On “Independents” Again

A further attempt at explanation.

My post on independent voters generated quite a bit of conversation, enough so that I think it worthwhile to drawn some attention to a few specific issues that may need clarifying.

First, let’s be clear on that the chart below shows.  It shows a stable, decades-long pattern of behavior wherein a large chunk of voters (indeed, the modal chunk) self-identify as “independent” and yet behave like partisans.  Again:  a stable pattern of behavior in the aggregate.

Independents outnumber Republicans and Democrats, but few are truly independent

I keep saying “in the aggregate” because, of course, these data cannot tell us if voter X moved from one category to another over time.  One could research that question, but these data, especially as presented here, would not be able to address that question.  And yes, without a doubt, individuals over time may change their voting behavior. As noted in the comments of the post linked above, James Joyner, as an individual data point, moved over time.  I, too, would represent such a data point.

This chart, and the broader polling used in the study, are not focused on that issue. Nor does it address the question of why people choose to identify as they do–that, too, is a separate research question.  Indeed, a point that was missed in the comments, since the focus was so heavily on why people call themselves independent, is the fact that there are a myriad of reasons why people call themselves “Democrat” or “Republican.”

What these data help us understand is that despite the self-identification as “independent” we do not see truly independent voting behavior from this group.  There is not 38% of the electorate prepared to abandon the two-party system under current conditions to pursue a “third way.”  Nor does this independent group shift all that much over time.  Instead, we see that the leaners are not as distinct from the partisans in terms of either their voting behavior nor in terms of their policy preferences as their self-identification would suggest (see the original post on the policy-preference issue).

Truly independent voting behavior would manifest as either a) a significant swing by these voters (which we don’t see) or b) some philosophical cohesion that would set them apart from partisans (which we don’t see).  We certainly don’t see any possibility that this group could form its own party (or parties).

Yes, the structural conditions of US politics very much promote a two party duopoly.  Indeed, anyone who is even a semi-regular reader knows that I think we need various reforms that would foster multipartism, as opposed to the entrenched bipartism we currently have.  As I have noted before, we have one of the most stable two-party systems in the world and a lot of that is due to structural conditions.

So, yes, if there were different prevailing conditions many “independents” would vote for different parties.  But, of course, so would a lot of self-identified partisans.  If suddenly our electoral system changed and new parties formed, many Republicans would stop being Republicans, and ditto many Democrats.  So, the observation that some of those Republican-leaning independents would behave differently if there were more choices is, of course, correct.  But so would some currently die-hard Republicans.  In short:  to assert that under different conditions voters would behave differently is certainly true, but that does not change the reality of their behavior under prevailing conditions.

Fundamentally, and this probably the central core of those who don’t like my posts on this subject:  when it comes to the aggregate outcomes of elections, specifically as it pertains to party formation/maintenance, I don’t necessarily care about why people voted as they did and certainly not what goes into their individual thoughts about what they call themselves.  I am not saying that those things don’t matter or that they shouldn’t be studied.  I am saying, however, because they don’t matter in the aggregate if their behavior produces a specific, stable outcome.

To put it as plainly as I can:  the self-identification of “independent” is indistinguishable from a partisan identification for the majority of people who so identify.  As such, the fact that 38% of voters don’t want to say that they are Ds or Rs may suggest some interesting political psychology (or even some level of dissatisfaction with those parties) but the electoral behavior is what is.  (This is not a tautology, as some asserted in the original discussion–it is an empirical observation).

The polling shows identification of 31% D, 38% I, and  26% R for 2018 with some rounding (and that leave 5% as other/don’t know, BTW).  At first blush that looks like a significant number of people who don’t want to “be” Rs or Ds.  But, with leaners it was 48% D, 7% I, and 39% R–a very different picture (and one mostly closely linked to electoral outcomes).

Again:  can we look into why people identify as they do?  Of course we can, and that is an interesting question.  But do motives change outcomes?  No, no they do not.

I would note that while various institutional factors push the US towards bipartism, the reality is that a significant third party is not impossible to conceive of.  Canada, the UK, and India all elect their legislature using single seats districts with plurality winners and they all have more than two parties winning seats.  So the leaners phenomenon is not solely a result of having to pick the lesser of two evils.  (Of course, as I have argued many times before, I do think that things like the essentially unique primary system we use to nominate candidates helps cement bipartism in ways that are not true in, say, the UK–but that is another discussion).

