether it is true or not really cannot be tested.

    And it leads to the other, usually unasked, half of the question: can Mr Romney do as well among Republicans as Messrs Santorum or Gingrich? It’s unlikely that many (real) Republicans would vote for President Obama, but the possibility exists that many would vote third party as a protest vote, or, even worse, be so disillusioned that they stay at home, which has negative effects down-ticket as well.

    The Dana who can see an article for what it is (f68855)

  6. 2008 was the “Perfect Storm” for Democrats… an anomaly…

    Colonel Haiku (66be0b)

  7. “And it leads to the other, usually unasked, half of the question: can Mr Romney do as well among Republicans as Messrs Santorum or Gingrich?”

    The Dana who can see an article for what it is – The question is not unasked, it will be settled in the primaries. If your premise is that not many “real” (pure) Republicans would vote for Obama, why would they effectively vote for him by voting third party or staying home in the Fall? Seems like a self-defeating protest.

    FWIW, Santorum scares the cr*p out of my three kids. What are his stats like with younger voters?

    daleyrocks (bf33e9)

  8. Santorum’s injected identity politics into this race in a big way

    that’s the x factor

    happyfeet (3c92a1)

  9. feets! (4)

    Research suggests Indies are generally less reliable voters. Another shocka, and another factor that makes looking at samples of them difficult.

    Karl (6f7ecd)

  10. Considering the youngsters tend to use google, I’m guessing santorum isn’t doing so well…

    Ghost (6f9de7)

  11. Santorum’s injected identity politics into this race in a big way

    that’s the x factor

    Comment by happyfeet

    Countered by Obama’s racial tribalism.

    Colonel Haiku (66be0b)

  12. According to my facebook Santorum want’s to make contraceptives illegal, has the same view of religions place in the state as Bin Ladin, and wants to force women to be stay at home wives. It reminds me of the outlandish crap I saw about Palin leading up to the 08 elections. Just straight lies repeated ad naseum, this by people I know not random internet dwellers.

    What I find funny is the mistaken idea that Axelrod and company won’t dream up crazy “Romney want’s to ban abortion and give over the US government to his wall street buddies” lies every day until the election should he win the nomination. By the time the election rolls around hard core liberal voters will be saying “boy Santorum and Bush were moderates compared to Mitt Romney!”

    Mr. Pink (8de8b7)

  13. How can anyone truly be an independent these days? A radical left president and his Party ask for another four years in power and supposedly non-ideological voters voters will decide whether they get that opportunity? What does an “independent” know that the rest of us don’t?

    mhr (20f8e9)

  14. I still think Santorum is a big loser in the general election. I was actually favorably impressed with Gingrich in that last debate. If gas is over $5.gal next fall, we will start hearing about using the national oil reserve. That’s when you know they are panicking.

    Mike K (326cba)

  15. By hard core liberals I am also referring to the supposed independant Dem leaning voters. The ones that lie and say they like Ron Paul but by the time the election rolls around will dutifully march out to pull the lever once again for Obama, always with an excuse about how “extreme” whatever Republican nominee is. Never mind the fact they claimed to like Ron fcking Paul, the most extreme candidate in decades, and vote for Obama, who laughs at Constitutional restraints on executive and legislative power.

    Mr. Pink (8de8b7)

  16. Angry Obama supporter goes on rampage!

    http://sfist.com/2012/02/24/large_naked_woman_stomps_on_car_in.php

    Colonel Haiku (66be0b)

  17. tax cheat timmy is already hot hot hot to tap the strategic petroleum reserve

    happyfeet (3c92a1)

  18. It’s like those fool voters, Luntz rounds up at the end of the campaign, who want to know more, because
    they haven’t been paying attention at all.

    narciso (87e966)

  19. We all have preferences or biases and I think Mr. Cook leans left, although I also think he generally does a good job at not letting his preferences affect his opinions. This could be an exception. If so, it illustrates how desperate or pessimistic Beltway folks feel about this election.

    DRJ (a83b8b)

  20. off-topic, but some interesting data (up thru 2010) on MassCare…

    http://t.co/GGsdNJTO

    Colonel Haiku (66be0b)

  21. In the same vein, interesting responses to new MassCare data.

    DRJ (a83b8b)

  22. Like most cats — I am very independent. After pondering the situation for endless days and nights I have chosen to vote for Romney. Of course I will have to mail the ballot in due to continued feline discrimination at the polling places.

    Mew
    Voter Beware

    acat (55039b)

  23. thedailybeast has surveyed the bench and come up with their preferred candidate to be the next NotRomney if the current circus ends in a brokered convention.

    Morningafter (56063e)

  24. Comment by DRJ — 2/26/2012 @ 11:23 am

    I would think that any moderation in premium increases could be laid to a single factor:

    It’s an election year!

    AD-RtR/OS! (7d4e01)

  25. Did “morningafter” ever list the multiple names it has commented under?

    JD (318f81)

  26. re: post 21… “More years of data suggest Romneycare not driving insurance premiums up.”

    - Jim Pethokoukis

    Colonel Haiku (93974f)

  27. I don’t think ‘antipathy’ has quite been registered yet by pollsters.

    Turnout in primaries continues to be worth a close watch.

    gary gulrud(MN#6, Anabaptist) (d88477)

  28. By hard core liberals I am also referring to the supposed independant Dem leaning voters. The ones that lie and say they like Ron Paul but by the time the election rolls around will dutifully march out to pull the lever once again for Obama, always with an excuse about how “extreme” whatever Republican nominee is. Never mind the fact they claimed to like Ron fcking Paul, the most extreme candidate in decades, and vote for Obama, who laughs at Constitutional restraints on executive and legislative power.

    The network broadcast media never exposes how extreme the Democrats are. Indeed, it is extreme to allow employers to decide for themselves what sort of health coverage that they can offer.

    Michael Ejercito (64388b)

  29. I think a lot of former obamawhores have him out of their system now

    even Daddy Soros hasn’t asked for a pole dance lately

    happyfeet (3c92a1)


Powered by WordPress.

Page loaded in: 0.3433 secs.