Romney Has An Advantage Among Independents
Mitt Romney has an advantage among self-identified Independents that makes writing him off at this point inadvisable.
Chris Cillizza notes something that could potentially be a significant factor over the coming days:
President Obama has a problem with independents. And it’s not a small problem.
In the last three releases of the tracking poll conducted by The Washington Post and ABC News, Obama has trailed former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney among independent voters by between 16 and 20 percentage points.
That’s a striking reversal from 2008, when Obama won independent voters, who made up 29 percent of the electorate, by eight points over Sen. John McCain of Arizona.
And if Romney’s large margin among independents holds, it will be a break not just from 2008 but also from 2000 and 2004. In 2000, Texas Gov. George W. Bush won independents by 47 percent to 45 percent over Vice President Al Gore. Four years later, Bush and Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts essentially split unaffiliated voters, according to exit polls — 48 percent for Bush to 49 percent for Kerry. (Independents made up 27 percent of the vote in 2000 and 26 percent in 2004.)
So, what gives? Why is Obama — at least according to the Post-ABC data — having so much trouble with independents?
The answer lies in the fact that most independents are not, well, independent. Of all the likely voters who called themselves independents in nine days of the Post-ABC tracking poll, fully three-quarters (75 percent) — said they tend to lean toward one party or the other. (The remainder are known as “pure” independents.)
And it’s among those shadow partisans that Obama is struggling. Ninety-two percent of Republican-leaning independents said they plan to support Romney, while 84 percent of Democratic-leaning independents are backing Obama.
It’s not just in the head-to-head matchup that the difference between GOP-leaning and Democratic-leaning independents is visible. Among all registered voters, 69 percent of Republican-leaning independents say they are following the election closely while just 49 percent of Democratic-leaning independents say the same. (Just more than four in 10 — 41 percent — of pure independents say they are closely following the election.)
That gap between partisan-leaning independents was just nine points in September but has now grown to a 20-point edge this month as the election draws near.
By way of comparison, in Post-ABC polling conducted in October 2008, 62 percent of Democratic-leaning independents said they were closely following the election while 60 percent of Republican-leaning said the same.
Among independents who say they are “absolutely certain” to vote, 87 percent of Republican-leaning independents express that sentiment, compared with 81 percent of Democratic-leaning independents.
What all those numbers mean is that among independent voters — who tend to be less likely to turn out, even in a presidential election, than partisans — Romney has a clear edge.
This phenomenon isn’t limited to the Post/ABC poll.You’ll see similar numbers on independents in other recent national polls and you will find a similar disparity in Romney’s favor among independent voters, even in polls where Obama has a slight lead. What this means is unclear, but there’s not really any denying the fact that Mitt Romney has picked up a lot of support from self-identified independents over the past couple of weeks. To some extent this is the main reason why we’ve seen him advance in the polling at both the national and statewide levels. By contrast, four years ago the President ended up winning self-identified Independents by eight points. Clearly that’s not going to happen this time. Indeed, if these polls are correct and these numbers hold up, the odds of Romney being able to pull off victories in swing states like Virginia, Colorado, New Hampshire, and Ohio become much, much better.
Now, admittedly, we have not seem much of an impact from this phenomenon from the state level polling so far. President Obama still has a narrow lead in Ohio and New Hampshire while Virginia and Colorado are currently tied in the polling average. One reason for that many be that state polls typically lag behind national polls when it comes to picking up nationwide trends, so it’s not surprising that there’s somewhat of a disconnect right now. If Romney’s trend among Independents continues then we should start seeing that reflected in the topline numbers of the state polls as well. To say the least, it would be highly unusual to have a candidate outperforming among Independents and not have those numbers reflected in states where Independents are a significant part of the voting electorate. Obviously, things can change, but with a week to go this is probably the best sign that Romney can point to for the argument that he still has a chance to pull this off.
The fact that so many more “leans right” voters are self-identifying as Independent rather than Republican, is exactly why most national polls have a Dems +8-10 sample. And this is obvious to anyone with an elementary grasp of math. Which is why all of the “unskewed” crap and republican poll histrionics bugs the crap out of me. Yes, Republicans are leading with Independents now, because a ton of Republicans changed their partisan affiliation to independent. And yes, more people self-identify as Democrat than Republican. This isn’t rocket surgery people.
I don’t think anyone is writing him of.
