The Independent Vote Yesterday

Discussions of the Republicans winning independent votes yesterday by the media are showing misconceptions about independent voters. First Read concludes “it’s about the middle, it’s about independents.” Their error is in assuming that independents and the middle are the same. Some independents certainly are centrists but many of us hold other views. There are liberal independents such as myself who have tended to vote Democratic on social issues in recent elections while not identifying with the Democratic Party for other reasons. Marc Ambinder points out that it was conservative independents who turned out to vote yesterday:

Yes, independents are moving to the GOP. That’s a big headline. Bad news for Dems, etc, etc. But. And this is important: these are conservative independents. Many disassociated with the GOP — at least in terms of what they tell pollsters — because of the GOP brand problems and because it’s cool to be independent in parts of the country and in parts of states. Don’t confuse “moderates” with “independents.”  Still, it seems clear that for people who call themselves independent, Republican messages wear better than Democrats.

Steve Benen discussed the problem of referring to independents as a group with a single set of views and pointed back to this analysis of independents published in 2007.

The independents who voted yesterday did tend to prefer Republican messages as Ambinder stated,  but that very well could be because it was conservative independents who turned out to vote while the types of independents who tend to vote Democratic were less motivated to vote. An argument might be made that Democrats could do better among independents by being more moderate. It is also likely that Democrats would do  a better job of motivating more liberal independents to turn out to vote for them by providing them with reasons to back them, such as by showing success in addressing problems such as health care and climate change.

Another problem is that identification as an independent, as well as identification with parties, is fluid. There are now many moderates and moderate conservatives who previously called considered themselves Republican but identify less with the party after its move to the far right. Similarly many people who previously called themselves independents have joined the far larger tent offered by the Democratic Party.

It is notable that the two victories by Republicans in New Jersey and Virginia were by Republicans who moved towards the center. As I noted previously, New Jersey Republican Chris Christie even tried to tie himself to Obama, presumably to bring in the votes of independents who support Obama.

Ultimately any interpretation of the voting by independents carries the same problems at extrapolating the results from yesterday as I discussed in the previous post. Local issues and candidates also influenced the votes of independents in these elections and this does not provide a basis for predicting how independents will vote in 2010 and 2012.

More on the 2009 election results:

Local Elections and National Politics

Spinning Defeat as Victory

Democrat Wins In New York 23rd

Be Sociable, Share!


  1. 1
    Chrome says:

    I agree with you in the aspect of “Independent” can not be a catch all.
    There are those who lean Democrat and Republican.  There are those who are not part of a party because they BOTH are disgustingly negative. I even know a few who are independent because issue by issue they do not really agree with either party in a way that allows them to feel like they fit ( pro-life, anti-death penalty, against same-sex marriage, pro-special education, anti-warming crowd … yadda yadda … they just do not FIT one mold or another ).
    However, the suggestion that they can energize their base and get the crowds out by being MORE obnoxious and in your face … ain’t going to work.
    Remember, you have a congressman ( Stark ) calling moderates of his own part “Brain Dead” and another calling ALL Republicans “Knuckle dragging neanderthals”.  And how are they treated?
    Like heroes.  Not the same as the judgemental foul-mouthed fools on the other side.
    You have Obama moaning about how FOX is a mouth piece for the Republican party in the afternoon, and meeting in private with Maddow and Olberman that night.  Showing the vast middle that he has no problem with stations being mouth pieces … so long as they are HIS mouthpieces.
    And this hypocrisy is what really is fueling a huge segment of the independents out.
    The thing is, it is probably alot closer to we would rather see 510 congressmen ALL get voted out.
    Reverse the party majorities, but fire em ALL.  Even the ones in the same party as you.
    Personally I feel like that — I feel like people like YOU should promise to vote Green.  Just not Dem.
    And people like me ( yea I am a Republican leaner ) promise to vote Libertarian.  Just not Rep.
    Vote em ALL out.  Just for two years.  Maybe THEN they will get a clue that they report to their CONSTITUENTS not their party.