One can argue that the self-identification captured in the polling means something (it may mean any number of things) but what one cannot claim is that those 38% of voters are really distinct from partisan identifiers in terms of their sustained behavior. In other words, the self-identification of persons as “independent” doesn’t mean anywhere near what popular discourse suggests it means.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor of Political Science and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Troy University. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Mister Bluster says:

    If I am counting correctly the first sentence of the paragraph 11 reads:

    The polling shows identification of 31% D, 38% I, and 26% D for 2018…

    I think you mean 26% R.

  2. Andy says:

    What these data help us understand is that despite the self-identification as “independent” we do not see truly independent voting behavior from this group.

    As previously noted, this data can’t actually discern independent voters. There is no way to tell how many independents voted one way one cycle and voted differently the next cycle. “We do not see it” because the data can’t show it. All it can show is an aggregate snapshot from one election cycle and then compare that data with snapshots from previous election cycles. The problem that undermines your line of argument is that the cohorts change each election cycle but we don’t know the exact extent or scope of that change.

    There is not 38% of the electorate prepared to abandon the two-party system under current conditions to pursue a “third way.”

    I agree and didn’t suggest there was. I’m as skeptical as you are.

    Nor does this independent group shift all that much over time.

    I agree the aggregate doesn’t shift much. And I suppose if you only care about the aggregate then that means something. But that shouldn’t be extrapolated to conclude that independents act consistently from one election to the next because we know in many cases they don’t.

    We know, for example, about the Obama-Trump voters and we have some decent data on the size of that group, around 5 million actual voters. Where is that captured in Pew’s data or the chart above? You can’t see it. The aggregate groups remained relatively stable but a sizable cohort changed sides and decided an election.

    Fundamentally, and this probably the central core of those who don’t like my posts on this subject

    Please don’t mistake disagreement for not liking your posts. Out of all of OTB’s contributors, I like your posts the most by far and, on many things, we agree.

    To put it as plainly as I can: the self-identification of “independent” is indistinguishable from a partisan identification for the majority of people who so identify. As such, the fact that 38% of voters don’t want to say that they are Ds or Rs may suggest some interesting political psychology (or even some level of dissatisfaction with those parties) but the electoral behavior is what is. (This is not a tautology, as some asserted in the original discussion–it is an empirical observation).

    We will have to disagree then. It is clearly a tautology in my view. I’m not sure I can make my point any better than I already have.

    One can argue that the self-identification captured in the polling means something (it may mean any number of things) but what one cannot claim is that those 38% of voters are really distinct from partisan identifiers in terms of their sustained behavior.

    You are talking about sustained behavior again when we’ve already shown that we can’t know how much churn there is in the underlying aggregate groups.

    Again, where in Pew’s data do we see the Trump-Obama block of voters? Where do we see the #nevertrumpers? These are two of probably many sub-groups whose voting behavior changed which these polls cannot capture. “Sustained behavior” clearly does not apply to those groups because we know for certain they changed their voting patterns. These are millions of actual voters, not some trivial rounding error.

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  3. @Mister Bluster: Thanks for noting that.

  4. @Andy: You want these data to say something they can’t say/you want to have a different conversation than this information can provide.

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  5. (And as I note in post–it is not that these are illegitimate conversations to want to have–I simply do not understand the continued insistence to try and overlay them on what these data clearly show).

  6. Kathy says:

    Again: can we look into why people identify as they do? Of course we can, and that is an interesting question.

    Let’s take a look.

    If a nominal independent will consistently back one party in Federal elections, why do they call themselves “independent”?

    Well, consider a state like Nevada. It’s right-to-work and has no state income tax. It’s also the home of Sin City, and very tolerant, within the Vegas metro area at least, of all kinds of people (speaking from experience). The city lives mostly off out of town guests, many of them foreigners, and has a large Hispanic population (seeing as it was part of Mexico). Smaller places like Laughlin and Lake Tahoe also live largely of out of towners.

    So an independent Nevadan with a good job and high income might vote the straight GOP ticket every Federal election, but also make up their mind for local and state elections based on issues, character, etc. independent of party affiliation.

    Even then, they may vote mostly Republican, but once in a while they vote for a Democrat, and think themselves independent because of that.