But the math has now far exceeded my limited abilities even to intuit what the polls say. Thus I throw myself on the mercy of Silver and Blumenthal to do the geekery I might have done had I paid attention in school.
Off not of. Which I could fix if I didn’t like Chrome so much.
This is the obvious answer, of course. There are just as many Democratic voters and Democratic-leaning voters in the country as Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, but there are fewer Democratic-leaning independents than Republican.
Hand-waving confusion is useful right now to the Republicans because they are losing in the state polls and are tied up (unless Gallup and Rasmussen are right) in the national polls.
Meh. I can’t say that I find any of that surprising.
As you (Doug), Cillizza, and others have pointed out, the entire concept of “Independents” is a somewhat useless title. For the vast majority of people it’s a way to express displeasure for the party that you usually align with.
Looking historically (see this very useful interactive graph at Pew), and assuming (based on past election results) a generally equally divided electorate when push comes to shove, it’s clear that more Republican leaners identify as independents. And given that right now only 24% of the population self-identifies as Republican (versus 32% as Democrats), is it really all that much of a surprise that they’re leaning Romney.
Or put a different way, did Obama really ever have most of those votes (beyond some subsection that voted for him in 2004 out of frustration with previous administration)?
This is, at least in terms of popular vote, and specific state wide contests, going to be a close election. I’m still of the mind that the state level polling (in aggregate) is accurate, and that the race is still Obama’s to lose with or without these “independents.”
FYI that’s sort of like saying that Usain Bolt has an advantage in a foot race against a shot putter.
Even in polls that are undersampling whites and oversampling non-whites, oversampling women, undersampling the age 30-49 demographic, etc., Romney is winning Independents by colossal margins, not infrequently by 15-20 points. Of course for obvious reasons Independents according to the media polling often have depopulated themselves over the past four years, if you catch my drift.
As for why Romney is winning Independents the answers are obvious, although for ironic reasons not even cognizable to the liberal media or to various segments of the chattering classes.
@michael reynolds: “But the math has now far exceeded my limited abilities”
It doesn’t take a lot of math. The poll which gives Romney that huge edge among independents also has the race virtually tied at Obama 48% to Romney 49%. Unless the portion of the electorate identifying itself as “independent” is massively smaller than 2008, there’s no freakin’ way Romney can be up by 16 to 20 among independents and only up by 1 in the head to head match up. It’s mathematically impossible.
The breakdown in the linked poll is D – 35, R – 29, I – 33, No Pref – 2, Don’t Know – 1
I can get 48 votes for Obama: 35 D + 13 of 36 from the Independents, No Pref and Don’t know.
For Romney’s 49: 29 R + 20 from Independents, No Pref and Don’t know.
(Note that I know nothing of statistics and polling, so someone with knowledge (e.g. Jan) please tell how this would be grievously wrong.)
Here’s some math I can do: 3 new national polls out in just the last few hours: 47-47, 48-48 and 48-47 (Obama.) That’s what you call a tie, not to get too technical. Which as MBunge points out above, seems to fly in the face of the Independents Love Romney narrative.
Steven Taylor’s smart article yesterday among other things called out the troubles polls have separating the fickle independents from the not really independent as a central problem of the polling debate.
@michael reynolds: Off not of. Which I could fix if I didn’t like Chrome so much.
I have chrome and I have an edit function
@Modulo Myself: “I can get 48 votes for Obama: 35 D + 13 of 36 from the Independents, No Pref and Don’t know.
For Romney’s 49: 29 R + 20 from Independents, No Pref and Don’t know.
(Note that I know nothing of statistics and polling, so someone with knowledge (e.g. Jan) please tell how this would be grievously wrong.)”
Under that scenario, you’ve got just over 40% of the votes for Romney coming from non-Republicans, even assuming he gets 100% of the GOP vote. Does that make sense?
More importantly, how could Obama possibly get 100% of the Democratic vote if he’s losing literally everyone else in the country by 20 to 100% or more?
The answer is right there in the story. The independent vote has been swelled by a bunch of
Republicans who no longer want to identify themselves that way.
The examples don’t even make sense… both candidates that they show winning independents, lost the popular vote.
2 claims pop up a lot regarding independent voters: (1) it’s really hard to win if you lose the independent vote by a wide margin, and (2) most independents lean Republican, so a democrat doesn’t really need to do that well among independents to win the presidency.
