Independent voters are not a monolithic bloc. Nor are many of them truly independent in their voting patterns, according to a new study by The Washington Post
and the Kaiser Family Foundation. Nearly two-thirds of Americans who describe themselves as independents act very much like partisan Republicans or partisan Democrats.
Still, one clear factor that separates them from Democrats and Republicans is a near-uniform call for greater cross-party cooperation. Seven in 10 independents say they favor compromise between the parties rather than confrontation, according to the survey. Just as many say they are dissatisfied with the country’s political system.
Much of the time, the Obama and Romney campaigns seem tone-deaf to that sentiment; the harshness and negativity of the race seem designed to mobilize partisans on both sides. At other times, the candidates seem keenly attuned to some voters who want leaders willing to cooperate with their opponents.
Obama regularly talks about his desire to find bipartisan consensus, even if he has not delivered on his 2008 pledge to change politics in Washington. Romney, his Republican challenger, said in introducing Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate that the Wisconsin congressman has regularly tried to work with Democrats, even though Ryan is perhaps best known as the author of a GOP budget plan sharply criticized by Democrats.
The Post-Kaiser findings are based on a national survey of more than 3,000 randomly selected adults, designed to provide a fresh, in-depth examination of the Democratic and Republican parties, the widening gulf between them, and their important internal divisions. In parallel, we use the data to explore the views of the growing number of people who decline to pledge allegiance to either party.
Independents are often described as the holy grail of American politics. They are the heavily courted voters commonly thought to hover somewhere in the center of the ideological spectrum and whose attitudinal swings can make the difference between celebration and dejection on election night.
As a group, independents have been a volatile segment in recent elections: going for Republican House candidates in 2010 by a record 19-percentage-point margin, after breaking for Democrats by 18 points when they won the House of Representatives in 2006. In the five congressional elections before that, neither party had a clear edge among these voters. Obama won independents by eight percentage points in 2008, according to the network exit poll.