  2. 2
    VA Mom says:

    The country is center right. Period.

  3. 3
    Ron Chusid says:

    VA Mom.

    No period. Stating the country is center right is only the start of any answer, considering that there are many definitions as to what both center and right mean.

    At least the claim of being center right is consistent with the Democrats replacing the Republicans as dominant party since the move by the GOP to the far right. They are now far too extreme a party to win nationally.

  4. 4
    Ron Chusid says:


    “I feel like people like YOU should promise to vote Green. Just not Dem. And people like me ( yea I am a Republican leaner ) promise to vote Libertarian.”

    I have no interest in the Green party, and being limited to a choice of the Green and Libertarian Parties would hardly be an improvement for many independents. You are a Republican leaner? I sort of guessed that both when you wanted to reverse the party majorities and then when you repeated right wing talking points.

    Fox is a mouth piece for the Republican Party so Obama’s spokespeople were just making statements of fact. I imagine if you fail to realize this and think it is presenting news it is no surprise you are repeating other right wing talking points. Sure Obama had dinner with Maddow and Olbermann, but he has also had dinner with conservative pundits. Of course the right wing media is selective in what they discuss. It is hardly a case of only meeting with his own “mouth pieces.” Besides, Olbermann has also been critical of Obama on some issues.

    The real problem is not the commentators. Having idiots like Hannity and Beck as the open voices opposing Obama probably helps him far more than it hurts him. The problem is all the shows on Fox which are presented as news shows but are really opinion shows which repeat the same false information as that which comes from people like Hannity and Beck. When Olbermann disagrees with Obama it is over legitimate matters of opinion. When Fox attacks the problem is not when they disagree over matters of opinion but when they repeatedly lie about the facts.

  5. 5
    Fritz says:

    It’s possible that a lot of independents are voting not out of any consistent ideological principle but out of a desire for government gridlock and inaction.

    It is a desire I applaud.

  6. 6
    Ron Chusid says:

    A case might be made that many voters want grid lock, or at least a balance between the two parties. It has been quite common for both Virginia and New Jersey to elect governors from the opposite party which dominated the previous national elections. I bet that at least some voters do so intentionally.

  7. 7
    Thomas says:

    Excuse me for meddling, I was redirected from RCP’s site to this interesting blog. I live in Denmark, where most of us are liberal in the democratic sense (our elections are fiscal blue dogs vs. a social to extremist leftwing), so looking at US politics usually takes the perspective from the liberal point of view. With the internet and some patience, I am beginning to understand the overwhelming amount of information that traffics the media landscape in the US, but I believe I have found some constants. One of those is relevant for this topic.

    My premis is, that there is only one conservative newstation in a veritable sea of center-left biased television media. The internet is another matter, but on this later. So before I continue, do you agree on this ?

  8. 8
    Ron Chusid says:

    No, I do not agree. The issue is not political ideology but that Fox acts to distort the news to promote the agenda of the Republican Party. The rest of the broadcast media if anything is center-right, not center-left, but they try to adhere to journalistic standards so their bias is not as apparent (making conservatives consider them liberal). There is also not the degree of uniformity at the other networks. For example, while far more people with Republican backgrounds have been hired at CNN than liberals since Ted Turner sold it, the Republicans at CNN try to present the news, and there is also a smaller number of Democrats there, so the bias there is far less of a problem. With the news media outside of Fox, there is also a tendency for the owners and high paid top talent being more conservative while younger reporters tend to be more liberal. There is also a tendency for even those who are conservative on many issues at the networks to be more likely to be at least somewhat socially liberal (as is the trend with those in jobs which include more education in this country).

  9. 9
    gatordad says:

    What there seems to be is a centrist indie group of voters that are interested in keeping the country centrist. The Republicans were punished in ’06 and crushed in ’08 because of Bush/Cheney being rightist  idealogues. Now they (the centrists/indies) are swinging right as they perceive the Dems moving too far left. The Republicans seem to want to move further right (i.e. Palin. Armey), and the Dems seem to want to push further left (i.e. Pelosi/Obama). Whichever party is first to realize that  the move is towards the center will be best served.