Both describe the general trend (based on exit poll data from 72) – but there are noteworthy exceptions.
E.g. Contrary to #1, Carter lost independents by an 11 point margin, but still won 297 electoral votes and the popular vote. And that was with the independents making up 34% of the electorate. Gore also won among independents, but that was by a relatively small margin.
Contrary to #2, both Kerry and Obama won more independent voters than the Republicans (without any third party taking away a substantial number of Republican votes).
A good portion of the “independents” are actually Republicans.
There is a reason why GOP party ID is down, while the independents is up, and Democratic party ID hasn’t changed.
I’d say “were” rather than “are,” but I agree a great many are disaffected Republicans. The GOP’s apparent takeover by God-bothering fools tends to put off the non-religious, gay-rights-supporting among us.
As I’ve said elsewhere, I’m not ashamed to say I was a Republican, but I’d be ashamed to still be one.
But do you still largely vote for Republicans? If so, than your change in party ID is largely meaningless. That was the whole point of my first comment. This idea that a large percentage of “independents” are breaking for Romney is not at all surprising, if most independents are actually former Republicans that still largely vote Republican. And it also explains why almost every poll seems to “oversample” Democrats. Because Democrats haven’t had a large party ID exodus to the independent grouping like the Repubs have.
Silver and Wang crunch numbers exceedingly fine, but they base their predictions on a small number of elections where this kind of polling data is available, and they must trust these pollsters. Gallup described how easy it is skew the results with very subtle changes in wording.
It might be naive to think the pollsters can’t be messed with by the people that pay for them for onesies and twosies. They absolutely have to maintain their credibility over time, but I recall a couple of polls that showed that Akins dropped nearly 20 points shortly after Rove promised to “kill him”, and when it became clear he wouldn’t quit there weren’t anymore like that.
Is this a “clean game”?
@Ben: I agree with you, absolutely. A lot of people call themselves “independent” but still vote GOP straight-ticket.
I haven’t voted straight-ticket for several elections, but didn’t vote Obama last time and probably won’t this time. I might go third-party just because I prefer neither of the major-party guys.
But when it comes down to it, the GOP doesn’t really seem to care if it alienates me and people like me, and I’d bet a whole lot more of the Republican “independents” are Tea Party types who left the GOP because it wasn’t right-wing ENOUGH, rather than people like me who left because we couldn’t deal with what the party is turning into.
This looks to be a very close election. Regardless of who wins, some sort of coalition government must be put together. Partisan politics as usual won’t work anymore. The president will need to appoint real statesmen and leaders with vast experience, expertise, and integrity. Bringing in a bunch of cronies, hacks, and smoky room characters like we have had up there for the last several years won’t do. It’s too bad that we will have to endure more years of Pelosi, Reid, and Boehner. Congress and Senate used to be a lot better than that. It is unfortunate that during this crisis that we have had the weakest presidential candidates since the 1870’s. It is now wonder that anyone who has been around is in total nostalgia about our past leaders.
Yes, exactly. This was explained a while back by Nate Cohn:
That’s because they obviously haven’t yet.
@Davebo: Do you know something about the GOP that I don’t? Are they suddenly pro-choice? Have they sworn off all the God talk? I’m curious.
Or perhaps you think that if I hold my nose and vote for a Republican, I’m not alienated? Well, that doesn’t indicate anything except a two-party system stinks.
If you keep voting for them, then you’re not that alienated.
And if they’re not losing votes, then why should Republicans even pay attention to people who say they are disaffected. They won’t, until it starts to cost them elections.
@Ben: What choice do I have? What happens if I think the Republican is so-so but the Democrat is worse? Do I vote third party (which has its own problems)? Do I not vote at all?
This is what sucks about our de facto two-party system. Those of us who don’t feel “at home” in either party are stuck voting for people with whom we disagree much of the time…and then when we try to discuss it with people, we basically get our integrity questioned. It’s crap.
Depends what seat you’re talking about. Local election, party matters very little. United States Senate or House seat? Party is all that matters, whether or not the candidate is a tool is irrelevant.
Not liking the two-party system doesn’t make it go away. If you think the choices in the main elections are garbage, make sure to vote in the primaries. If you want third parties to be more successful, find a way to implement a ranked voting system, so people can vote for third parties without wasting their vote.
