“I’m disappointed in the unemployment rate and the economy, so I’m open and I’m listening,” said Julie Gagne, 52, an independent who voted for Obama in 2008.
Now, Gagne is planning to vote in Tuesday’s Republican primary. As part of her decision making, she went to see Mitt Romney last week at an event outside a chowder shop.
A Republican-leaning voter who broke from the party only to back Obama, Gagne soured on the president last year after losing her job. She said she was upset to see Obama focus on health care instead of the economy. Gagne went to see Romney in hopes of connecting with the man she believes will probably be the Republican nominee.
But to her dismay, Gagne found Romney “choreographed and deliberate and stiff and staged,” she said. She most likely will vote for Romney in the primary but reserve judgment about the general election. “I guess I’ll just keep an eye on the economy and just watch how the campaign plays out,” she said.
That sentiment is reverberating across the country as independents express their dissatisfaction with both the president and the alternatives. Their unhappiness could not matter more: Nationally, the candidates will be competing for the roughly one-third of the electorate that is considered independent and remains up for grabs.
It is not clear how Obama and his eventual Republican opponent will play with this exceptionally disgruntled group of voters.
Independent voters — more than eight in 10 of whom are displeased with the country’s political system — are more deeply unhappy with Washington than are Democrats or Republicans, and they’re far more apt to blame both sides in Congress.
Fully 39 percent of independent voters in Washington Post-ABC News polling said they’re “angry” about the way the federal government works, higher than the numbers among Democrats and Republicans.
They are no less critical of the candidates. While Obama appears to have disappointed many independents who supported him in 2008, Romney has hardly locked them down. Even though Romney holds a double-digit lead in recent New Hampshire polls, his support is weaker among independents, who have also flocked to Rep. Ron Paul (Tex.) and former Utah governor Jon Huntsman Jr.
“Romney’s efforts to reassure the right wing have made him suspect here” among independents, said Linda Fowler, a Dartmouth College government professor. Paul, she said, has flourished because of his libertarian bent and antiwar views.