  7. Robert Winn says:

    What your analysis neglects is that independent voters are United States citizens and are protected by the Constitution of the United States. They are like the Jews who were entering the gas chambers in Auschwitz. They have rights. Jews had the right to live, even though a political party was denying them that right. Independent voters have the same rights guaranteed by the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that other United States citizens have. They have the right to vote and to run for political office even though Democrats and Republicans do not allow that to happen except under certain circumstances. So please understand, political party members, independent voters are going to start exercising some of their rights. It is obvious that George Washington and John Adams were absolutely correct when they said that political parties would be incapable of providing good government. Independent voters will have to provide the direction government should take because political parties are only going to take this country toward armed conflicts in foreign nations and toward Civil War in the United States.

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  8. Mister Bluster says:

    Independent voters will have to provide the direction government should take because political parties are only going to take this country toward armed conflicts in foreign nations and toward Civil War in the United States.

    Now you are predicting the future.
    Do you fancy yourself as a leader of these Independent voters?
    If not you then who?

  9. Stormy Dragon says:

    I keep saying “in the aggregate” because, of course, these data cannot tell us if voter X moved from one category to another over time.

    To put it as plainly as I can: the self-identification of “independent” is indistinguishable from a partisan identification for the majority of people who so identify.

    Can you really not see the giant fallacy of division?

    I keep saying “in the aggregate” because, of course, these data cannot tell us if voter X moved from one category to another over time.

    Truly independent voting behavior would manifest as either a) a significant swing by these voters (which we don’t see)

    Can you really not see the giant appeal to ignorance?

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  10. @Robert Winn: I would invite you refrain from comparing voters in the US to Jews in Nazi Germany. It is a gross insult to those who were victimized by the Holocaust.

    If you cannot refrain from doing so, I would invite you not to comment.

    Indeed, I vigorously insist–I am seeking to be polite, but this has to stop.

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  11. @Stormy Dragon: I guess not.

  12. Andy says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    You want these data to say something they can’t say/you want to have a different conversation than this information can provide.

    That’s a strange retort considering I’m the one that originally pointed out what these data can and can’t show.

    I would respond similarly – you want these data to say something they can’t say, which is that independent voters are actually not independent and are instead consistent partisans. You’ve maintained this claim despite the clear evidence that leaners switch sides (and presumably their self-identified leanings) between election cycles. People who switch sides are not consistent partisans.

    That a majority of people in one cycle who said that they lean R and voted R is not a surprise and is not something we should expect to ever change. After all, why wouldn’t that be the case?

    The mistake is in assuming these R-leaning independents in one cycle always lean R and therefore always vote R and therefore aren’t actual independents. Hence my objection to one of the analogies used to explain your position:

    If I call myself a bisexual but only have sex with women am I really, for the purposes of studying sexual behavior, a heterosexual?

    One shouldn’t assume that you are a closet hetero who only has sex with women just because that’s what you did most recently.

    So the claim that independents are consistent partisans is not a supportable claim because the essence of being an independent is switching your affiliation based on circumstances and as I think we both now agree, that is something this data can’t tell us.

    All it tells us is that the aggregate groups that comprise leaners stay roughly the same size cycle-to-cycle and that in each election cycle leaners tend to vote for the side they lean to during that election cycle. That’s it. That does not provide us with sufficient fidelity to claim that independents are consistent partisans though undoubtedly many are.

    Anyway, I think we are at an impasse. I appreciate you taking the time to write another entire post on this and I hope it has been a good discussion.

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  13. Andy says:

    One more thought:

    We may have a definitional disagreement over what it means to be an independent. Two simplistic cases:

    – An independent is someone who votes contrary to their currently stated political leanings ie. they state they lean R but are willing to vote D for whatever reason.
    – An independent is someone who changes their voting pattern and political leanings between elections based on whatever circumstances. For example, they leaned R and voted R in 2012 and leaned D and voted D in 2016.

    If one’s view of independents is limited to the first category, then Pew captures that category and confirms that there are, indeed, few independents according to that criteria. With that definition, one can certainly claim that most self-described independents are consistently partisan actors.

    If one’s view of independents is the second category, however, then that is data that Pew does not capture and therefore this poll tells us nothing about these independents and we can’t make any definitive conclusions.

    As should be obvious, I subscribe to the second definition of what constitutes a political independent and I suspect you may subscribe to the first, so perhaps we are just talking past each other.

  14. @Andy: I think this gets to the heart of disagreement: I define a political independent in this discussion as “someone who self-identified in the poll as independent.”

    From there, the question becomes what to make of the 38% who describe themselves this way and then to look at the other behaviors for which we have data (i.e., the leaner issue).

    We can’t know, for this set of data, anything other than that.

    You, btw, are defining swing voters.

  15. Andy says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I’m glad that we understand our respective positions better.

