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The misunderstood independent

at 08:39 AM ET, 05/05/2011

In politics, it’s often tempting to put independents somewhere in the middle of Republicans and Democrats, politically. They identify somewhere in between the two, so they must be moderates, right?

A new study from the Pew Research Center suggests that’s not so true anymore. Independents, in fact, are a fast-growing and increasingly diverse group that both parties are going to need to study and understand in the years ahead.

Here’s why:

Just six years ago, only 30 percent of Americans identified as independents. Today, that number is 37 percent.

And while growing so fast (and 7 percent in six years is fast), they are also diversifying very quickly, with strongly divergent views between different groups of independents.

Pew identifies three different kinds of independents. Libertarians and Disaffecteds are 21 percent of registered voters and lean towards Republicans; Post-Moderns are 14 percent and lean towards Democrats.

A look at their views on issues shows those three groups can often be among the most extreme on a given topic.

Disaffecteds, for example, believe in helping the needy more than most Democrats. Libertarians side with business more than even the solidly Republican Staunch Conservatives. And Post-Moderns accept homosexuality more than most Democrats. The three independents groups are also less religious, on the whole, than either Republicans or most Democrats.

What it all shows is an independent contingent that is anything but homogenous and is hardly easy to define. And that creates problems for politicians trying to woo independent voters.

While the middle of the road is often the best track to getting independent votes, the data suggests that may appeal to one set of independents but irritate another.

For example, cracking down on Wall Street is a pretty popular (and populist) message to run on. But while it may help lure Disaffecteds — the group in the roughest economic shape — it risks completely alienating Libertarians, and even Post-Moderns are pretty business-friendly.

So what does it all mean for 2012?

Libertarians are pretty reliable voters for the GOP. Disaffecteds weren’t inspried by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in 2008 but came out strongly for Republican congressional candidates in 2010. Likewise, Post-Moderns were gung-ho about President Obama but much less so for Democratic congressional candidates last year.

The data shows Republican- and Republican-leaning groups are more apt to support the Republican candidate for president than they were in 2008. But for that candidate, keeping both Libertarians and Disaffecteds happy is going to be a difficult task, because their views are often diametrically opposed.

Obama will need to re-inspire the Post-Moderns, whose support changed more than any other group between 2008 and 2010. He also needs to make sure they don’t shift their votes to Republicans, which is possible (moreso than the other groups going Democratic).

If Obama can successfully unite the Post-Moderns with regular Democrats, that accounts for 54 percent of registered voters and makes him a heavy favorite for reelection.

Only 60 percent of Post-Moderns are committed to voting for Obama, though, after 65 percent voted for him in 2008. Meanwhile, Disaffecteds and Libertarians are more prepared to support a Republican candidate than they did in 2008.

Rough launch for Pence: Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) is likely to enter the race for Indiana’s open governor’s seat today, but his launch hasn’t exactly gone off smoothly.

Pence had scheduled a conference call for Monday, but had to scrap it after the news that Osama bin Laden had been killed took control of the news cycle. Despite cancelling the call, Pence’s team reportedly uploaded an announcement video for a brief period Monday morning.

And now, with Pence set to hold the conference call today, his team inadvertently sent an e-mail with a “Mike for Indiana” graphic on it Wednesday.

Of course, these are minor stumbles, and Pence remains a heavy favorite in the race.

But if Pence doesn’t look like the shoo-in that he was supposed to be, it could embolden his opponents. Democrats are still looking for a willing opponent.

Republicans not optimistic on Medicare: Congressional Republicans have conceded that a deal is unlikely on their contentious plan to turn Medicare into a voucher program after President Obama “excoriated” the GOP for putting the idea forward.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said Wednesday night that Republicans will look to find common ground with Democrats on other potential cuts, such as farm subsidies. The two sides are meeting Thursday at Blair House for the start of what will likely be a months-long negotiation over the budget.

Democrats will likely point to this concession as a sign that Republican ideas are unpopular. On the other hand, removing the always thorny issue of Medicare from the debate could make it easier for Republicans to get less high-profile changes into whatever plan emerges.

Another Wu challenger?: Former Rep. Elizabeth Furse may challenge Rep. David Wu (D-Ore.) in the Democratic primary next year.

Furse, who represented Oregon’s 1st district from 1993 to 1999, says she is “deeply disturbed” by what’s going on with the district’s current congressman. Wu revealed earlier this year that he is suffering from mental health problems after staff confronted the lawmaker over his erratic behavior.

If she runs, Furse might take some heat for endorsing Republican former Sen. Gordon Smith in his contentious 2008 reelection race (he lost). So far, the only declared primary candidate running against Wu is state Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian.

Fixbits:

Confirming previous reports, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s (R) spokesman says Gingrich will “be a candidate” for president by May 13, when he addresses the Georgia Republican Party.

A Tennessee man pleaded guilty to threatening Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.) over a passport issue.

A liberal guerilla filmmaking group has released a video attacking the Koch brothers from outside their homes.

Meet former Sen. George Allen’s (R-Va.) new tracker, who appears to be of similar descent to the man Allen called “macaca” in 2006.

Another post-bin Laden poll (this one from Quinnipiac) shows Obama’s approval rising six points, but other metrics staying largely the same.

Remember: tonight is the (not-so) big debate in South Carolina, featuring former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, former senator Rick Santorum, Rep. Ron Paul (Texas), former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson and pizza magnate Herman Cain. Check The Fix later today for a preview.

Must-reads:

“Daniels wants role in 2012 campaign, whether or not he runs” — AP

“When David Barton talks, conservative candidates listen” — Erik Eckholm, New York Times

“GOP, White House talk deal on debt” — David Wesseland and Damian Paletta, Wall Street Journal

“The do-nothing front-runner” — Joshua Green, The Atlantic

“News agency releases graphic photos of raid” — Paul Farhi, Washington Post

 
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