09 May 2011

The Great Diversity Among Political Independents

The Pew Center for the People and the Press has done one its Political Typology Surveys that they do every few years.  This time around, one of the things they found was that more and more people are becoming Independent.  There’s nothing surprising about that, but what is surprising is that the center in American politics is not a monolithic group:

With the economy still struggling and the nation involved in multiple military operations overseas, the public’s political mood is fractious. In this environment, many political attitudes have become more doctrinaire at both ends of the ideological spectrum, a polarization that reflects the current atmosphere in Washington.

Yet at the same time, a growing number of Americans are choosing not to identify with either political party, and the center of the political spectrum is increasingly diverse. Rather than being moderate, many of these independents hold extremely strong ideological positions on issues such as the role of government, immigration, the environment and social issues. But they combine these views in ways that defy liberal or conservative orthodoxy.

The standard belief by pundits, bloggers and others is that there is this center in America that believe in pretty much the same things.  But the thing is, the center is diverse with various opinions and well, it doesn’t hold- at least not in the way people like to think it does.

John Sides over at the Monkey Cage recently echoed that Independents are truly diverse and not a “clueless horde” as one liberal writer said.

(Michael) Kazin misses two important points about independents. First, like many others, he overestimates the proportion of the population that is truly independent, writing “After all, loyal Democrats and Republicans still compose at least two-thirds of the electorate.” It would be more correct to say that loyal partisans compose about 90% of the electorate. See here.

Second, he seems to imply that independents choose political leaders for no good reason or even no reason at all, simply because majorities agree with the claims of both parties. Of course, without delving below simple percentages—50% of independents said “X,” 50% of independents said “Not X”—we can’t really know how many specific independents took contradictory positions. I’ve looked in the poll results and don’t see that information.

But more importantly, independents actually vote in predictable ways. Much more than partisans, they vote for the party advantaged by two fundamental factors: the economy and war. I’ve noted a similar point before.

What this means is that American center is not some simple grouping that can be easily organized.  If the center is to speak, it will be when the two parties are able to include them in their coalitions or if a Third Party or Parties can craft detailed and specific platforms for them to support.

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