    You, btw, are defining swing voters.

    Is there a difference in a binary system?

    Most independents have to vote for one side or the other (or vote third party or not vote at all) so if they change sides, how do we know if it’s an independent vote or a swing vote?

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  16. Grewgills says:

    @Andy:

    You’ve maintained this claim despite the clear evidence that leaners switch sides (and presumably their self-identified leanings) between election cycles. People who switch sides are not consistent partisans.

    There are 7-10% in any given cycle that don’t profess a lean.
    2016 was also an odd year in that the R candidate (disingenuously) played to some left wing economic populist themes that might have managed to peel off some Dem leaners and maybe even a few Dem partisans particularly in the rust belt.
    There is some weakness in mapping what is in all likelihood a continuum onto 5 distinct categories. It means the edges will be ‘fuzzy’. There is certainly some individual movement at the edges, but just as most Dems stay Dems, most Rs stay Rs, I would posit that most leaners keep their leans. This doesn’t deny individual agency or movement, but we are looking at populations.

    PS I hate that I can’t find it now and that I’m to buried in work and personal things at the moment to find it, but I have a vague memory of finding some data on consistency in voting patterns in individuals across time. Feel free to disregard this, as I can’t back it up with more than a vague memory right now. There is pretty good information on voting behavior being consistent within families across generations, which would lend indirect support to voters voting consistently over time.

  17. Grewgills says:

    An additional thought:
    It feels like we might be towards the end of the civil rights political realignment that began in ’64, for lack of a better date, and has been accelerating from the 80s til now. It feels like Trump might be the culmination of that realignment and will hopefully spur a new one.
    As much as I am a supporter of most of the aims of the current progressive movement I want a sane opposition that works from the same set of facts.

  18. @Andy: I think a swing voter, properly defined, has to have a high probability of, well, swinging.

    Leaners, by definition, likely aren’t swingers.

    This is part of my point, in fact.

  19. @Grewgills:

    There is certainly some individual movement at the edges, but just as most Dems stay Dems, most Rs stay Rs, I would posit that most leaners keep their leans. This doesn’t deny individual agency or movement, but we are looking at populations.

    Exactly.

  20. wr says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: “I am seeking to be polite”

    Which demonstrates why you are so much a better person than I am. Personally, I think he’s a nutbag, and my worst nightmare would be getting stuck next to him on a long plane trip.

  21. Andy says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Leaners, by definition, likely aren’t swingers.

    Except leaners can change their lean, what then? Are swing voters not included under the “independent” umbrella? I believe they are.

    And what about people like Bernie Sanders? He’s ostensibly an independent, but it’s quite likely he’s never voted for anyone except Democrats and wants to lead the Democratic party. I supposed we could then claim that Libertarians aren’t really Libertarians because the vast majority of them vote Republican?

    So while I can understand the appeal of limiting the definition of “political independent” to only include observed behavior, I think, in our binary system, this results in the tautology mentioned earlier. If your vote defines your affiliation then the only independents are the small minority who vote third party (and perhaps those who choose not to vote at all).

  22. Andy says:

    @Grewgills:

    There is certainly some individual movement at the edges, but just as most Dems stay Dems, most Rs stay Rs, I would posit that most leaners keep their leans. This doesn’t deny individual agency or movement, but we are looking at populations.

    I agree that most leaners likely keep their leans. But again, populations change.

    I think the real disagreement here is what is the definition of a political independent? Clearly, I define it much more broadly than Dr. Taylor does and ultimately it’s a fair point of disagreement.

  23. @Andy:

    Except leaners can change their lean, what then? Are swing voters not included under the “independent” umbrella? I believe they are.

    Aye, and there’s the rub: the leaners consistently lean according to the data and the true swing vote is only a portion of 10% truly independent. Again, in the aggregate, as individual behavior may vary.

    There just isn’t any evidence that leaners are likely swingers. They appear, in fact, to mostly behave like partisans.

    This is the point (perhaps not the only one, but a key one)

    And what about people like Bernie Sanders? He’s ostensibly an independent, but it’s quite likely he’s never voted for anyone except Democrats and wants to lead the Democratic party.

    Bernie is probably, ironically, a leaner who likes to say he is independent, but likely votes like a self-professed partisan.

    Indeed, you are making my point.

    If your vote defines your affiliation then the only independents are the small minority who vote third party (and perhaps those who choose not to vote at all).

    When it comes to voting behavior? You are exactly correct.

