Five myths about independent voters

May 21, 2012

Linda Killian discussed her Outlook piece Five myths about independent voters.

Submit questions and opinions for Killian to respond to now.

Follow Linda on Twitter: @lindajkillian

Hi Everyone - I'ts Linda Killian author of "The Swing Vote". I'm ready to take your questions about Independent voter myths or anything else on your mind.

What is it that independent voters are looking for? Is it policy positions, likeability, or a mix of both? Also, how much does track record play into consideration? Republicans are much more likely to be tolerant of Governor Romney's flip-flopping on issues, but will independents be tolerant or is it a turn off?

Most Independent voters are turned off by the influence of big donors on politics and negative campaigning. They are looking for solutions to problems and action by their government. Polls have shown a majority of them have a mix of views -more like Republican positions on the economy and deficit and more like Democratic positions on environmental protection and social issues.

I don't think Independents will care that much about whether Mitt Romney has changed his positions on some things. I think they are more likely to try to determine who they think would do a better job governing the country, dealing with our econominc problems and the deficit and getting some things done in 2013 and beyond.

As a political science student in the 1970s, I learned that independents and people who said, I vote for the man, not the party, were less well informed than party identifiers and also much less likely to vote. Is that still true? Also, is the rise in independents due more to older persons leaving parties or younger persons not developing a party identification?

Independents do participate at a slightly lower percentage of registered voters than do Republicans and Democrats - but of course they also can't participate in the primaries in more than half the states in the country. The District of Columbia and Maryland do not allow Independents to vote in primaries.

I don't think it's true that the average Independent voter is less well informed than the average Republican or Democrat.

People of all age groups are leaving the two parties and becomeing Independents but the highest percentage of Independents in any one group is among those who are 35 and younger. 

Do Independent voters generally think the news media doesn't cover the important issues, like unsustainable budget deficits and militrary commitments; prefering less important issues that it's easy to form an opinion about, like the contraceptive mandate or gay marriage?

Just as they are pretty disgusted with the two parties, Independent voters are also disappointed in a lot of the news coverage they are getting. There's a lot of focusing on issues that don't really affect the average American but that editors and producers think will drive ratings. It's also all about the horse race and not enough about substance according to a lot of Independent voters.

Isn't the majority of "Independent Voters" today mostly GW Bush Republicans and Hillary Voters?

That's a good question. I think most Independent voters are in the center when it comes to their views. I break them down into four groups in my book "The Swing Vote." One group are NPR Republicans (Rockefeller Republicans) who are moderates who may have voted for Barack Obama in 2008. Another group are the America First Democrats (Reagan Democrats) and they definitely liked Bill and Hillary Clinton.  The Facebook Generation (those under 35) and the Starbucks Mom and Dads (suburban voters) make up the other main constituencies of the swing/Independent voters.

I should think there is a huge difference between an independent vote in my state, Pennsylvania, where we have party primaries that are closed to independent voters than in states where independents may choose which primary to cast votes. Am I wrong in this speculation? Maybe I am too political, yet I would change my party registration to help a particular candidate in Pennsylvania win a primary On the other hand, I have friends who are independents in other states who state they will choose to vote in a primary for a weak candidate who they believe will lose in the general election, How widespread are voters like us?

You sound like a very strategic voter. Some people have told me they would be an Independent but because their state does not allow Independents to vote in the primaries they prefer to stay registered in one party or the other. About half the states in the country have open primaries. Virginia and Ohio - both of which I talk about in "The Swing Vote" allow all registered voters to participate in the primaries.  I am a big proponent of opening up primaries in all 50 states to all registered voters.

was the Bush v Gore contest's outcome due to swing votes or miscount?

Interesting question. I think it's fair to say there were a number of factors in the closeness of that election and Al Gore winning the popular vote and losing the electoral college to George W. Bush by losing the state of Florida. Certainly swing voters in key battleground states played a role but I also think a lot of Democrats blame Ralph Nader's candidacy for taking away enough votes in key states to make the Bush win possible. All polls indicate 2012 will also be a close election so swing voters in battleground states will be incredibly important. Most of them haven't made up their minds yet about how they plan to vote and they probably won't until right before the election - after the conventions and debates.

It's easy to pick the party of the ruralite or urbanite; the poor and rich-or-close; the blue-collar worker or business owner; the secularist and fundamentalist. That makes the middle class, suburban, white-collar employee of a large business, who accepts religion but doesn't think it makes good government policy, into the voter with a party. That's a LOT of people. How did such a big bloc get politically marginalized?

Great question. A lot of voters feel marginalized and believe the two parties care about their base, fundraisers and party leaders a lot more than they care about the voters. The two parties have a stranglehold on the system. The lack of open primaries are part of the problem along with the small number of truly competitive congressional districts around the country. The districts are drawn to be safe seats for either Republicans or Democrats so that once a candidate wins a primary or gets elected they are almost assured reelection. That means voters in the middle don't have the clout they should have considering how many of them are out there.

There have been some elections in the last decade, like Joe Lieberman or Arnold Schwarzenegger, in which general election winners couldn't have taken either party's primary. The same may have happened to Arlen Specter, Mike Castle and Adrian Fenty and now Richard Lugar. Do Independents generally believe there's something broken about the two-party system that prevents good candidates from even getting to them?

Absolutely! Polls show that Independents feel much less satisfied with their general election choices than do Republicans and Democrats. I think this is true for all of the reasons I've mentioned in some of my previous answers. We need election reform. I also urge Independents to get involved in the political process and make their voices heard. 

Thanks everyone for all of the great questions. Please follow me on Twitter @lindajkillian. You can also check out my website - and send me a message there if you still have a question you would like me to answer.

In This Chat
Linda Killian
Linda Killian is a Washington journalist and a senior scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center. She is the author of The Swing Vote: The Untapped Power of Independents. She writes about politics for The Atlantic, Politico and many other national publications and websites. Her previous book was The Freshmen: What Happened to the Republican Revolution? She has appeared on CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, C-SPAN. She is the former senior editor of National Public Radio's "All Things Considered".

Follow Linda on Twitter: @lindajkillian
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