Hedging Our Bets (An Independent View)

The contradictory data in recent polls show the problem faced by independents. I do not like the idea of one party controlling both houses of Congress by large margins along with the White House but we do not have an acceptable opposition party. Charlie Cook writes:

In the new National Public Radio poll conducted by the Democratic polling company Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research and its Republican counterpart, Public Opinion Strategies, 42 percent of the 800 likely voters surveyed March 10 to 14 said that if the next congressional election were held today they would vote for the Republican candidate; an identical percentage of respondents said they would vote for the Democratic one. For several years, Democrats held a substantial lead on this question.

Democrats still outnumbered Republicans in terms of party identification in this poll by 6 points, 45 percent to 39 percent. Democrats also favored their own party’s congressional candidates 83 percent to 7 percent. But voters who call themselves independents gave GOP candidates the edge by 14 points, 38 percent to 24 percent. And self-identified Republicans supported their own party’s candidates 85 percent to 3 percent.

So far this sounds terrific for the Republicans and like bad news for the Democrats. However:

The interesting thing about the recent NPR poll is that on many levels, the public expressed much more agreement with and sympathy for Democrats than with Republicans, yet the parties were tied in the generic ballot test. Bolger argues that the poll shows that although Republicans still “have their work cut out for them,” the public doesn’t want to give President Obama and the Democrats in Congress a blank check.

Independents do not want one party to have a blank check but we also find that the views of the Democrats are far more consistent with our beliefs than those of the Republicans. The Republicans may or may not do well in the off year elections in 2010 as the opposition party generally does. History does not generally move in straight lines, but the overall trend, regardless of what happens in the next election, is that the Republicans are on a downward spiral unless they abandon views which a substantial proportion of independents find objectionable.

It is far too soon to predict what will happen in the next election, but whatever happens, independents will play a major role, as we did with the election of Obama and with ending the Republican control of Congress:

The simple facts that self-identified Democrats still outnumber Republicans and that Democratic voters support Democratic congressional candidates 83 percent to 7 percent underscore the importance of independent voters. Many Democratic congressional leaders shake their heads with disdain or in disbelief over what they see as the Obama White House’s preoccupation or even obsession with pleasing independent voters by promoting bipartisanship, but reaching across party lines is critical to Obama’s success. Independent voters do not like partisanship, whether it is practiced by Democrats or Republicans. If Republicans really have pulled even or slightly ahead among independent voters, that is a very ominous sign for Democrats, an indication that Obama’s talking the talk of bipartisanship isn’t sufficient and that he and the Democratic majorities on Capitol Hill have to walk the walk.

It isn’t so much that Obama’s talk of bipartisanship isn’t sufficient but that we continue to have doubts about the Democratic Congress. Besides, if an election was to be held based upon their attitude towards bipartisanship, the Democrats would still win in a landslide despite their faults. The biggest questions now for independents are whether the Democratic economic plans will work and whether the Republicans have learned anything from being thrown out of power. So far the Republicans remain on the wrong side of the issues with many believing that they lost because they were not conservative enough. Just watch them try to run a ticket in 2012 with Sarah Palin at the top and we will see even losses by the GOP.

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  1. 1
    Eclectic Radical says:

    I’m not always sure this independent trend is an informed or healthy thing. There are currently a host of policies which need radical change, and which are not going to change in an oppositional government. In such a system, the status quo tends to win out in the end, particularly with the heavy polarization we see in the policies of the two parties today. I don’t think we can really afford to keep the status quo going anymore.

  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:

    It was independents which allowed us to break from the status quo of alternating between the Bushes and Clintons. If not for independent support, Hillary Clinton would have been the nominee and probably the president.

    Before the financial crash I would have predicted that this would have more likely led to a McCain victory (also figuring he wouldn’t have chosen Palin if going against Clinton). The financial crisis probably would have led to virtually any Democrat winning. (Of course we can never say for certain as events during any campaign could have changed the outcome).

  3. 3
    Eclectic Radical says:

    I’m not bashing, or at least not trying to bash, independent voters.

    Rather I am questioning the idea among many independent and moderate voters of ‘balanced’ or divided government.

    Maybe this is just my optimism, but I don’t believe Hillary Clinton would have been nominated. I believe that, if it had not been for Barack  Obama’s presence in the primary, John Edwards would have received much more of the ‘Obama vote’ than Hillary. The sex scandal may or may not have derailed his general election campaign, but I don’t believe Hillary would have been nominated over Edwards in a primary without Obama.

  4. 4
    Ron Chusid says:

    Independent does not necessarily mean moderate.

    There’s no way to know for certain but I don’t think Edwards would have had much of a chance against Clinton. He would have done better without Obama in the race, but I believe he would have been a distant second.

  5. 5
    Eclectic Radical says:

    I know it doesn’t, that is why I separated ‘independent’ and ‘moderate’ into two categories.

    Maybe, but I don’t think so. I think the biggest reason Obama was nominated was that he wasn’t Hillary and the race was very rapidly reduced by the media to Obama and Hillary, even at a stage when other candidates still had a mathematical chance at winning. I believe media coverage has far too much influence on primaries, especially Democratic primaries. Edwards was in a reasonably close third when he dropped out, dropping out because he was in third place rather than because he was entirely out of the race. With a larger share of the Obama vote, I believe he almost certainly would have been nominated. Of course, ‘what if’ is not the sort of thing I can definitively prove. I acknowledge that.

  6. 6
    Ron Chusid says:

    I think Hillary had a pretty tight lock on the nomination running against the expected opposition. I think it took a combination of a remarkable campaign by Obama and a number of missteps by Clinton which played right into Obama’s strengths which led to Obama winning. Edwards was well behind the two and I don’t think he could have competed against Hillary alone.

  7. 7
    Eclectic Radical says:

    I think the strong showing from Obama actually worked in Hillary’s favor. Without him in the race, I think she would have had an experience similar to that of Howard Dean in 2004: lots of noise and predictions of thundering success rapidly followed by miserable failure.

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