As we’ve noted repeatedly here during campaign 2008 (and even earlier) the key to long term winning coalitions is in which party can woo independent voters — one of the fastest growing voting groups in the United States. In our Quote of the Day writer John Avlon, in a piece in the Wall Street Journal, looks at Obama and the independents and sees an opportunity for Democrats and a growing risk for Republicans in our political Quote of The Day. His begins his must-read op-ed column this way:
In the months since Barack Obama won the presidency, independent voters have rocketed to their highest number on record. Meanwhile, the ranks of Republicans and Democrats have thinned dramatically.
Independents hold the balance of power in the Obama era. That’s the conclusion of a recent, 165-page Pew Research Center survey that shows independent voters climbed to 39% from 30% of the electorate in the five months following the 2008 election. During that same time, Democratic identification fell to 33% from 39%, while Republicans fell four points to 22% — their lowest since post-Watergate.
This is evidence that President Obama’s election does not represent a liberal ideological mandate, as House Democrats have claimed. It also shows continued rejection of the Republican brand.
On virtually every policy issue, independents are situated between increasingly polarized Democrats and Republicans. They more accurately reflect centrist national attitudes than the 11% of Americans who describe themselves as liberal Democrats or the 15% who call themselves conservative Republicans.
He notes that independents don’t necessarily split the difference when it comes time to vote. They are generally socially progressive but fiscally conservative — which means Obama could face increasing bailout backlash. But that also contains a stark warning flag for the GOP. He also gives the statistics on the growth of independent voters throughout the country – – and the fact that independent voters are the youngest block of voters..while Republicans are the oldest.
Then he writes:
Republican resurgence depends on finding common cause with independent voters. A return to fiscal responsibility offers that opportunity, but it is blocked by perceptions that social conservatives control the party.
In order to win these voters, the hunt for heretics has got to stop. The reality is that all young voters are less conservative on social issues ranging from gay rights to the role of religion in politics. A big tent can be rebuilt on Republican principles of fiscal responsibility and national security, but it will require the politics of addition — not division.
For the Obama administration, the rise of independents so soon after the election should be a wake-up call. While Mr. Obama remains very popular among independents, their approval of the Democrat-controlled Congress is at 29%. Independents identify with the president’s desire to overcome the left-right divide, but his fiscal record looks increasingly at odds with his rhetoric of responsibility.
To close this gap, Mr. Obama should follow through on his promise to pursue entitlement reform in the name of generational responsibility. This will require cultivating a centrist congressional coalition and standing up to liberal interests. But it is the only way to rein in the long-term budget deficit.
Read it in its entirety.
Avlon’s analysis is right on the dime.
But right now now there are few signs that some Republicans’ fight to root out ideological heretics who aren’t Rush Limbaugh fans (or at the very least won’t publically speak ill of him: one Republican lost his job for DARING to criticize Limbaugh) has halted. Even people who write on weblogs who do Guest Voice posts or comments have been shocked at some of the responses from conservative Republicans to those who don’t tow the (Rush Limbaugh) line. And at the big GOP fundraiser, who were the big draws? Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich — candidates who are not exactly independent voter magnets.
What’s happening is that as the GOP has shrunk, its must-keep “customer base” is more conservative and tuned into the talk radio political culture which often seems on a different wavelength when you talk to young people who aren’t talk radio fans or regular readers of ideological weblogs. Pleasing and keeping the base still seems to be the GOP’s main preoccupation — but the base is increasingly at odds with the policy preferences AND the way of speaking that many independent and younger voters want. The party shrinks….it’s base becomes more identifiably and exclusively conservative…it appeals to that base..and risks chasing away or at least leaving cold independent and younger voters.
More likely than not, the GOP will have to lose some key elections so that enough of the party feels it’s time to try something new. And the Democrats? At key moments in America’s history the Democrats have seen their hopes dashed because of overreaching — and they could turn independents off they start to go on a hunt to weed out heretics as well. Avlon’s own writings and others show that the national leader who can either capture, move or redefine the center generally prevails.
Meanwhile, Republicans can wait for Obama to fail (Gingrich has already declared Obama a failure less than 6 months into his term and Limbaugh is hoping and apparently working to that end in suggesting his loyal listeners might consider boycotting General Motors products, which would certainly teach you-know-who in the White House a lesson and also allow Limbaugh to then point to General Motors’ failure as a sign of Obama’s incompetence).
But even if Obama falls short, that won’t mean the GOP will fall long if it’s talking a different language — literally and figuratively — than what it needs to use if it really wants to win over the bulk of independent and young voters. Right now its as if some independent voters and young people are on FM and the GOP is broadcasting on AM. It needs to equip itself to broadcast in AM and do it ASAP.
And hunting for heretics could be a costly distraction.
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.