  24. @Andy:

    I think the real disagreement here is what is the definition of a political independent? Clearly, I define it much more broadly than Dr. Taylor does and ultimately it’s a fair point of disagreement.

    I think you can define it more broadly in a different context, or you can ask why people self-identify in that manner. I just don’t understand how you can define it more broadly when it is defined by the poll itself (indeed, by the voters themselves who self-identify).

  25. Andy says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    There just isn’t any evidence that leaners are likely swingers. They appear, in fact, to mostly behave like partisans.

    I’d be interested in any evidence you have for that. I can’t recall anything that specifically addresses it, but I haven’t really dug into it.

    I keep going back to the Obama-Trump voters as the best, most recent example. What are they? How do they fit in your model?

    If you only look at voting behavior, they were Democrats in 2012 and then became Republicans in 2016. Since the Pew aggregate numbers didn’t change much that must mean there were Republican votes in 2012 that switched to Democratic votes in 2016 to offset the Trump-Obama switchers, or some other reordering of the cohorts.

    Those are exactly the kinds of shifts the Pew poll doesn’t detect or address, but I think understanding that aspect is crucial in determining who is actually an independent vs those who are closet partisans.

  26. Gustopher says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    There just isn’t any evidence that leaners are likely swingers. They appear, in fact, to mostly behave like partisans.

    Are there any twenty year studies that follow individual independents? My guess is that there are several different types of independents, and that a lot of this discussion is trying to treat them as a single type.

    Some questions I would like to see answered:
    – Do they vote more or less reliably than partisans? (Just vote, not who they vote for)
    – Do they vote in off year elections?
    – Do they keep their lean?
    – Do they switch their lean on state vs federal offices?
    – does negative campaigning affect them more or less than partisans?
    – Do they actively follow politics?
    – Are they just cynical and too cool for political parties?

  27. MarkedMan says:

    @wr:

    and my worst nightmare would be getting stuck next to him on a long plane trip

    Speaking as someone who has been on a lot of long flights (>7 hours) my sincere advice is to give up personal vanity and go for the eye mask and ear plugs. I suspect that a) even if some lunatic decided to talk to me about their political or religious convictions I would never know, and b) the most important thing in combating jet lag is to get as much sleep as you possibly can and that begins on the airplane and, if you are like me, you cannot really sleep deeply with flickering lights and random noises.

  28. MarkedMan says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: I think this is the perfect internet discussion. Not the typical one, which I define as one in which two people argue endlessly without ever actually listening to each other because, if they did they would realize they are speaking about two different things. Instead of being “typical”, this is “perfect” because what we have here is one person (Steven) who keeps repeating the same thing and several other people who make no attempt to understand what Steven is actually saying and keep arguing a completely different point.

    Let me try (just for laughs, as this is obviously the internet). Steven is saying that this poll (and many other previous polls) show that in any given election if someone says they are independent but “lean” either Democrat or Republican, they actually vote for the party they said they lean towards in overwhelming numbers.

    This is shown absolutely clearly by the polls cited, and the only argument against them is to say they are badly crafted. But instead, the “opponents” are actually arguing several, completely different things.

    Steven, have I summarized correctly? Or do I have to eat crow?

  29. DrDaveT says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    the leaners consistently lean according to the data

    No — you’re doing it again. This is one of the things we’ve all agreed the data can’t show.

    The proportion of R leaners who vote R (and similarly for D) stays about the same over time. This is not at all the same thing as saying that individuals lean consistently, which is the claim that you seem to want to make. Others have pointed out that other polling data indicates that this simply isn’t true.

    Hypothesis: people self-identify as independents when they don’t care what party label a candidate wears. In a two party system at a time of extreme divergence in party platforms, this is entirely consistent with those people consistently voting for the same party. This does not mean they are really partisans; it means that they have consistent values and no better choice available.

    I find it weird that we’re having this discussion at the very moment when so many Republicans are voting for policies they would have abhorred a decade ago. That’s what partisan affiliation looks like — it’s when you vote for the R, regardless of what values or policies R stands for these days.

  30. An Interested Party says:

    All of this talk of independents gets silly after awhile…in the end, if these people vote, they vote for either the Democrat or the Republican, or they throw away their vote on a candidate who can’t win…

  31. @Andy:

    I’d be interested in any evidence you have for that.

    To risk sounding snarky, it is the table above that shows consistent behavior of leaners since 1994.

    If you only look at voting behavior, they were Democrats in 2012 and then became Republicans in 2016.