I generally do. In this election cycle I voted for the moderate pro-choice “spiritual rather than religious” (his words) Republican over the Tea Party guy. (Edited because I can’t recall if the opponent actually was Tea Party.) This being Northern Virginia, the moderate won and is up against the incumbent Democrat. Unfortunately, it appears the national GOP isn’t giving their guy much support, so he’s got about $50K in his campaign chest vs. $1.5 million for the Democrat.
@Mikey: Well there was supposed to be a strikethrough in my previous comment, removing the words “over the Tea Party guy.” But my edit-fu was insufficient, so there’s now a parenthetical comment that makes no sense.
Well, you could vote for the party that doesn’t have Akin and Walsh, and birthers. You know, the party that does not support mandatory vaginal probes for women seeking abortions, and doesn’t want to eliminate FEMA. The party that doesn’t think science is satanic, or that critical thinking is verboten in education.
Or, you could vote for that party, and help put people like Akin and Walsh in places where they can implement the agenda they keep saying they want, the one found in the Republican party platform.
Yeah, that’s kind of what I’m trying to get away from. Never again to say “I’m voting for A because he’s a Republican” or “I’m never voting for B because he’s a Democrat” or vice-versa.
So if I phrase it is “You could vote for a person who has huge political incentives to force women to undergo mandatory vaginal probes when they get abortions, or you could vote for a person who has political incentives to vote against that” does that really change things?
The truth is, when a politician claims the mantle of Republicanism, he or she is declaring their affinity to Akin and Walsh, and birthers, and all the policies that flow from that. You can’t just pretend that the Republican on your ballot is a special snowflake who unintentionally ended up on that side. They aren’t. They picked that side. When you vote for people who picked that side, you are picking that side.
@swbarnes2: Nice summary of the problem with party politics. If I agree with one party 51% of the time and the other 49% of the time, I may vote with the 51% but either way I’m stuck voting for someone who belongs to a party I disagree with about half the time.
As far as my particular Congressional candidate preference, I know he chose the GOP, he didn’t end up there unintentionally. But he’s also pro-choice, pro-gay-rights, and “spiritual rather than religious.” He’s the kind of guy I want in the GOP. So I support him, because electing guys like him is the only way to keep the GOP from descending into irrelevancy. Some people may want that, but I personally don’t see anything good coming from a de facto single-party system.
You kind of ignored everything I wrote. Republicans have birtherism, and Akin, and Mourduck, and Walsh. And endless foreign wars, and being virulently anti-gay, and wanting to get rid of every government program that helps the non-rich, like FEMA. And you are 49% okay with all that? What are the 49% of Democratic policies that you find as revolting as all that? Is say, supporting pubic schools really equally monstrous?
For whom will he vote for House Majority/Minority leader? Is Eric Cantor, the current House Majority leader, pro-choice, and pro-gay rights, and “spiritual, not religious”?
Bravo. Way to keep virulent sexism and racism relevant by supporting that party with your votes. Hey, we need both sides, right? One side saying that women are equal human beings, and one side saying that they are inconveniently sentient incubators. Really, we as a country shouldn’t take it for granted that black people can speak without teleprompters, or can graduate Harvard with honors, so you are providing a valuable service by voting for the party that makes sure we stay eternally skeptical about that.
@swbarnes2: The Republicans aren’t all Todd Akin, despite your effort to broad-brush them. And anyone who votes Republican isn’t responsible for everything bad they do. There are good and bad Republicans just as there are good and bad Democrats.
But you make some good points, and I have to say if they continue on their current path they’ll never get another vote from me. And I don’t know if there are enough people who think like me to turn them around. I may be just howling in the wilderness.
Todd Akin, and Morduck, and Walsh, and Koster, why didn’t you name them too?
And those are just names off the top of my head who have done no more than explicitly support the Republican party platform in the last 6 weeks or so. How come the list of people whose horribly anti-women policies are not at all representative of Republicans is so darn long?
Can you name 4 Republicans who have publicly claimed to support women’s health, and access to contraception and abortion in the last 6 weeks? Can you name one? Can you name one who’s done that in the last 6 years?
Who is putting those people in power, except for you and your votes?
By which you mean that this election cycle, the party of birthers and Akin and Walsh and Koster and Mourduck is getting your vote. That the current amount of racism and sexism, warmongering and science demonizing, is not actually enough to keep you from voting Republican.
I predict that somehow, next election, you will again find that the GOP has just not quite walked down those paths far enough for you to stop voting for them.