  10. 10
    gatordad says:

    Thomas your assumption is correct. The media here tend to be somewhat left of center. Fox tends to be somewhat right of center and is the only major news outlet that leans right. If you need substantiation, google a check on favorable vs. unfavorable reporting on various topics or politicians and you will see a fairly obvious pattern.

  11. 11
    Brent says:

    The media sure is not left of center. Faux is so far right that the rest are left of them by comparison. As Ron said, CNN–the Conservative News Network–has predominantly hired Republicans the last several years. Karl Rove used to call CNN his “go to” Network after Faux. Even CBS, which has been considered the most liberal, has moved pretty far to the right. They even  considered picking people like Rush Limbaugh to “investigate” Dan Rather to appease the right.

  12. 12
    Ron Chusid says:

    Plus it was the White House correspondent for CBS who, after Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize, was saying that Reagan as opposed to Obama deserved to win it. Conservatives still think CBS is far left primarily because of 1) the Katie Couric interviews of Sarah Palin (which were all about Palin’s incompetence and not Couric’s views) and 2) David Letterman (who is not even part of the news department).

    I agree there is a tendency to label things left vs right, and therefore since the mainstream media is so different from Fox some falsely divide it as Fox right, rest of networks left. It isn’t really a division between left and right. It is a division between those networks which attempt to do real journalism, and Fox which distorts the news for partisan reasons.

  13. 13
    Eclectic Radical says:

    ‘The Republicans seem to want to move further right (i.e. Palin. Armey), and the Dems seem to want to push further left (i.e. Pelosi/Obama).’
    The irony of this claim is that President Obama pretty much has been moving to the center his entire presidency. His campaign was never ‘left wing’ in the first place and he has made serious moves to the right on several issues since being elected, out of perceived necessity. Some of this is worthy of criticism and some is simply proof of pragmatism.
    Nancy Pelosi is a liberal, yes, and she was a very liberal congresswoman for most of her career. She has tacked steadily to the center since becoming House Speaker, disappointing many of her constituents… as she represents a very liberal district and has moved well to the right of them in her leadership position.

  14. 14
    Brent says:

    In that case I’d divide it up between real news (ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN) and fake news (Jon Stewert, Colbert, and Faux News Network.)

  15. 15
    Ron Chusid says:


    It is the same issue for politicians as with the news media. The GOP has moved so far to the right that to some centrists are seen as left as they are so different from the other side.

  16. 16
    Eclectic Radical says:

    ‘It is the same issue for politicians as with the news media. The GOP has moved so far to the right that to some centrists are seen as left as they are so different from the other side.’
    This is primarily possible because of the news media. They insist on describing the most moderate conservatives as ‘moderate’ and the least conservative of the moderates as ‘liberal’ as if the words mean nothing.
    I’ve noted before that I have a lot of respect for President Obama and think that he is a good president in the balance. I’ve also noted that he is a long way from being liberal.
    By the standards of the media today, I’m practically a Eurocommunist.

  17. 17
    Eclectic Radical says:

    ‘It is a division between those networks which attempt to do real journalism, and Fox which distorts the news for partisan reasons.’
    This is not totally true. I don’t know if I would describe what most of the networks do as ‘real journalism.’ Every now and then they make the attempt, but generally they fall short. Proper journalistic objectivity is the reporting of the facts and the debunking of lies.
    Sure, Fox primarily reports lies and debunks facts, so I don’t consider them even close to journalists.
    However, the other networks tend to ‘repeat information’ more than they ‘report facts’ and their deunking of lies is inadequate at best.  Their efforts to remain ‘neutral’ frequently mean they are afraid to debunk any false information or too strongly report facts that might be too unpleasant, for fear of being accused of ‘biased reporting.’
    I’d say the biggest advantage conservatives have in the media today is not that they have their own propaganda network. It’s that the rest of the media inevitably gives too much of the garbage bounced around on Fox airplay as legitimate news for fear of being left out of something. They repeat something because Fox said it, rather than report the facts.