    Indeed. You are talking specific individuals, which I wholly allow shift (and have allowed that from the get-go).

    But note:

    1) In terms of absolute numbers, HRC not only won the popular vote, but won (in absolute terms) the most Democratic votes ever (and yes, I know that that is a function of pop growth). But the point is: those numbers track, in the aggregate, with the trends we have seen for decades.

    You keep wanting to argue that individuals shift, which I agree with you that that happens. But that doesn’t change the overall trend and the overall behavior.

  32. @Gustopher: Sure, individual voters shift over time–I have noted that repeatedly. There just aren’t a lot of them who do so in the aggregate and the general pattern is quite clear.

  33. @MarkedMan:

    Steven, have I summarized correctly? Or do I have to eat crow?

    No, you are on point. I recognize that I am mostly just restating the same thing in different (and perhaps not so different ways).

    they would realize they are speaking about two different things.

    In fact, I have been trying to get a few folks to see that, in fact, they are trying to talk about something different than what I am talking about.

  34. @DrDaveT:

    The proportion of R leaners who vote R (and similarly for D) stays about the same over time. This is not at all the same thing as saying that individuals lean consistently, which is the claim that you seem to want to make.

    The probability is, based on long-term, observable data (and not just this study) that voters tend to persist in their voting behavior, year on year.

    Therefore, the probability is that a leaner who acts as a partisan now, will do so in the future. Yes, individuals may deviate, but how one can look at a multi-decade trend and then assert that it does not show that leaners don’t swing in the aggregate is beyond me.

    Yes, individuals swing. But we do not have a measurable category beyond the single digits who have a high probability of swinging in a given election.

    I find it weird that we’re having this discussion at the very moment when so many Republicans are voting for policies they would have abhorred a decade ago. That’s what partisan affiliation looks like — it’s when you vote for the R, regardless of what values or policies R stands for these days.

    If there is a mass exodus of leaners from the Republican Party at the polls in 2016, I will gladly write about how I was wrong in this whole conversation.

    I would note, BTW, that that is not what we saw in 2018, rather we saw the same basic pattern persisting.

    I would also note that the survey data in the first post that looked at policy positions, the Republican leaners tracked with the Republican partisans on the wall and tariffs–both are MAGA policies. If your contention was correct, shouldn’t their policy preference pattern look different if the party is changing? Or, might it be that they are behaving as partisans despite the self-ID as “independent”?

    Indeed, look at the policy issues and note that the leaners in both categories look a lot like partisans.

  35. wr says:

    @MarkedMan: “Speaking as someone who has been on a lot of long flights (>7 hours) my sincere advice is to give up personal vanity and go for the eye mask and ear plugs.”

    I don’t go for the eye masks, but my airpods are in the whole way…

  36. DrDaveT says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I find it weird that we’re having this discussion at the very moment when so many Republicans are voting for policies they would have abhorred a decade ago. That’s what partisan affiliation looks like — it’s when you vote for the R, regardless of what values or policies R stands for these days.

    If there is a mass exodus of leaners from the Republican Party at the polls in 2016, I will gladly write about how I was wrong in this whole conversation.

    How could we tell? All we can see is whether the overall proportions stay about the same. You don’t know whether that’s because the defectors were replaced by formerly core Rs who now merely lean, or whether your preferred explanation is correct.

    (What does ‘leaner’ mean here, anyway? Is it another self-identification? If it just means “…but I’ve been voting __ lately”, then we’re back to tautologies.)

  37. Andy says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Indeed. You are talking specific individuals, which I wholly allow shift (and have allowed that from the get-go).

    and

    Sure, individual voters shift over time–I have noted that repeatedly. There just aren’t a lot of them who do so in the aggregate and the general pattern is quite clear.

    and

    The Obama-Tump switchers is 5-6 million voters, not some random group of statistically insignificant “individuals.” Your claim that not a lot of “individuals” in aggregate shift seems rather bizarre considering this one group is about 4% of all the votes cast in the 2016 Presidential election. It’s not trivial.

    You keep asserting the consistency of voting patterns, yet here is one group of ~4% of voters that did change and, had they stayed on the Democratic side, they would have given Clinton a landslide both electorally and on the popular vote. But this is somehow irrelevant because the aggregate number of leaners hasn’t changed? I’m baffled that you continue to handwave this away, dismissing it as merely “individuals” of little significance.

  38. Grewgills says:

    @Andy: @Andy:

    You keep asserting the consistency of voting patterns, yet here is one group of ~4% of voters that did change

    Which fits neatly into the 7-10% of independents with no lean.

