Posted on | July 12, 2010 | No Comments
One of the more interesting things about politics is the thirty percent of voters who call themselves “independent.” Though the latest count is a couple of years old, this percentage has been fairly consistent since the Eisenhower era. We like to imagine there is a Republican right, a Democratic left, and a nice, tidy independent center, but Pew Research Center found that independents are neither centrist nor of a single mind. They are not really even “independent.” In the 1992 book, The Myth of the Independent Voter, political scientists found that “independent” voters almost always vote with the same party. Their consistent pattern is nearly the same as party members. Nearly ninety percent of independents always vote for the same party, in election after election.
Most always, independents claim the choice, in part, because “both political parties are the same.” Of course, the idea is silly. How much is the agenda of Nancy Pelosi similar to the agenda of John Boehner? Pelosi is for universal health care. Boehner promotes “repeal and replace.” C’mon.
By my count, there are five sub-groups among independents. The types are not ideological. Each type contains both liberals and conservatives. It turns out they are mostly anthropological. Based on my non-scientific research, here are the various Tribes of the Independent Nation…
Fandependents are a product of our competitive social fabric. This group approaches elections like a sports bet. The primary motivation is to win, not to choose who wins. The Fandependent is usually among the last to decide, often in the closing days of an election. He or she wants to watch the odds for as long as possible. The well-known “late breakout” comes from the Fandependents laying down their bets.
Fandependents are also motivated by which candidate is better at ridiculing the other one. Ridicule plays a powerful role in turning elections, turning apparent winners into sure losers almost overnight. If you doubt the power of ridicule, just ask Michael Dukakis or Howard Dean both leading until one wore a funny hat and one made a funny scream.
Fickles are members of the party in power who are somehow surprised to learn that their most important issue didn’t turn out to be first in line. This is, of course, an inevitable outcome in a two-party system, but you’d think the guy they’d supported just kicked their dog.
The Democrats are hurting from losing this group. Though we don’t have good numbers, I’d bet that a full third of President Obama’s drop in the polls – maybe more — has come from supporters who think he hasn’t gone far enough. A Fickle is notable for judging based on the one issue most important to them, while ignoring dozens of other legislative victories they’d also support.
Angry Victims are the old-man-yelling-at-cloud faction. They tend to have lower levels of education, be overwhelmingly white and be overwhelmingly old. In the end, they almost all vote Republican because they can’t possibly let themselves associate with ideas like cooperation or helping the needy – or really anything having to do with generosity. The American ideals of sharing or common good are anathema to them. Cue the tea bags…
For years, in fact, Republicans had a designated wrangler for this group – John McCain. In every election, his job was to pretend to be independent and then announce that his independent study had led him to – wait for it – the Republican in the race. Now Sarah Palin has now taken over his job. She’s better at speaking for this group but much less subtle, so I’m not sure she’ll be effective over the long haul. (For more on this group, see The American Dream Let Me Down.)
Interestingly, among non-whites and the non-elderly, Angry Victims almost all vote Democrat.
Possums – Oh, where do I begin? I’ve named this group because possums are about the only animal that will turn around to make sure you run over it. I don’t think there are many of them, but CNN seems to find a panel just before every election. They raise their hands when asked who is still undecided right up to election eve. Does everyone yell at the TV when they are interviewed? I know I do. They could just as easily be likened to a deer in the headlights. They can’t seem to figure out anything.
Hopefuls are the last group I’ve found. They’re simply hoping that something better will come along. Constrained by only two choices, they long for a third. When it becomes clear that a good choice won’t emerge, they choose the lesser of two evils – or maybe just stay home. They may well be the only true independents. In the coming election, they are the Democrats salvation or worst nightmare. If they do vote, they will likely vote D. If they stay home, expect a change in power.