  18. 18
    Ron Chusid says:

    I didn’t get into the questionable job which the broadcast media does here, but I have in other posts. CNN does a mediocre job of reporting the news, but they make an attempt at actually reporting news. Despite their faults, this is far superior nationalistically to Fox which is a propaganda source. There is a difference between CNN which is does a poor job but is still news as opposed to Fox which is not a true news outfit.

  19. 19
    Ron Chusid says:

    I must add that, while he is certainly no where as far to the left as you, and no where as far to the left as the right wing claims, I would still consider Obama a liberal by American standards.  You might be right that he is center-right by international standards.

  20. 20
    Thomas says:

    Hmmm, ok, I’m (still) in no position to argue with a “homegrown” on political bias, so please help me out here. Which of the following websites would adequately cover my needs for a fair spread in political perspectives:

    I currently favor:
    – Politico (all around I guess)
    – Real Clear Politics (all around I guess)
    – TNR (all around I guess)
    – Wall Street Journal (for rightwing bias)
    – New York Times (for leftwing bias)

    I sometimes read:
    – Foreign Affairs
    – Huffington Post
    – National Review
    – The Commentary
    – Daily Kos
    – Politifact
    – Salon
    – CSmonitor

    It would be really nice to get some advice on this.

  21. 21
    Ron Chusid says:

    There’s so many political sites and publications that if I were to make a list at a different time I might come up with totally different selections considering how hard it is to narrow down.

    In terms of liberal thought, there’s also Washington Monthly (including the Political Animal blog) and Think Progress.

    The Atlantic is also excellent–both magazine and its selection of blogs. They tend more towards liberal views but also contains conservative views. Ambinder is good for general political coverage. Andrew Sullivan is worth reading. He can sometimes be off the wall (regardless of side considering some of his attacks on John Kerry as well as going overboard on Sarah Palin at times). Despite this he comes up with excellent items which often transcend the usual left/right divides (considering that he doesn’t fit in well with either). Megan McArdle has many good posts on economic issues from a more libertarian perspective. Yglesias, who left the Atlantic a while back, has a good blog for liberal perspectives.

    The Moderate Voice gives a variety of views from left, right and center.

    It is harder for me to recommend blogs on the right as my perspective on them is different from those who read them. I prefer those which differ from hard line right wing thought such as Secular Right. Little Green Footballs has been notable recently for being conservative while chastising the right for some of their nuttiness. Hot Air might be a good one to get the more hard line conservative view, occasionally even taking a more sane approach (from my perspective) than some of the other conservative blogs.

  22. 22
    Eclectic Radical says:

    Yahoo News Opinion is a good source for a wide variety of professional op/ed stuff on both sides. They tend to tilt slightly conservative, lots of stuff by Buchanan, Bozell, Mona Charen, and Linda Chavez. Now that Robert Scheer doesn’t write so much stuff for them they are a little less numerously represented on the left, but Scheer’s stuff was nearly uniformly bad. Ted Rall, Cynthia Tucker and some other writers write good, smart liberal stuff from a decent range of liberal perspectives. They also aggregate content from Christian Science Monitor (always interesting and with a fascinating mixture of liberal and conservative views on various issues) and several other sources in addition to their own stuff.

  23. 23
    Eclectic Radical says:

    If one wants ‘establishment progressive’ and ‘establishment conservative views’ then The American Prospect and The American Spectator, respectively, do a fairly good job of sampling ‘official’ opinion on the left and right. The people who write for them typically share the general platform and views of the hard base of each party.

  24. 24
    Eclectic Radical says:

    I almost forgot…
    If one wants interesting and thought provoking philosophical, economic, and sociological commentary from a perspective further left than the political mainstream then I just have to recommend The Eclectic Radical. It’s something different, most of the time.  😉

1 Trackbacks

Leave a comment