  39. @Andy:

    But this is somehow irrelevant because the aggregate number of leaners hasn’t changed? I’m baffled that you continue to handwave this away, dismissing it as merely “individuals” of little significance.

    See @Grewgills‘s comment.

    But in addition, as was mentioned as some point deep in these thread, turnout is a major factor in outcomes–it is not just a case of swing voters.

    I am not hand-waving anything. I am noting (repeatedly) that there is not some massive (i.e., 38%) of voters who are independent in any meaningful sense.

  40. @DrDaveT:

    You don’t know whether that’s because the defectors were replaced by formerly core Rs who now merely lean, or whether your preferred explanation is correct.

    But then who replaced the core Rs? For your hypothesis to make any sense we would need to see an overall shift away from Rs in general in the electoral outcomes. While 2018 was a good year for Ds, it was hardly some massive deviation from historical voting patterns that would support your contention. (That is not about a preferred explanation, it is about real world outcomes).

    You seem to be arguing from the position of personal identity as an “independent” or you are arguing about how you want things to be. I am really not sure what your point is–maybe you just don’t like talking about empirical patterns in the aggregate? That you prefer to look at individual decisions? I don’t get the reticence.

    The patterns are stable. Self-identification does not match behavior save for a small number of citizens (who are less prone to vote). Claims that there is a plurality of people how would vote for a third, “centrist” party are not supported by these data.

    To restate the behavior observation directly: leaners, as a group over time, behave far more like partisans than they do the core independents who state they do not have preference.

    How is any of that wrong?

    (And yes, in a hypothetical universe with different parameters, behavior would be different–but we are not in that universe).

  41. Andy says:

    @Grewgills:

    Except we know that most of this group used to lean Democrat or were actual Democrats. According to the theory that leaners remain leaners, independents remain, independents, this should be unpossible.

  42. @Andy:

    According to the theory that leaners remain leaners, independents remain, independents, this should be unpossible.

    No one is saying that switching is impossible (indeed, the opposite has been explicitly stated). Heck the table even shows some movement. The issue is stable behavior in the aggregate.

    Also, again, you are ignoring the way turnout affects outcomes election-to-election.

  43. @Andy:

    were actual Democrats

    Question: from you POV, what is the difference between an “actual Democrat” and a leaner who consistently votes for Democrats, but self-identifies as an “independent”?

  44. gVOR08 says:

    I again respect your patience and dedication to pedagogy, Dr. Taylor. The referenced study says what it says and nothing more. Trump got elected mostly because 90 plus percent of people who previously voted Republican did so again.
    And turned out in high numbers while Ds, for various reasons, turned out in insufficient numbers.

    That said, politics, like econ, happens at the margins. In econ it’s not the average price of a bushel of corn that matters, but the price of the last bushel sold. So crossover voters do matter, but less, I think, in our highly polarized age than turnout. Of the famous 10% Obama-Trump voters, I’ve never seen anyone address how many were W-Obama voters driven by the ‘08 collapse and just going home again. Booman (http://www.boomantribune.com/story/2019/3/17/104041/579, sorry hit blockquote instead of link. I still have a habit of expecting to check that sort of thing in “preview”) identifies three flavors of crossover voters:
    – Event driven: Watergate, Iran hostages, the ‘08 financial collapse, etc.
    – Contrarians who vote against the incumbent on “principle”.
    – Personality driven, the guys who wanted to have a beer with W, or thought Obama more hip than McCain, or failed to see that straight shooter was a role Trump was playing. (Does “hip” fatally date me?)

  45. DrDaveT says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I am noting (repeatedly) that there is not some massive (i.e., 38%) of voters who are independent in any meaningful sense.

    No, as best I can tell you are noting (repeatedly) that there is not some massive bloc of voters who vote randomly. Which seems to be your definition of ‘independent’ — people who vote totally unpredictably, despite the fact that the main issues and party positions stay pretty stable from one election to the next. Some of us can’t figure out why you want to define ‘independent’ that way, when there is a perfectly good definition already on the table — namely, people who vote the issues, without regard to party affiliations.

    Yes, of course doing that leads people to tend to vote for the same party repeatedly, especially (as I have noted repeatedly) at times when there is a huge gulf between the positions of the available candidates, and nobody is crossing the aisle.

    If you want to argue that Independents who have been voting D are very likely to continue to do so for the foreseeable future, and likewise for Independents who have been voting R, we will all agree with you. You might even suggest that it doesn’t matter for party strategies in this next election which are independents who have been leaning and which are not, and we would still agree with you. It’s when you try to claim that they are therefore not independent at all that you start breaking what the words mean.

  46. @DrDaveT:

    It’s when you try to claim that they are therefore not independent at all that you start breaking what the words mean.

    ??????????????????

  47. To be clear about my utter confusion, I do not recall claiming “they are therefore not independent at all.” I am not even sure what that ultimately means. Even hardcore partisans can change their voting over time, as has been acknowledged.

    If you want to argue that Independents who have been voting D are very likely to continue to do so for the foreseeable future, and likewise for Independents who have been voting R, we will all agree with you. You might even suggest that it doesn’t matter for party strategies in this next election which are independents who have been leaning and which are not, and we would still agree with you.

    That is pretty much what I have been saying, especially the first sentence, since the original post (and and hence my confusion as to your contrariness). I never made any claims whatsoever about party strategy, although would largely agree with the second sentence.

  48. I guess the problem is is that I will not imbue “independent” with much meaning, especially for those whose behavior is the same as professed partisans.

  49. DrDaveT says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    To be clear about my utter confusion, I do not recall claiming “they are therefore not independent at all.”

    It’s implicit in your claim that “you are what you have voted recently”. Anyone who has recently voted D consistently, but claims to be independent, is lying. Likewise anyone who has voted R consistently recently. That’s the position you keep coming back to. Strict voting behaviorism.

    (Your analogy to sexual orientation was quite revealing, I thought. To me, it is perfectly normal for a bisexual person to be in a monogamous relationship, and thus to behave indistinguishably from a gay or heterosexual person for an extended period of time. You seemed to imply that this would make their assertion of bisexuality a lie. That’s… weird.)

    I guess I am just struggling with how little weight you seem to give to counterfactuals in your analysis of the world. It’s like a form of determinism — whatever is so is necessarily so; there’s no contingent behavior, no “might have been” in the world.

    Our entire disagreement is over your unwillingness to admit that these people would have behaved differently than they did, in terms of party line voting, had things been even slightly different. They are not voting D or R; they are voting for specific policy bundles that are less noxious than other policy bundles. This is important because party platforms do change, and only the actual partisans will come along blindly.

  50. @DrDaveT:

    (Your analogy to sexual orientation was quite revealing, I thought. To me, it is perfectly normal for a bisexual person to be in a monogamous relationship, and thus to behave indistinguishably from a gay or heterosexual person for an extended period of time. You seemed to imply that this would make their assertion of bisexuality a lie. That’s… weird.)

    Ugh. I have already noted, twice, that that was a poor choice and even apologized for its use. It really was, upon reflection, a terrible choice for a host of reasons.

    I have written thousands of words on this, and for you to go to that example, after I have publicly admitted error (hence violating the Rules of the Internet and all that) as well as having directly apologized for it is more than a little frustrating.

    At this point, it is time to move on.

  51. Andy says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Question: from you POV, what is the difference between an “actual Democrat” and a leaner who consistently votes for Democrats, but self-identifies as an “independent”?

    It depends because political affinity is a spectrum that’s bigger than the narrow assumptions present in your question. In general, I would expect actual Democrats to vote a straight party line regardless. For independents, it would depend on the reasons they vote consistently one way.

    And I agree with DrDave here:

    They are not voting D or R; they are voting for specific policy bundles that are less noxious than other policy bundles. This is important because party platforms do change, and only the actual partisans will come along blindly.

    Edited to add after seeing your latest comment: I agree it’s time to move on, there seems to be a lot of horse-beating going on and repeating points previously made. This will be my last comment in the thread. Thanks for the informative and lively discussion.

  52. DrDaveT says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I have written thousands of words on this, and for you to go to that example, after I have publicly admitted error

    My turn to apologize — I thought I had read all of your comments on this in both threads, but I clearly missed those. I was not intending to focus on the sexual orientation aspect at all — only on emphasizing behavior over motivation. Maybe I should stick to ice cream flavors.

    Sorry about that.

  53. @DrDaveT: Thanks for the note–apology accepted.

    And clearly I should have not have deviated from ice cream flavors in the first place.

  54. @Andy:

    I agree it’s time to move on, there seems to be a lot of horse-beating going on and repeating points previously made. This will be my last comment in the thread. Thanks for the informative and lively discussion.

    Agreed.

    I do appreciate the lively discussion.